Surrounded by Vibrancy

Tenri Cultural Institute, in addition to its language school, concerts, and various other cultural events, hosts an art gallery that is home to a variety of excellent exhibitions ranging from demonstrations of traditional Japanese techniques to innovative displays of multinational modern art. I’ve spotlighted several past showings, and two of my absolute favorites where the textile based Chika MacDonald’s “Mugen” and Nobuko Tsuruta’s “12 Years.”

Here I’d like to share my impressions of another wonderful textile exhibition, the currently showing “Our Road.”

 

 

The immediate visual impact of this exhibit is incredible. Japanese Dyeing Artist Ken Arai and Textile Artist Kiyo Masuyama’s exhibit, featuring collaborative pieces that span the length of their careers, showcases an amazing array of diverse tapestries in a variety of vivid, impactful colors and gorgeous patterns.

 

 

 

The opening reception was a fun, lively affair allowing guests to absorb the grandeur of Arai and Mauyama’s work amid a lovely background atmosphere enhanced by Indonesian Gamelan music provided I.M. Harjito and Anne Stebinger.

 

 

 

Beyond the inherent quality and beauty of the pieces themselves, the exhibit reaches further heights in it’s construction and brilliant use of space. Tenri Gallery, with it’s high ceilinged main area, large support pillars, and side area stretching to the front windows looking out on 13th street, provides great opportunity for exciting presentation and “Our Road” makes the most of its potential. Contrasting yet complimentary pieces placed side by side, impressive pieces stretched from floor to ceiling, gorgeous works draped above viewers heads, and all the other little details in placement and display choices combine to make the whole effect even more striking.

 

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Simply put, “Our Road” is absolutely wonderful. It runs until Tuesday July 3, and is well worth stopping by to experience in person.

 

 

The File of Young Kindaichi Returns First Impressions

Hajime Kindaichi, grandson of a famous detective and no slouch in that area himself, travels with his best friend Miyuki who is recruited to perform in a fashion show in Hong Kong in place of a model who she bears a striking resemblance to that’s gone missing. Unfortunately the missing model is only the first to disappear, and worse things are on the horizon. 

 

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I’m a huge fan of the Kindaichi Case Files manga, so was quite interested in checking out this anime adaptation. A nice bonus for me is that this adapts one of the later Kindaichi series, so the mysteries will be new to me.

So far I’ve watched the first case, told over the course of the first four episodes. That seems exactly the right length to properly let the mysteries unfold. The Hong Kong Kowloon Treasure Murder Case provides a decent introduction to Kindaichi and the formula, approach, and atmosphere of his adventures.  It seems to have the same general classic mystery feel and structure as the manga, and this opening mystery has good hooks and twists (and the coincidences the plot is based on are too amusing to really hold it against the story).

The pacing is decent, although the exposition heavy setup and solution portions are less cumbersome when reading and drag ever so slightly in animated form.  There’s also a little bit of handwaving and stretching of suspension of disbelief with certain developments (which also occurs in the manga at times), but importantly not in the mystery related parts so no real complaints.

Vital context is kept hidden until the end, but the mystery plays fair and key parts are solvable (if requiring some big leaps of logic). This is one of the things I love most about the Kindaichi stories I’ve read, and I’m particularly happy to see this aspect continued here.

Overall I enjoyed this quite a bit and will be continuing to watch when I can. I do recommend reading the original manga series first if you can, if only to appreciate the cameos, have a better sense of the main characters, and because the written stories are a little deeper. But as I mentioned before this initial arc does provide a good introduction to Hajime’s world, and should be extremely accessible even with no prior familiarity.

Kindaichi Case Files Volume 2 Review

Each case in this manga is a stand alone mystery, and we are still very early in the series. So while reading in order will be better to understand the recurring characters, it’s not necessary to enjoy the individual stories.

 

The Mummy’s Curse brings our highschool detective and his best friend to a strange isolated village in the country by way of a school scandal. When preparations for their classmate’s arranged wedding are interrupted with murder Hajime must unravel the truth behind the village’s curse.

