Rosemary and Rue (October Daye Book 1) Review

“It’s just that sometimes my cases were more Brothers Grimm than Magnum PI.”

 

Former knight October Daye, who prefers Toby, is half human / half fae changeling who has extremely good reasons for no longer wanting anything to due with the Faerie world. However it has no intention of giving her a choice…

 

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I’m getting back into urban fantasy in earnest and decided to refresh my memory on the first couple of October Daye novels so I could continue with the series. I remember Rosemary and Rue being a great start, and reached the same conclusion with this reread. It establishes a deep intersecting world combining Fae kingdoms with the modern world as well as giving weighty, completely understandable reasons for protagonist Toby Daye’s role as a reluctant heroine. We feel the tragedy of her past, and thus are fully invested in the troubles she unwillingly has to deal with.

McGuire does a phenomenal job here providing enough context and answers to fully engage the reader while simultaneously really only scratching the surface of her world’s potential and mysteries she has in store. Particularly compelling are the variety of diverse and genuine feeling characters Toby has to deal with, each with a well formed personality and their own goals and agendas. I’ll hold off naming favorites to avoid spoilers, but the cast really shines overall and is one of the series’ greatest assets.

The plot and underlying mystery is appropriately tense, builds nicely, and unfolds logically. I’ve enjoyed revisiting Rosemary and Rue and am really looking forward to getting farther along in Toby’s adventures.

 

 

Juni Taisen Zodiac War Episode 1 Review

Every twelve years warriors representing the zodiac gather to “compete” until only one remains. To the victor, a granted wish. The Boar, haughty daughter of last tournament’s victor, arrives with destiny in mind and is determined not to be one of the eleven consigned to oblivion.

 

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Like Recovery of an MMO Addict, this is another anime I checked out as part of Crunchyroll’s Passport contest and as such was going in totally cold information-wise.

But while I had no foreknowledge of Juni Taisen Zodiac War, the basic idea was readily apparent. Twelve hardened warriors representing the zodiac have gathered to “compete” until there is only one left. The tone is dark and unsettling, and the entire premise and rules are set up for gruesome deaths and establish tension. Flashbacks to Boar’s background help establish the (disturbing) scope of the show.

The atmosphere and execution is where this sets itself apart, and Zodiac War is interesting and well done overall. I admittedly could have done without what I found to be “meta” spoilers (and I’m very glad I avoided Crunchyroll’s episode description, which is as blatant a spoiler filled summary as I’ve seen), as I readily predicted where things were going. But getting there was still fairly compelling. I wonder if this initial episode will be a template for future episodes. I hope not, because while it worked well enough here as a formula it would drain all suspense from the series. I’m interested in watching more, and cautiously optimistic about the potential this has.

 

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Episode 2 Review

“Revenge is ludicrous.”

 

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The first episode of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World was a decent return to the universe of my favorite anime of all time.

The questions about whether this is a sequel or reboot are answered here, as we get a complete retelling of a story from the first series. Comparisons are thus unavoidable, and to be honest this version doesn’t fare well.

Colosseum is one episode now instead of two in the original, leading to pacing problems and straight up rambling exposition at various times to to set up the plot background. There’s no drama nor proper time to the fights now, and all character development of the other participants and support cast is gone. The absence of certain aspects (tiered society, face to face meeting with the king, etc) modify the philosophy of the story, removing depth and completely changing the implications and meaning of Kino’s actions. I feel all nuance has been lost, and this plays more like a plot outline of the original episodes than a fully formed story.

I’m extremely curious which is closer to the light novel this is based on, as while still justified this Kino is much less relatable/likable compared to the original anime, particularly since this is presented in the second episode with much less opportunity to get to know Kino before these events. It will be interesting to see what new viewers think without the old series to compare to.

I really hope they stick to new material going forward. There’s plenty from the light novels to draw from, so half hearted remakes of stories already adapted don’t seem necessary. Keeping the old series as cannon and providing background exposition as needed would have worked just fine, and certainly wouldn’t have been any more awkward than the info dumps present here. In a vacuum this wasn’t bad, but as a remake it was disappointing.

Top Five “New to Me” Games Late-2017

As in the past, I’d again like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently.

