Re: Zero vol 1 Light Novel Review

Unmotivated nobody Subaru Natsuki has somehow stumbled into another world. “Prepared” in a sense for this unexpected occurrence by a lifetime of anime, he prepares to explore the fantasy world he’s entered and any dangers it holds while wondering if he’s gained any special powers. If he has, it may not be as useful as he hopes.

 

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I’ve hardly been so simultaneously interested and annoyed as when reading this light novel. The concept is decent, there are good action moments, and SOME of the humor works…

..but a lot of the humor is overdone and/or unfunny, the main character is generally unlikable, and the writing style is atrocious. The attempts at self depreciation, such as Subaru repeatedly commenting how he’s a disaffected youth “poisoned by anime,” is more odd and off putting than amusing.  He’s also pretty dense and it all combines to make him someone to be tolerated rather than interested in.

In the writing there’s constant redundancy of describing everything from Subaru’s point of view then summarizing the same thing again in dialog or his thoughts that’s clunky and unneeded. On top of that issue is extremely awkward phrasing that made the book a chore to get through. Whether the primary cause overall was the original text or the translation is unclear (and it’s likely to be a bit of both).

But there are obvious instances of poor translation. For example, there is an exchange joking about two characters’ ages prompted by the line “Well, it’s been a long time since anyone’s called me a girl.” Except no one did. The proceeding line is “She looks really used to fighting, despite her being a woman.” While I was able to follow the idea regardless and it may seem like a small error, using “woman” instead of “girl” there is clearly an inconsistency and there are similar things throughout the book. Writing that repeatedly draws attention to itself in such a way significantly hampers immersion. 

Capping it all off is an approach that’s the epitome of telling instead of showing (this of course likely stems from the source text). Expectation versus reality is conveyed by endless exposition, with characters’ feelings being stated and described instead of felt. Not only does this tend to flatten the emotional impact of the story, over describing insignificant things takes away from the key moments when the extensive detail is appropriate (and as I mentioned earlier there are a few such moments that are very well done).

The pacing of the book is also hampered a bit by the production. If you somehow manage to avoid the spoiler on the back cover (which I had) about something that’s not really explained until a third to halfway through the book, it’s spoiled anyway in the color pages under the character descriptions. Since those descriptions came from the original publication perhaps it was never meant to be much of a secret, but knowing more than is explicitly revealed in the book itself for so long was another aspect contributing to make reading long sections specifically building up to that realization boring.

 

It’s a shame really, as again the core premise is intriguing. The way the author acknowledges and plays with genre conventions has great potential if refined/reigned in a bit, and the cast is a reasonably interesting collection of mysterious misfits. There are some plot issues that really should have been addressed in this book, but signs do point towards them coming up in the future. The epilogue reveals more about the story than the entire proceeding book, which is another pacing problem but admittedly provides a strong hook for the next one.

Overall I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. I’m curious about what happens to Subaru and company going forward but can’t see forcing myself to read more. I might try to switch to the anime at some point and see if the storytelling and style feel more natural in that.

 

 

Flying Witch Volume 1 Review

I appreciate it when the back cover copy does a great job of summarizing a manga without major spoilers, so I’m going to quote Flying Witch’s here:

“Makoto Kowata, a novice witch, packs up her belongings (including her black cat familiar) and moves in with her distant cousins in rural Aomori Prefecture, in the far north reaches of Japan, to complete her training and become a full-fledged witch.”

 

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The atmosphere of Flying witch strikes me as Someday’s Dreamers meets Yotsuba. It’s an easy going, character centric slice of life story in a world where magic exists and is generally acknowledged (if still somewhat uncommon). It’s a wonderful premise for a light, everyday story to explore.

Flying Witch reasonably successful to that end. I did find this on slow side even for slice of life, but it works overall. The characters aren’t deep yet, but they are diverse and developed enough to start with to be engaging as the status quo is established.

The art style is solid and suitable, although there’s a strange mix of really detailed backgrounds and sparse/no backgrounds in certain panels and close ups. It’s not a huge deal, but the contrast does stick out a bit.

Overall I liked this, and just enough of Makoto and her world are shown here to make me interested in reading more. This volume ends on a high note too, with a fun character introduction that gives a glimpse of a good deal of potential going forward.

 

 

Clay Lord Manga Review

Clay is a young Golem molder who decides to test his meager skills by entering contest with a prestigious prize. But there’s more to Clay and his companions than first appears, and Clay’s skills could draw the wrong kind of attention.

 

I’ll be sharing thoughts on the entire series (volumes 1-3) as a whole here, so will keep it as spoiler free as possible.

 

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Clay Lord is a fun little manga with a good premise and likable characters that elevate it beyond the standard tropes it employs. Clay and his companions are engaging, and get a fair amount of development in the limited time they have.

