Manga: Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino

Cover of the Viz edition of Volume 6. Yes, I’ll discuss pleats soon.

Vampire Knight
by Matsuri Hino
published in English by Viz Media, LLC, San Francisco
2004 – 2013

As I was exploring the Viz website, I decided to read a preview of Matsuri Hino’s popular shōjo vampire romance. I was immediately hooked on her humor – she laid out immediately that in the school setting where this story takes place, vampires are all gorgeous, and no one can resist them – plus, her clear dedication to fashion / costume design. This is going to be fun! Viz makes it easy to access the English editions by having the complete series available in a digital format for multiple platforms, including their own website (viz.com).

I’m unsure when it’s the best time to review a long series like this. At the moment, I’m 10 volumes in, and that means I’ve read 2,000 pages or so… I’m impressed and how much work it must have taken to lovingly produce these elaborately illustrated pages… Drawing the hair alone could take lifetimes! This is a work of great dedication.

The Story: Yuri Cross is an ordinary schoolgirl protagonist and apparent orphan, being raised by a headmaster at a private school. The school has a day class of ordinary students, and a night class of gorgeous, supermodel-attractive students who are secretly vampires. [squeal] Poor Yuri is tasked with keeping these groups apart during shift changes, even though she is TINY and not very persuasive, aside from having terrifyingly large eyes. (Really, they cross a line into scary-intense.)

Yuri has two love interests attending school, both of whom are relentlessly handsome: Zero, the troubled orphan from a vampire-hunter clan, who has an elaborate neck tattoo and a vampire-hating stare (day class, light hair, wearing black), and Kaname, the broody, indulgent vampire who saved Yuri’s life when she was a small child (night class president, dark hair, wearing white). Yuri doesn’t understand why Kaname, who could have anyone, indulges her, though she knows he is keeping a secret about her past.

Zero and Kaname are rivals for Yuri’s love, because of course they are.

Perfect set up, right? (Answer: Yes. And yes, there are entire articles about why this manga is superior to Twilight, so you don’t even have to raise that.) Societal forces and political intrigue off campus create all sorts of danger: eventually the school is attacked, and Yuri winds up wielding a super-cool weapon much larger than she is, and having to choose between her loves.

What I’m learning: arriving late to this genre, I had to learn some (probably) obvious things.

Chaste blood sucking: Blood sucking is the most forbidden, naughty, taboo thing you can do. (The text specified this.) So, having gorgeous boys lick your hand when you get a paper cut [swoon], or having them sweet talk you into letting you put their fangs into your neck (or each others’ long, handsome necks) [swoon], or generally drinking each others’ blood while making expressions of surrender and ecstasy is naughty, and is a stand-in for… any other possible exchange of bodily fluids. That’s why you keep letting handsome boys nibble on you only in secret: because it’s… taboo and forbidden on campus? Sure! Got it!

Dominance and submission: There are powers of mind control that powerful vampires naturally have over weaker ones! There are spells that can tame someone, and make them obedient to your wishes. Yes, there are.

Beauty appreciation/devotion: everyone is so gorgeous that same-sex attraction is totally understandable. No blame! Though it’s attractive to blush with embarrassment about it, because blushing just makes gorgeous people more gorgeous.

Fashion fetishism: There are the many beautiful fashion touches specific to Hino’s style. These made a big impression on me – the costumes are ELABORATE, and have so many unnecessary-but-pretty fasteners!

I have gone to so many kimono exhibits, and it took me a while to think about these costumes in contrast to those. Traditional Japanese clothing has its lovely flat collars, cord fasteners, printed patterns, straight edges, and wrapped contrasting layers, and these costumes are the opposite of each and every one of those details. Suddenly, Lolita-fashion as rebellion makes total sense. Lace! Buttons! Embroidery! Solids! Pleats! Clasps! Elaborately gathered skirts, crinolines, collars that could get a plane off the runway in a strong wind…. YES! This is fashion fetishism in a consistently designed, affectionate style.

