Blood Engines (Marla Mason Book 1) Review

Marla Mason has temporarily left the city she rules as guardian to seek help from another sorcerer in dealing with what should have been a minor problem that’s become much more. With little interest in anything except saving her own skin, arriving to find San Francisco in the middle of magical problems of its own is the last thing Marla needs.

 

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Urban fantasy is a favorite genre of mine nowadays, and I’ve previously read short stories by T. A. Pratt that were great. As such I came into Blood Engines pretty excited, but while it’s decent I have to admit I left a touch disappointed. It’s one of those books where I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Marla’s world contains a wide array of interesting magic systems with accompanying philosophies and practitioners. It was all creative, well designed, and explained in depth. However that last bit was part of the problem. Each magic specialty was presented info-dump style by an expert in it explaining why it was foolproof moments before it proved not to be.  The repetitious slog through technical explanations of how magic worked killed the pacing, particularly given how obvious it was that something was going to go horribly wrong whenever the speaker finished lecturing. It’s a weird feel. Pratt seems to try so hard to properly present his imaginative environments that they somehow get a little boring. Also, while pretty tastefully done, some of the subject matter is going to seem out of the blue and unnecessary to some readers. 

Marla herself was largely intentionally unlikable. She’s pretty much neutral to anything other than her own goals. I’m all for flawed protagonists and room for character growth, but it falls flat here. Rather than achieving shades of grey with her, the outlook and actions Pratt gave her just made her someone who’s hard to root for or care about.

The story was fine and there were definitely gripping and fun portions in the book, but honestly the hints dropped about Marla’s past and home town were more interesting than the side trip to San Francisco this entire book is about. Several twists walked the line of trying to be too clever and neat, including what I found to be an anticlimactic end. It was logical, but lacking in drama. Unfortunately the epilogue struck me the same way, meaning both storylines that built tension throughout the book kind of whimpered to a close.

Blood Engines is less than the sum of it’s parts. The characters and the world that surrounds them show significant potential and the writing style is solid enough, but the weaknesses I talked about above undermine it all. It’s ok overall, and I’m curious enough that I probably will give book 2 a try, but this should have been better given the quality of the underlying ideas.

 

 

Hinges: Mechanical Men Review

Mechanical Men” is the third and final collected volume of the webcomic Hinges.

 

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Hinges started strong with an initial volume (Clockwork City) that introduced a just awakened Orio to a curious new city and some ominous happenings. Volume 2 (Paper Tigers) widened the scope a bit and, while I felt it wasn’t quite as strong as volume 1, continued Orio’s tale in a fairly compelling way. Both proceeding volumes were highlighted by compelling characters and moments of genuine emotion.

After the harrowing events of Paper Tigers, Orio is left dejected and unmotivated. But the changes in Clockwork City since she’s been gone provide quite a shock upon her return…

 

Mechanical Men brings everything together in a reasonable conclusion. Without getting into spoilers I’ll admit I wanted more explanation on certain things, but this was a strong finish regardless. There were enough details provided there to follow the important reveals and resolutions, and as throughout the story was anchored with really great character moments (for several of the cast) worked into the escalating stakes and danger. The end scene in particular was perfect.

Overall Hinges is a compelling, incredibly illustrated read right up until the end. There was potential for it to reach even greater heights, but what’s here is an easy recommendation as it is.

How Time Flies…

Last Summer (2016) I took a look at some stats breaking down my posts here for Derailments of Thought’s one year anniversary.

I’m a few months late for a second anniversary post, but seeing as I recently cleared a total of 400 posts (which is frankly mind boggling) this seemed like a good time to look back again on what I’ve been writing about.

Last time’s stats, as of 213 posts:

~37% reading reviews (22% of total manga, 12% comics and 3% prose)
~26% wrestling related
~14% gaming related (10% boardgames, 4% videogames)
~12% mystery box reviews
~8% movie reviews
~3% other

 

Current stats, as of 403 posts:

~36% reading reviews (18% of total manga, 9% comics and 8% prose)
~28% wrestling related
~19% gaming related (13% boardgames, 6% video games)
~9% movie reviews
~6% mystery box reviews
~2% other

 

Pretty consistent overall. The mystery box percentage halved overall because I stopped getting/reviewing them right around that one year mark. Wrestling percentage is pretty stable at about a quarter of my posts, but like I mentioned last year those tend to be significantly longer than some other categories so I’d guess it comprises about half of my actual writing. Games of all types and prose reviews have been a bit more of my focus recently than comics and manga, so those ratios are shifting a bit. I expect the gaming percentage to continue to grow as I have tons of games I want to share thoughts on, although those reviews are also time intensive so it’ll be an ongoing process.