The small scope is perhaps the series biggest weakness. There was definitely room for a couple more side stories to flesh out the world and characters more as well as allowing the major plot points room to breathe and thus achieve greater impact. This really could have, and probably should have, been at least a couple volumes longer.

That said while the general plot was pretty straightforward (within the trappings of the fantasy world) it was told extremely well with a lot of emotion packed into the short length and several key reveals that continually increased the emotional jeopardy of our lead. The focus is very tightly centered on Clay throughout to the story’s benefit, but the supporting characters were also well defined and important. It’s also a complete story, with major plot points being appropriately tied up and addressed by the end, which is always appreciated.

Overall Clay Lord is a solid, enjoyable series that could have been even better with more to it but also could have been worse in less capable hands.

 

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

During my first trip to Japan I had to travel back during Wrestle Kingdom, so I was extremely excited to actually be able to attend this year. While I generally prefer shows where I can get reasonably close to the ring and really enjoy the benefits of being there live, stadium shows are unique and different experiences in their own right and attending Japan’s biggest wrestling show of the year (at a venue like the Tokyo Dome no less) was definitely a bucket list item for me.

I was happy to have an opportunity to check it off, and had a great time. The atmosphere was unlike any event I’ve been to before and it was a good show with several great highlights.

 

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That said I have to admit I don’t necessarily feel any need to do it again, despite having a lot of fun and enjoying the show. It’s simply too long and the novelty of being at a 27,000 person show won’t be as strong the second time around. As mentioned I enjoy experiencing the energy of live wrestling much closer to the ring. If I have the chance in the future I think I’d rather try to catch their follow up Korukeun Hall show instead next time around.

I’m not going to try to run down or separate thoughts on all 11 matches and do a full review here. My memory’s simply not up to it, and watching from the very top of the Tokyo Dome seats meant I was getting more general impressions than details at certain points anyway.

The pre-show New Japan Rumble was amusing mostly due to the lineup, ranging from Jushin Thunder Liger to Scott Norton to Billy Gunn to Cheeseburger (seriously…). Michael Elgin is extremely over in NJPW, so having him come in and destroy some guys to win it was a good call.

 

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The undercard was the appropriate mix of styles and stories. I don’t recall anything being actively bad, but to be honest I found both Cody Rhodes debut and the ROH title match flat. Both would have benefitted from having Japanese talent involved, although I do acknowledge I’m in the minority of the audience in that Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly in particular is a match I can (and have) see repeatedly in the states. Still, I don’t think it had the impact intended. I understand the benefit to ROH of changing their title at such a big international event, but as one of eight title matches (and one of six title changes) it got lost in the midcard and fell flat. It was also seemed a rather average outing from the two regular opponents to me.

The midcard in general was good but blended together a bit. Standout moments in my memory are a strong finish to the Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice match, and being annoyed with Yano’s antics and thus disappointed when his team won the tag team championship.

 

At an event like this the top of the card is always where the strongest matches belong, and NJPW pulled that off in spades. The top four contests were all singles title matches filled with wrestlers the crowd went wild for.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title match between Kushida (c) and Hiromu Takahashi was good but spotty, with way too many dangerous looking head drops for my tastes. The story here was escalation, and I think they overdid it. Both competitors looked a bit loopy at times, and it was hard to enjoy this while more and more afraid for the wrestlers’ safety the longer this went. The rest of the crowd was hot for it though, so your milage may vary.

I felt the three matches that followed walked the line better, building increasing drama without going overbaord (ok, the main gets more of a pass on that for being the main). Katsuyouri Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto’s NEVER Openweight title match was a tense, hard hitting affair. I’ve heard some comments that it wasn’t the best match the two have had as opponents, but it was the first time I personally was seeing that pairing and I was impressed.

 

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In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion best of the night honors from me go to the semi-main between Tetsuya Naito (c) and Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title, who built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish.  The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

So of course if Naito vs Tanahashi is my match of the night then (in my opinion) the main event IWGP Heavyweight title match isn’t the the industry redefining match it’s been described as, and certainly not the greatest match of all time. That’s not to take anything away from Kazuchika Okada (c) and Kenny Omega: it was fantastic. It’s just the hyperbole has been out of control regarding this match. The semi main built more smoothly  in my opinion. Here they had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear. Again, still excellent though.

 

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Overall

Great show that was just too long for me to enjoy to the fullest extent live. The top of the card hit it out of the park though and reenergized me, and it’ll be easier to watch on replay (with the ability to watch in pieces) anyway. Easy recommendation on the strength of the top 3 matches alone, which are all well worth going out of your way to see.

A Great Night with an Old Friend

So unlike the usual ramblings I share in this space I’m not here to write a review this time. I simply want to reminisce about a great time with a childhood buddy and brag a bit on his behalf. 😉

 

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A few months ago (my apologies for the writing delay), a friend of mine (Dan) and his band (Stavo) came down to my neck of the woods to play. But it was more than just a local concert – they’d be the opening act for Pat Travers at B.B. King Blues Club.