 

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Like volume 1 (The Opera House Murders), this is a classically built murder mystery. Some key setup and all the players established up front and then the danger and tension hit hard and build rapidly. There are a lot of interlocking layers here to explain and the resolution spans most of the second half of the volume, but it’s all done very well. One of the main secrets is a classic twist that has been seen before. But everything comes together and is used in unique ways and combinations, making this a very interesting read. There are also some great little touches and instances of the author playing with preconceptions. Subtle clues are available and while the reader will never piece out every little detail the core mystery is solvable, which makes these stories particularly intriguing.

The art is extremely good. It’s well detailed, easy to follow and conveys atmosphere and tension wonderfully, acting as a great component to the storytelling.

The Mummy’s Curse is a strong second installment in Kanari and Sato’s mystery series and continues to build momentum for more stories about our young detective.

Kindaichi Case Files Volume 1 Review

The Opera House Murders introduces Hajime Kindaichi, deceptively smart grandson of a famous detective and under-achieving best friend of straight-A student Miyuki Nanase. An isolated retreat for a drama club practice already darkened by the recent suicide of the former lead gets even more tragic when guest start dying in a similar manner to the play they’re rehearsing – The Phantom of the Opera.

 

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This is a murder mystery with all the classical trimmings. Our cast and the setting is slowly established to start and then from the first strike on it’s a tense race to figure everything out and stop the killings. The various layers to the story and twists to the mystery are extremely well done and all integrated together flawlessly. And while there are pieces of the motive not revealed until the end there are clues and a good chunk of it all is solvable as you read. Add in a carefully developed dark and dangerous atmosphere and a smart adversary and it all comes together quite impressively. There is a fair bit of exposition towards the end, but it’s presented well and is needed to unravel all the cleverly connected elements of the solution.

The art is detailed, clean, and easy to follow. This is all extremely important for a mystery, where establishing clues, characters and even the geography of their surroundings can all be vital to having the plot unfold properly.

I’ve always loved a good mystery, and Kanari and Sato’s manga about a deceptively bright high school student descended from a famous detective is a wonderful collection of them. The Kindaichi Case Files is a fantastic series and The Opera House Murders gets us off to a great start.

After Hours Volume 2 Review

“What do I want to be? What do I want to do?”

Emi’s unexpected relationship with the captivating Kei progresses, drawing her further and further into Kei’s personal circle as the pair tries to sell Kei’s friends on holding an event that will push them all to their limit.  But Emi had a life, unhappy as it was, before meeting Kei, and her failure to disclose the details to Kei hangs heavily over her head …

 

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After Hours continues to be something special in this middle volume of the series. As I remarked in my review of volume 1 the choice of adult protagonists has a hugely positive effect on the story, with complex perspectives and problems, as well a refreshing frankness about their happiness and the realities of adult relationships, underlying Emi and Kei’s tale that keep it all feeling natural and genuine. Also important is that they both make mistakes, and they both have to deal with the consequences of their choices, which gives a nice, resonant layer of depth beneath the core story of two women falling in love.  It’s highly compelling to follow Emi’s point of view as she’s drawn further into Kei’s world, and I’m really looking forward to the 3rd and final volume

Infinity War Review

“Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same.”

 

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I’ve essentially been waiting for a movie version of my favorite comic story for over 25 years. So even with the excellent knack the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown for balancing large casts and adapting stories as well as the roll they’ve been on with excellent films like Black Panther and Thor: RagnarokI was a bit apprehensive going into Infinity War. I’m pleased to report that I needn’t have worried.

This felt right, building on the previously established mythology of the prior movies while keeping the essence of the themes of the comics (and in some cases improving on them) and paying tribute in numerous “Easter egg” type moments that fit in this new story and didn’t feel forced. That balancing act is difficult, and kudos to all involved in pulling it off.

While some characters could have used more screen time and a couple of characterizations felt a little off compared to the characters in their own movies, overall the movie did an extremely good job of balancing the huge cast (including a well deserved spotlight on some supporting cast members) and walking the line of comedy and drama that was so important to making this story work in the MCU. The cast banters out of stress and habit, amusing the audience in the classic Marvel movie way without losing sight of the gravity of unfolding events. Thanos, one of my favorite comic villains ever, shines as a powerful foe with a distinct point of view and agenda that requires sacrifices he’s willing to make. Sacrifices that are, of course, not acceptable to our heroes leading to the promised conflict that has the proper weight and epic feel.