 

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my mid-2017 list.
  • As usual I’ve tried 10+ new games since then, so it was difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Triplock, Einstein, and Thunder & Lightning.

 

 

 

5. The Captain is Dead

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If ever there was a game that exceeded my expectations, it’s The Captain is Dead. The odd premise is incredibly fun and engaging from the moment the game begins, as well as being ingeniously integrated into the gameplay and highly engrossing. There’s a real sense of entropy that the players need to get ahead of to succeed. Great co-op all around that’s highly recommended for anyone who’s ok with reactive gameplay and the quirky sci-fi setting.

Full review.

 

4. Magic Maze

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The premise of Magic Maze completely ridiculous. The pawns represent a party of adventurers that need to resupply and have decided to rob the … local mall. Yes, really. 🙂 The players share control of all four of them and try to map out the mall, get each adventurer to their favorite shop simultaneously, then get everyone out.

Overall Magic Maze is a fantastic real time co-op that features phenomenal design and brings something new and fun to the genre. It made a strong positive impression on everyone I’ve played with, and is a great addition to the game closet.

Full review.

 

3. Exit Series

 

The Exit games are the best Escape Room inspired home games I’ve played. Embracing a low cost point so they could make the games single use, the designers take full advantage of having components that can be cut, drawn on, and otherwise destroyed to create really clever puzzles and thoroughly engaging experiences. All three I’ve tried have been quite impressive and fun, and capture some of the wonder of playing actual escape rooms.

More thoughts on the series.

 

2. Near and Far

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Near and Far is a gorgeous adventure themed game with high production value, great atmosphere, and a real feeling on progress and exploration. The story elements are wonderfully integrated and enhance, rather than disrupt, the competitive game mechanics. With several game modes, maps, and variations this is a deep game with high replayability.

 

1. Yamatai

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Yamatai is a great area claiming game that’s reasonably accessible yet achieves significant depth due to modular setup, the variety of action choices available, and needing to properly exploit boats/resources placed by opponents. There are a lot of interesting choices every single turn and subtle underlying strategy and tactics to experiment with. I’ve played two and three players and the dynamics were quite different while still retaining the same feel and appeal. This is a fantastic new addition to my collection that jumped right into my list of favorite games.

 

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That’s it for now. It continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

The Ancient Magus’ Bride Episode 1 Review

“Their kindness and favors don’t necessarily benefit a human.”

 

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride starts out with an unsettling and ominous opening with heavy atmosphere as we see a young girl dejectedly signing a contract then being put in a collar, chains, and a robe. She’s purchased by mysterious figure for exorbitant amount, and isn’t even remotely expecting his intentions.

The underlying premise and setup are of course uncomfortable, but things settle into a lighter atmosphere in short order. The heavy themes are of course still there, but the themes move into the territory of acceptance and dealing with coming out of the depths of despair. Chise’s burdened and cursed with powers that are now appreciated and valued, and she has no idea how to react with the possibly fortuitous change in her fate. It’s a delicate subject well handled and this first episode is captivating as her story starts to unfold.

The feel has a touch of “slice of life” as the details of Chise’s new situation are revealed, and the world has a fascinating layer of magic behind it. Being set outside of London and a great animation style combine for a wonderful aesthetic. I’ve been curious about this series and found this first taste of it quite intriguing. Looking forward to watching more.

 

Recovery of an MMO Junkie Episode 1 Review

Thirty year old Moriko is a NEET by choice who wants nothing more than to escape back into the comfort of the online world. In a bit over her head trying a new MMO, her character Hayashi attracts the assistance of the sweet and more experienced Lily, and Moriko’s solo adventure suddenly becomes more of a group effort. 

 

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I checked this series out as part of Crunchyroll’s Passport contest, involving watching the first episodes of several new series. So I knew absolutely nothing about it going in.

The opening caught my eye, with vivid, fluid animation and a couple of intriguing glimpses. The strong initial impression continued as the main character walked into her apartment and threw a bouquet of flowers in the trash. Nice, striking way to immediately convey volumes about her. In general I thought there was a really great balance of how much to explicitly reveal and explain vs what to imply here.