Fasteners and stitches gone wild! Look at the care that goes into these clothes for the cover of Viz’ Volume 11! The buckles on Zero’s coat, the stitching on Yuri’s sleeves…

YES, THERE ARE DRESS UP PARTIES – how could there not be? Also, castles, and ballrooms, and long eyelashes on nearly everyone.

Hino knows EXACTLY what a vampire romance should have, and she delivers with a style that shows great fashion talent and dedication. I see why this is popular! And I understand why there are multiple art books and a sequel.

Be careful of the fan wiki at vampireknight.fandom.com, because it is filled with spoilers, even though it will help you keep track of the characters. (There are lots of blonde men with similar names, but the explanations also tell you their fates!)

I’ll now resume reading the next volume to see what our overdressed heroine, whose big heart still burns for both men, and whose giant weapon can collapse conveniently to fit into a purse, does next…

P.S. A week or so later, at the end of volume 19: Oh! There is a lot of action (fighting, assassinations, explosions) in this series! It’s difficult to keep the peace between humanoids with such different powers and lifespans, especially since some of the vampires get violently ambitious. Major conflicts between the different factions, which complicate our heroine’s romantic relationships, are based in the struggle to keep certain vampires from abusing their special abilities. Note: I got emotional on the very last pages, which means the characters really meant something to me. (Awwwww! This really is bittersweet! I didn’t expect to be so moved.) I really did enjoy this well written, well-paced, gorgeously illustrated, action-packed story.

Book: Mermaid Saga, Volume 2, by Rumiko Takahashi

Mermaid Saga, Volume 2
by Rumiko Takahashi
published in English by Viz
2021

Yuta, the man who ate mermaid flesh and gained unwanted immortality, is tired of having those around him wither and die of old age – he wants a cure. Mana, whom Yuta freed from her lifelong imprisonment, has no one in this world, and her childhood in captivity failed to prepare her for life of any length.

This second volume of stories from Takahashi continues the adventures of this unlikely, very attractive pair, as they seek a non-self-destructive solution to Yuta’s problem, and encounter others who either seek immortality or suffer from it. These stories are dark: obsession, betrayal, failed suicides-by-mermaid-flesh, greed, unwillingness to let go of loved ones, failed efforts at raising the dead, and the inevitability that seriously evil people would gain immortality and terrorize mortals around them for centuries….

The Viz Collector’s Edition includes color pages with cover art from individual issues, and their just LOVELY.

Why I like it: Yuta is fundamentally kind-hearted, and wants to help others, even though it entangles him and Mana in many dangerous (and interesting!) dramas; Mana develops an innocent and adorable loyalty to him.

Takahashi draws these characters with FANTASTIC hair, extra-shiny eyes, and lovely details – the old people look really crinkly, their expressions are very expressive, the monsters have bulging, distressing eyes, her fabrics and buildings are always so well observed and rendered. Her slightly industrial coastal fishing towns ring very true; she manages to include many lines suggesting the flow of water in so many subtle ways…

Takahashi is famous for her comedies, such as Ranma 1/2, but these stories show that she has a serious side, and sees that humans have the capacity for terrible behavior. The goodness of our hero balances what could otherwise be a dark world view, while still showing that being good in the human world takes determination and real effort.

Viz produced a beautiful collection, and being able to have all of the stories in just two convenient volumes, with lovely color covers, color inserts for the individual issue colors, and some other splashes inside, makes following the story easy AND a pleasure.

Yuta and Mana’s fate is undecided at the end of this volume, as you would expect for unintended immortals, which feels RIGHT. I’m so glad I have this, and am delighted I was able to get this collection so soon after its publication in English!

Book: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky, book three of the Broken Earth Trilogy
by N. K. Jemisin
published by Hachette, New York
2017

I finished this BRILLIANT trilogy, which I enjoyed as an audio book read by the extremely talented Robin Miles, and have taken a few days to really reflect on it.