The work Marvel’s put into building its universe over the last decade, letting viewers get to know their heroes and follow along with what’s brought them all to this point while slowly sewing the seeds foreshadowing this tale of the war over the Infinity Gems, pays off in spades. This story couldn’t be a simple adaptation, as the preceding events, general plot setup and themes, and even the key characters involved were very different than the comics. All the careful preparation and groundwork laid out in the previous movies allowed this tale to grow organically as a proper part of this narrative universe.  Yet I think that while that true depth of Infinity War might be lost by those new to the MCU it also does a good job of establishing the stakes, cast, and plot to the point where the story could be followed by new viewers. Again, not an easy task and I’m happy to see things come together so well.

 

The way things unfold are unique enough to the particulars of the MCU that even though this is based on elements of now classic stories it’s worthwhile to avoid spoilers. So I’ll wrap up here by saying that while not perfect this was still pretty much as excellent as I could have hoped for, and I’m dying to see the sequel next year to experience the fallout and see where everything goes from here.

 

Indexing 2 Review

“Fairy Tales are not for children, and they don’t care who dies. They never have.”

 

Agent Henrietta Marchen made some exceptionally dangerous enemies heading up her team of ATI Management Bureau agents as they fight back against a universe of fairy tales constantly looking to happen again at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to fit a story’s mold. They’re only the start of her worries though, as the weight of the personal sacrifice she made to defeat them also hangs over her head and those of of team, who aren’t in the best of shapes themselves…

 

This is a direct sequel to Indexing, and heavily depends on concepts, characters, and events in that book. Start reading there.

 

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Like Indexing, this sequel is a police procedural in a world where fairy tale narratives are an unseen force always looking to co-opt peoples lives. It’s an unusual and clever concept, brought to another level by the even more imaginative directions McGuire pushes it. Like the first this was originally released in serialized form, although the pacing and scope feel quite a bit different.

This one seems closer to chapters broken up into short story format than the first (which edged more towards connect short stories), but both approaches were successful and it’s nice to see the author able to adapt the style to properly fit the particular story being told. There are some conveniences, and these aren’t quite as tight as her October Daye series, but that’s small criticism and these are still fantastically built adventures that are highly enjoyable to watch unfold.

 

 

“Take all the time you need, as long as you don’t need very much.”

I don’t want to spoil any plot details so this will be kept necessarily vague, but Henry and her team are in for a bit of a wild ride this time around. And admittedly, at points the reader has to be content to go along for said ride and things get stranger and more complicated. But in the end it all comes together beautifully and the entire book maintains a wonderful feel of escalating stakes and a constant sense of urgency. Danger, complications, and internal dilemmas all plague our protagonists, and it’s all balanced well to provide a compelling overarching story as well as important moments of character development.

 

 

“She moved like she was mad at the world and wanted to make sure it knew.”

McGuire is great at weaving in little details and using the supporting cast to add depth and engagement to her stories, and that ability continues to shine here, particularly in the introduction of some great new characters. But at its heart this particular journey is about two characters before all others, and it benefits greatly from the tight focus on learning more about the past, present, and possible future of them. There’s a ton of information and context conveyed, and it’s integrated smoothly this time without feeling (too much) like things are pausing for info dumps.

 

“This is a bad idea. Let’s go somewhere else. Somewhere that isn’t actively preparing to swallow us both alive.”

One of my favorite things about this series, and McGuire’s writing in general, is the natural feel to the characters. Their attitudes, speech patterns, the way they tease each other, and other little moments of interaction really help not only to make each cast member distinct and memorable, but also to make the whole thing relatable. Despite the strange trappings, abilities, etc there’s something genuine about the characters and how they react and interact. It an extremely important layer to making this all accessible and engaging the reader, and McGuire deftly pulls it off.

 

Overall McGuire’s quirky mash up of procedural and fairy tales continues to be spot on for me. Between her wonderful gift for descriptions and generally smooth writing style, characters I legitimately care about, and fascinating world building, I’m adoring this series and really hope there’s more to come.