I’d been keeping an eye on Stavo via social media, but hadn’t had the pleasure of hearing them live before. I also hadn’t seen my friend in a few years. I was extremely excited to see him again, hear them play, and for the awesome opportunity they had to perform at such a famous venue. In fact it would be actually my first concert at B.B. King’s, although I had been at the venue for other events (of the pro-wrestling variety).

 

 

Music’s more difficult for me to write about than other forms of entertainment. I just don’t process it the way I do books, movies, wrestling, games, etc and can’t pull it apart and analyze it in the same way.  That’s another reason (beyond the personal nature of the evening) this isn’t a review per se: the finer nuances and perspective needed to evaluate music as an art form are lost on me. Let’s be clear – I LOVE music in general and listen to all kinds of stuff all the time, but when it comes to sharing my opinions all I can ever really say is whether or not I liked it.

And man did I like what I heard that night. Stavo plays with heart and have fun with it and both came across in spades. They were a great choice for an opener too, as their music was complimentary to the style of the headlining Pat Travers Band while being distinct enough to stand out on its own. I imagined (and confirmed with my friend after the show) that the nerves flared a bit as they came out, but they put on a great performance and were well received by the crowd.

 

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I have to admit (and here’s where Dan likely kills me … ) that I wasn’t familiar with Pat Travers’ music before that night. Man was I in for a treat. His natural demeanor gives the immediate impression of being the rock star he is in the best possible way and his music was enthralling. Both bands jazzed things up a bit at points in tribute to the venue, which was of course awesome.

Afterwards I had the privilege of chilling with my buddy, his band, and a rock legend. It was an incredible experience for me, and I hope even more so for Stavo.

Thanks to anyone reading for sharing along with my somewhat self indulgent recounting of a hell of a fun time. 🙂 It was a joy to see my friend with such an opportunity and even more so to see Stavo make the most of it.

Check out Stavo here.

Top Five “New to Me” Games Mid-2017

As in the past, I’d like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently. Things were even tighter than usual among the new gems I’ve discovered in the past six months, and while I did order this based on my feelings at this exact moment it can really be labeled “too close to call” for me among several of these great games.

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my late-2016 list.
  • I’ve tried 10+ new games since then, so as usual it was difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Mottanai, and The Daedalus Sentence.

 

5. Kabuki

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For a game that’s essentially “memory,” Kabuki is incredibly well designed and addictive. The art design is key, as the mask cards are just different enough to be recognizable and distinct side by side while making it difficult to remember exactly which cards of each color are in each stack. Incredibly easy to learn, and a lot of fun.

Further thoughts here.

 

4. Santorini

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One of the best possible ways to make an excellent abstract is to have simple rules that combine to form deep and compelling gameplay. It is of course easier said than done, and Santorini deserves ample credit for the success it achieves. Add in great theming and production value and special power cards that completely transform the game into something distinctly different but just as compelling and this is definitely a keeper.

Full review.

 

3. Yokohama

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At first glance Yokohama could be a bit overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of components and disparate elements, but it all comes together really well. The basic actions taken each turn are straightforward, but the implications of executing those actions become complex and far reaching. It’s the type of game that could take a few plays to really wrap your head around, but is immediately engaging regardless. This is a game of meaningful choices and immense replayability.

(First impressions review forthcoming.)

 

2. Ars Alchimia

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Ars Alchimia is the crafting side system of rpg video games turned into a board game in a gloriously fun way. If that sentence alone adequately explains why it’s my #2 on this list definitely check it out immediately.  😉

Of course if more info’s needed, there’s my full review.

 

1. Hanamikoji

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The gorgeous little card game called Hanamikoji takes a simple majority collection core concept and builds it into a deceptively deep game through the use of innovative playing actions. The give and take way in which opponents get to play a few select cards from each others hands is wonderfully done and provides and incredible hook for a fantastic game

Full review.

 

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That’s it for now. 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?

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

“I am Groot.

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Here’s the short version: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is great fun. Engaging, largely hilarious, and just plain fun.

Admittedly there are moments when it feels like they’re trying too hard (including occasional instances when the comedy is overdone, forced, and/or uncomfortable), and it doesn’t quite have sense of wonder of first movie since we’ve seen Quill and company before, but overall this was a fantastic ride.

The plot’s a little more focused and the characters are developed well, including nice spotlights on Nebula and Yondu, and a strong debut for newcomer Mantis. Of course as expected the show stealer is Baby Groot, who’s done pitch perfectly to be adorable, funny, and engaging without crossing over into annoyance. The movie’s absolutely BURIED in pop culture references, but it fits with Quill’s character as established in the first movie.

I had a wonderful time with Guardians 2, to the point where I got so caught up in the ride and enjoying the movie’s twists and turns I forgot about a couple things I had predicted would happen in this movie to the point I was surprised when they occurred. Can’t ask for much more than that in terms of immersion.