The writing is excellent, and I’m admiring it technically before getting to gush about the story. It is brilliantly paced; the introduction of narration by a key character in the second volume opened a path for some brilliant development of Stone Eater themes in this volume; and the development of various parallel storylines makes this volume feel VERY high stakes. I’m just floored by the talent it took to lay out this story so skillfully! This is what I’ve been dwelling on – not just this book as a standalone, but how it fits so WELL with the other books, while still feeling like a distinct yet internally consistent part of one story. This is just such a great structure, and is so well put together… I’m awed.

Story: This third volume continues following Essun, who has lived multiple lives in her way, as she attempts to save the unstable, constantly quaking, ash-covered world. She has already experienced life detours, tried to start afresh in new locations and under new guises, lost and regained hope of ever reuniting with her lost daughter, found community, survived attacks, killed with her powers, and taken on some friends/followers with ambiguous motivations. Despite how cruel the planet and the people on it both have been to her, she is determined to save the world, using ancient technology and her newfound abilities to use that technology to do it. The task at hand feels impossible, but she’s already practiced doing a seemingly impossible thing, and has been growing in skill and perception. And her adoring Stone Eater is by her side. (I love that character, and its affection for her!)

Working against her is her own daughter, whose absolute child’s belief in extreme right and wrong has already turned deadly, and is ready to end it all – not her life, but human life across the world. And she has allies of her own…

Why I like this trilogy: it’s got the perfect depth in its world-building; the way the planet’s past is revealed is perfect – I had thought some of the knowledge had been lost forever, and to have it revealed after I’m already deeply attached to the characters, and have it be a drama unto itself, was SO EXCITING I couldn’t stop listening; the technology that is present is used at just the right level – it is an enabling device, never a crutch; the technology is both a benefit and a threat, which is so true to the nature of technology generally; Essun’s world-weariness feels so right, as does her stubborn determination to see things through; the people in the world have their own motivations, flaws, and strengths — no one feels like a drop-in generic type; the descriptions of how things feel (without getting down to some crazy level about the types of screws used) is quite successful…

The build up to the story’s resolution is great; I have favorite characters, and had creepy feelings in scenes with the villains (who also evolved in their way); there were a great ratio of relatively calm moments to crises or surprises (at one point, a character has a cup of Saf(e) that turned a color and I freaked out completely, because I had context they didn’t); travel on foot took a long time, AS IT SHOULD; the ultimate patterns of humans fearing other humans and establishing castes and bigotries and exploitation felt true to human nature; and this is just a ripping yarn. It glided along, and I was at the edge of my seat for exactly the right amount of time to feel stimulated rather than exhausted.

N.K. Jemisin wrote a fantastic trilogy in a world that I found compelling, with great characters, ideal pacing, and tantalizing ways of revealing how things worked, and I zealously recommend it.

Life: February and Early March 2021

Did I mention that this sentimental sunset is from the Before Times, shortly before the first local COVID-19 health order took effect? It is.

We are coming up on the one year mark for San Francisco’s local COVID-19 health orders, and there are reasons to HOPE, which I have… tried not to develop.

The reasons AGAINST early hope include: a rising third wave of infections in Europe (guardian.co.uk); the 2.6 million PLUS global deaths; the recent crossing of the 500,000 death line here in the U.S. (coronavirus.jhu.edu); and the mental health effects that all of this has had on all of us, and especially the impacts on essential workers.

The reasons FOR hope include: the approval of additional vaccines, the emergence of a government in the U.S. that believes in them and is making progress in rolling them out, and local test results finally sliding below 1 percent positive. You read that correctly!

This feels like REAL PROGRESS. Like the incredible sacrifices that so many have made are paying off. And with 200k+ residents of SF already one-shot into the vaccination program, it feels like we may beat the new variants that are wreaking havoc elsewhere, and get ahead of any potential additional waves.

I’ll feel better when my parents (who don’t live here in SF) are fully vaccinated. I’ll also feel better when most of the folks who need it the most here are covered – SF has extended eligibility to food service workers and people with qualifying conditions over the age of 16.