This was a cute, good first episode laying the groundwork of Moriko forming relationships within the game world she’s using to try to avoid having to do so in the real world. It appropriately focuses primarily on establishing the internal game world and what she’s experiencing in it in this initial episode, but I expect more of a spotlight on her in the real world as the series progresses. There’s a lot to like and both the comedic and romantic/interpersonal elements are extremely well done so far. Definitely considering continuing with this one.

 

 

 

Farewell to a Legend

On November 3, 2017, in an hour long match with 50+ opponents, Manami Toyota ended her incredible 30 year career in professional wrestling.

Toyota is a innovator and standard bearer whose impact on the sport will be felt long after her retirement. I haven’t watched nearly as much as I want / intend to of Toyota’s older matches, but am of course well aware of her impact on professional wrestling.

As my own personal goodbye to her legendary career, I’d like to focus on the fortuitous opportunities I’ve had to see Toyota wrestle live.

 

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The first was a complete surprise, and an incredible moment for me during my first trip to Japan. Toyota was not scheduled for any of the 12 shows I saw during my two week trip to Tokyo at the end of 2015.

On December 20 I attended a show show by Chigusa Nagayo’s Marvelous promotion. The main event was a 6 on 2 handicap match featuring Chigusa, Aki Shizuku, Chikayo Nagashima, Mima Shimoda, Takumi Iroha & Tomoko Watanabe vs Dump Matusmoto & Yumiko Hotta. Chigusa’s teammates were largely cannon fodder for Dump to  to hit with a kendo stick and other objects over and over. Hotta arrived wearing numerous pairs of handcuffs all over her gear, so it was obvious where things were eventually going. After the brawl spilled throughout the arena Chigusa’s team was eventually incapacitated by being handcuffed to the ropes.

The heat coming from sections of fans for both Dump and Chigusa was incredible, creating an electric atmosphere. If possible it intensified even more when Manami Toyota came out as surprise help for Chigusa. For me it was a jaw dropping moment, and I felt incredibly privileged to get to meet Toyota after the show.

 

Fast forward a year and I was back for the holiday shows again, including a personal favorite of mine in Ice Ribbon’s annual Ribbonmania. Toyota’s match this time was particularly interesting, as she was one of the challengers for Ai Shimizu’s Triangle Ribbon Title (along with Maruko Nagasaki).  This was a straight up slaughter, which might not have made for the most interesting of matches from the perspective of an completely overmatched champion, but Toyota plowing through both opponents and winning the Triangle title with a double pin after her moonsault was a strong spectacle and nice moment all the same. Toyota commented/joked afterwards about her winning a title in 2016, and it was again an honor to get to greet her in person and congratulate her.

Her Triangle Ribbon championship reign was a quiet one, as she successfully defended the title only once during her six month reign before losing it to her heir apparent Tsukasa Fujimoto. But a final championship before she retired was well deserved.

 

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My third opportunity to see Toyota wrestle live came during a shorter trip this past summer.  At SEAdLINNNG’s August 24 show she was again in a 3-way match with Maruko Nagasaki, this time under high speed rules with Kaho Kobayashi as the third participant. It was an amusing opener centered around the legend having some difficulty with the match concept (super quick counts and covers only valid after some sort of running move from what I could tell) and getting annoyed with special referee Natsuki Taiyo. She eventually adapted and outlasted the youngsters, picked up the win, then sold being exhausted from so much running. It was really amusing, particularly in watching Toyota’s protege Tsukka crack up at ringside at the various antics, and a fun format to see the veteran perform in. 

 

 

 

A few days later I saw what would be my final live Manami Toyota match at Ice Ribbon’s August 27 event. A somewhat poetic way to close things out, as Toyota was the opponent for the debuting Asahi. The rookie played the role of totally overmatched but determined underdog well against  the legend and the dynamic of the confident, somewhat dismissive Toyota acting more and more surprised at Asahi’s resiliency and the length she had to go to in order to beat the upstart was fantastic.

 

 

 

Tsukka and others cheering on Asahi excitedly each time she got a little edge on the veteran or survived a pin attempt added a lot to the atmosphere, and short of being in attendance for Toyota’s actual last match I couldn’t have asked for a better note to say goodbye on.

 

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I appreciate everyone reading indulging me in my personal memories of interactions with one of wrestling’s brightest stars. I highly recommend seeking out anything and everything you can from her incredible career. Congratulations to Manami Toyota and best of luck with whatever’s next.