*

There have been some virtual memorials, but I feel like I need to go to a physical place to reflect on this and light a candle, or something. Something not just on a screen.

*

Colleagues are asking how I’ll celebrate when it’s safe to do that, and… I’m trying not to get attached to any particular plan.

I’m also trying not to yell at social contacts in Europe, who are complaining bitterly because they’ve been subject to restrictions since NOVEMBER or DECEMBER. I’ve been at this 51+ weeks, and I just am having trouble working up sympathy. Yes, I remember what it felt like, but no, I have difficulty feeling that they are reasonable.

*

Last night, I dreamt that I was wandering through the Inner Mission District, along an imaginary tributary to the real river that used to run down Caesar Chavez/Army. (Click for the real, historical waterway map (museumca.org).) There were paved plazas around the river, and European modernist buildings with long bands of horizontal windows all around. It was safe to eat indoors or out; it was safe to wander into cafes and chat; it was pleasant to do that. It felt normal and right.

My subconscious is already looking forward to post-pandemic cafe-sitting, and I look forward to catching up with its forward-looking vision…

Book: Dear Life by Alice Munro

A modest cover revealing rewards to be immodest about!

Dear Life
by Alice Munro
published by Vintage Books (Random House), New York
2012

I came to this collection of short stories knowing that Alice Munro had won international recognition for her outstanding writing, but not knowing if I would ENJOY it. I do! I’m delighted (and deeply impressed) by her remarkable clarity, her sharply observed descriptions of human behavior, her characters’ methods of acting out their emotional states, and her spare, crisp, and often bleak Ontario landscapes.

She says SO MUCH so efficiently! Two sentences in and I am THERE.

The collection of short stories has several themes, and the one I choose to emphasize is: turning points. Our characters decide to reach out to a stranger; have a spontaneous love affair on a train; decide NOT to return from war to their awaiting family; try to resist looking into the open casket… and these decisions do (or don’t!) change the trajectory of their lives. There is a tension between things that happen to them, their relative acceptance of circumstances, and how long they can accept things as they are before fleeing or being cast out.

The interactions are largely interpersonal, and feel like large dramas playing out on small, domestic stages. The women in particular are constantly balancing their limited options and their opportunities, rolling with what is expected of them – until they won’t. Social pressures erupt in judgments of all sorts, invariably against women who don’t try hard enough, or try too hard – the acceptable zones are small and ill-defined. Characters face conservative, conformist social pressures with a 1950s-70s weight that I’d characterize as “American mid-western,” though these stories are emphatically Canadian. (SO CANADIAN.)

From the first story I marvelled at her descriptions. How can the increasingly exaggerated and theatrical goodbyes people make through windows be so immediately and clearly written? You may not know someone’s height, or the pattern on their shirt, but you are quickly led to their careful manner, their sense of privacy, the way they speak when angry, the compromises they have made to be themselves, and what those cost them.

I have fussed over certain turns of phrase in writing about other authors, and I can say that Munro is doing something else: her language is brisk and sharp, cool and clear in a non-showy way, and all the more stunning for it.

It will be difficult to tolerate less skilled, more verbose stories by other authors for some time…

Book: The Mermaid Saga, volume 1, by Rumiko Takahashi

Yes, even the cover is so lovely…

Mermaid Saga (volume 1)
by Rumiko Takahashi
published in English by VIZ Media, LLC, San Francisco
2020

Yes, Rumiko Takahashi, the ‘princess of manga,’ published these stories in 2003, but now Viz has a beautiful, “signature edition” in English and with color inserts that is truly special! The second volume is being published this month, so I rushed out to get the first, and I LOVE it. You can read a free preview at the Viz website (viz.com)!

Mana is a lovely girl, being affectionately raised in a remote village of women, but must live in shackles. She is being raised… for a purpose that hasn’t been disclosed to her.

Yuta has watched his wife and loved ones die of old age while he remains young, after inadvertently eating the flesh of a mermaid. While his fellow diners died horribly or turned into miserable monsters, he received the immortality and endless youth that so many others will kill for. But he doesn’t want to live forever.

Unlike Takahashi’s light-hearted, comedic manga like Ursei Yatsura or Ranma 1/2, Mermaid Saga is a dramatic horror story. There is violence and plenty of death; monsters are real; humans behave monstrously; and people ruin the lives of people they claim to love through betrayals, violence, jealousy, murder, and imprisonment.

The artwork is lovely, which may seem like a funny thing to say when Yuta is constantly filthy and bleeding from some new wound! Takahashi’s work is beautifully composed; the fabrics are all lovingly rendered; the landscapes and cityscapes are all evocative; there is a convincing amount of detail (just enough, exactly where it should be); the action lines are bold, and anything that flows has lovely curves; everyone has FANTASTIC HAIR; old people are super, super old… The color and toned work in certain sections are an added bonus. SHE IS SO GOOD! I want to call her the QUEEN of manga, though they don’t historically have queens in Japan, but she deserves all the accolades.

Mana and Yuta didn’t CHOOSE their situation, but they are actively choosing to change it! It’s a compelling, serious set of stories. I’m hoping I’ll have volume 2 in my hands later this month!

Film: Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi

This image is from https://universeconquest.fandom.com/ Fan wikis are a great way to keep track of episodes and characters. The fandom page I used to track my progress through all 196 episodes is https://inuyasha.fandom.com. My iTunes seasons were broken into renumbered sub-seasons, so I have three episode 1s for season 6, and needed the fandom list to watch in order.

Inuyasha (seasons 1-6, plus Inuyasha: The Final Act; 196 episodes(!) total)
Based on the manga by Rumiko Takahashi
Published in English by Viz Media, LLC, San Francisco
2000 – 2004 and 2009 – 2010

So!  The last quarter of 2020 really got to me, and I needed a vacation for my mind. While poking around HBO during the holiday break, I came across Inuyasha by the remarkably talented Rumiko Takahashi, the same manga artist who created the most popular manga / anime stories of my youth.  [Imagine I’m narrating flashbacks from the late 80s and early 90s of going to university anime clubs, to see fan-subtitled or fan-dubbed versions of her work in overflowing lecture halls after classes ended!] I read about this series online – you don’t even have to finish wording your Google search before realizing that it’s a phenomenon, and people want to know WHY it is so popular.

It’s popular because it has so much going for it!

Why did I commit so many hours of my life (plus a few hundred dollars to purchase all seven seasons to watch at my convenience) to see the story through to the end? I WILL TELL YOU. (You knew this.)

First, a long-ish synopsis: Kagome, an ordinary Japanese high school girl in the modern world, travels through an old well to an alternate-universe-version of feudal Japan, where magic is real, demons (including harmless, friendly, nature spirits) are everywhere, and she is a reincarnation of a powerful priestess. She teams up with a dog-eared youth, Inuyasha, to save the world from evil once her magical jewel is broken and scattered across the land. A villain named Naraku is their main competition to reassemble the powerful jewel, and he is a part of Inuyasha & prior-Kagome’s tragic past.

There are TONS of other characters, weapons with special abilities, curses, incarnations of Naraku (characters made out of his flesh, but functioning as independent characters), love triangles, rivalries, discrimination, demons who look like monsters, demons that look like impossibly beautiful men, beautiful demons that have crushes on other beautiful demons, light physical comedy, teenage awkwardness, and a collection of small, shrill sidekicks who help explain the story to the audience by having things explained to them. (You annoy me, Shippo!) I will just write about my favorite elements of this.

I love isekai stories. My kindergarten notebooks have my early, handwritten stories of little girls who find strange caves and wind up in another world. These portal stories are so common in Japanese fiction that the genre has a name: Isekai (wikipedia.org). Kagome’s trips between contemporary Japan and fantasy magical feudal Japan through the well put this in that category.

The isekai elements feel metaphorical. Even if this is just a “feudal fairy tale,” as the opening credits put it, it FEELS like it represents something else. Kagome has a really rough time balancing out her obligations in the contemporary world – the scenes where she freaks out in class because she doesn’t understand her math tests AT ALL are hilarious! – with her life as a demon-slayer in the feudal one. She has unique skills that her team needs in the feudal world, while she is just another student in the contemporary one! She literally saves lives in the feudal world, but this other life of hers is secret from her classmates. (Thankfully, her family is very supportive.) Having important parts of your life that no one knows about is a relatable structure.

I love the background art. There are more “realistic” styles of anime, but Inuyasha is illustrated in a “classic” style that Takahashi helped establish. Big eyes, big hair, tiny mouths – that’s part of what makes this style. Meanwhile, the background art, skies, sunsets, streams, forests, and seasons are all lovingly rendered. As a watercolorist, I really appreciate the effort that went into these!

Scenery in Inuyasha is rendered beautifully in these screen grabs. The watercolorist in me is impressed at the sheer volume of beautiful backgrounds that were produced for this – it is many lifetimes worth of portfolios!

If I created even a tiny number of works of this quality, I would be so proud!

In addition to the beautiful representations of nature, there are great, very specifically Japanese renditions of palaces, food, sword hilts, houses, temples, and other details. The sort of things I studied back when I was in architecture, and/or on visits to Japan. People who really LIKED these things drew them, and that inspires my appreciation.

Feudal life is harsh, and bad things happen, which raise the stakes. Characters die. Everyone on the team has lost at least one immediate family member to a premature death. Many of them are coping with past traumas, which make them vulnerable and give them emotional baggage. This is the only anime I’ve seen where the main characters REGULARLY spend time burying entire villages of slain bystanders. It makes the evil they are battling more real, and also explains the anti-demon discrimination and rejection their group experiences, even if their demons are ‘good guys.’ Even some of the villainous characters feel trapped in their situations, and the main protagonists sometimes rescue them; little truces and scenes of mutual assistance spring up from time to time, and some characters have ambiguous motivations…

Lord Sesshōmaru is beautiful. I figured this out on my own, but if I hadn’t, there are multiple characters who swoon over him to be sure I get the picture. I’ve burst out laughing with, “Lord Sesshōmaru is SO DASHING!” spontaneously when he has appeared on screen, because they trained me well. (Lesson: definitely leave offerings of food to beautiful men you encounter in forests. I’m just saying.) He is always impeccably dressed. And he doesn’t let losing an arm phase him, nor change the flow of his sleeves.

Sesshōmaru is a beautiful character. He wears the same color of eyeliner I do, but it looks better on him. He has fantastic hair. He always looks like he smells nice. He pretends to be uncaring, with his gorgeous case of ‘resting b*tch face,’ but he intervenes to save others too often for it to be as unintended as he claims. He is also super-powerful and effective – he gets stuff DONE.

The English dialog is skillfully done. There were EXCELLENT script consultants for Viz’s dubbed scripts! There’s a scene where two heros are bickering, and one of their friends remarks that both of the guys are “as dumb as a sack of hammers,” and that is EXACTLY RIGHT. I’m sure the original Japanese insult was amazing, but this shows great skill.

The characters develop. The protagonists each have their own traumas to manage, and each bears a separate grudge against Naraku, which they had planned to resolve independently. Over the series, they learn that they are more effective as a team, develop awareness beyond their own pain, and properly look after each other. Even Inuyasha, who begins as a self-centered man-child, and, um… stays that way for a very long time, eventually becomes aware of other people’s feelings. You WANT him to develop, because Kagome loves him immediately.

The story has a solid structure, and clear goals. The core story is the battle against Naraku and his increasingly strong/difficult minions, and it’s a clear, simple setup with plenty of opportunity for variations. There are episodes which don’t move the story forward, yes, including some back stories for minor characters (Shippo!?!?), but even when they can’t find the main villain, the protagonists pick up a skill, or reaffirm their values, or make friends. The episodes are about 20 minutes apiece, so you can knock out three in an hour and feel like something happened!

There are other things to enjoy about this series – that theme music for Season 6 is so good! – but I need to stop before I scare you. Like any creative product, there are periodic imperfections, but that’s to be expected in such a vast collection, and the quality remains very high. Characters look hastily drawn now and then; the restart after a long gap between Season 6 and Final Act felt abrupt to me as a binge-watcher (which was not the expected experience at the time it was made), and some of the tiny, loud characters get more screen time than I’d like. Happily, the last season really picked up pace once it got going, and was EVENTFUL. I’m glad I watched through to the end.

So: I highly recommend this classic, high volume, well-executed, charming series. Go reave some iron and steal some souls!

Book: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

Cover of the Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate (Book Two in the Broken Earth Trilogy)
by N.K. Jemisin
published by Hachette, New York
2016

Note that Hachette’s site for the trilogy, linked above, contains light spoilers, in that the summaries reveal whether certain characters survive the previous volume(s).

Essun’s long quest to avenge her murdered toddler son and rescue her daughter, if that is still even possible, suffers a detour. She and her peculiar traveling companions are attracted to a place where Hoa says that there are many others of her kind, but her daughter isn’t there. The Season (the devastating aftermath of a volcanic/seismic cataclysm) is becoming more severe, and people – now organizing into factions – are becoming more desperate…

In this book: Essun finally returns her attention to the giant, floating crystals in the sky; Hoa’s backstory and insights about the stoneaters add depth (we learn how he REALLY met Essun!); someone who should know better disregards light up, hovering, holographic warning symbols; a powerful child makes some severe value judgments; and there is some mass murder.

I want to gush – there were times while listening to this that I refused to stop to do <some real-world thing>, because I HAD TO HEAR MORE – but won’t risk spoilers. I will just say that I am delighted by the story’s progress in this volume, especially the ancient technology revelations, and am eager for the third book. The last pages of this volume serve as a warning that our major characters are not all sharing the same goals…

As with the first volume, I’m LISTENING to this book on the Hachette audiobook version, and it is extremely well done, and I recommend it highly.

Film: Dystopian Anime: Iczer 1

Iczer 1
based on manga by Aran Rei
directed by Toshiki Hirano
1985

Admittedly, this is a sci-fi horror story, not merely a dystopia. But… have you watched the news lately?

Overview: Humanoid aliens looking for a new home get mixed up with some creepier aliens, and by the time their ship arrives at earth, these alien “Cthulhu” immediately cause humans to have weird mask faces, become murderous, or explode in gory, bloody ways as they turn into an army of monsters. This approach allows the Cthulhu to take control of earth without having to have a destructive, conventional war (which humans still think they have a chance at!). A blonde alien with enormous hair and an even more enormous giant robot takes the humans’ side of this fight. All she needs is a sympathetic human girl to [take a deep breath here] get naked and use her emotions to power the giant robot, so she can succeed in battle. (I probably had you until that last sentence.). The Cthulhu also have a giant robot or two, and they fight back!

This embedded video is a link to a gorgeous, clean, fan-subtitled version of the film (via Reflex Studios)(YouTube):

Why I like it: It has everything – alien invasions, secret earth spaceships hidden near Mt. Fuji, light sabers, big hair, energy weapons, giant robots, fights that throw people into walls that they make craters in, parents that burst and turn into monsters, tentacle attacks, and a nearly all-female cast! (This particular version is CLASSY, so the tentacle scenes are brief! ) The timing and use of music is brilliant in several scenes, which I don’t want to spoil for you.

You’ll notice the summaries elsewhere describe the “body horror” elements quite a bit, and I’ll just say: it is definitely in the sci-fi horror genre, and the body horror is much like that of the film Aliens. So, while it isn’t realistic, just the same, the idea of parents exploding and becoming monsters isn’t exactly child-friendly, so don’t share this with little ones.