Nothing unexpected here, but it’s still interesting to take a quick look at. The final ~2% catch all category is not to be overlooked, as some of my most interesting experiences end up outside of my comfort zones and can be found there. 

Still going strong, and still really enjoying writing up thoughts and assorted ramblings in this space. Please stick around for much more to come. 🙂

Hinges: Paper Tigers Review

“Paper Tigers” is the second collected volume (of three) of the webcomic Hinges.

 

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Clockwork City was an excellent introduction to Orio and the world she woke up to. There were strong characters, an interesting city readers got gradual glimpses into, and intriguing and harrowing strange happenings to build mystery and tension.

Paper Tigers shifts gears a bit, and while still quite good I didn’t find it quite as engaging. I wanted to learn more about how things worked in Clockwork City before moving on to the mysteries of what lurked outside, and a lot of this volume felt less like a compelling, unfolding mystery and more like the author was holding too much back. The general idea is fine: the readers are exploring with Orio and learning things as she does. But at this point Orio has more of a framework to work with than the reader, and the disconnect broke immersion for me a bit. I was less into the ordeal Orio was going through now and still wondering about what had come before.

That said, the larger world of Hinges does hold a lot of fascination and danger, and in the end it feels like a significant amount of progress has been made in the overarching story. Character development, particular with Orio and Bauble, continues to be the biggest strength of the series and generates genuinely emotional moments throughout this book.

As with book 1 the art is beautiful, although I found action sections a bit hard to follow this time and some of the color palates made details hard to process. Stopping to reexamine panels wondering exactly what was happening again breaks immersion and the story’s momentum.

This is a hard volume to review. I wanted more from it. Much more. But what’s here is still very good overall and makes narrative sense, with some huge reveals and developments going into the final volume.

Japan Trip Summer 2017: Top 5 Matches (Live)

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two and a half weeks in Tokyo over the end of the year holidays for the last two years. This summer the stars aligned for a shorter, somewhat unexpected additional trip with a specific purpose. Here I’ll be going over my top 5 matches from the 29 I saw that trip (across 5 shows from 5 different companies).

 

Match reviews copied/modified from my show specific blogs when possible/appropriate.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Tokyo Princess of Princess Title: Yuka Sakazaki(c) vs Reika Sakai –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

 

Yuka and Reika are two of my favorite wrestlers in the promotion, so I was thrilled to see this. Yuka is perhaps the most fundamentally sound and consistent performers on the roster, and also wows the crowd with her agility and rope walk spots, so was a great choice for champion. Reika seems their biggest rising star so this was exactly the right time for this confrontation. While I do have to admit I prefer and miss the Mil Clown persona, Yuka’s excellent in any incarnation.

The match was great, going back and forth and building well to a strong finish that saw Reika take advantage of a miss by Yuka with hard strikes and a sweet Shining Wizard, then hit the jackhammer (such a perfect choice of finisher for the Muscle Idol) to become the new Princess of Princess champion. Was awesome to be there for that moment, and Reika definitely deserves a chance to show what she can do as champ.

 

Team DATE (Nao, Hana, Nori, & Karen) vs Maruko Nagasaki, Satsuki Totoro, Uno Matsuya, & Tequilia Saya – Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

 

I was a little late coming back from intermission and unfortunately missed the beginning of this big blow off elimination match. As such Hanna was already eliminated and on the outside (and seemed to be nursing a knee injury of some sort) and I came in just as Uno also left the match. Uno’s actually my favorite on that team and I wish she was featured a bit more in general.

Even coming in partway, what I saw was excellent and this was my second favorite match of the night. Everyone was constantly fighting as appropriate for the intense rivalry that has been the cornerstone of the feud. This was my first look at any of the DATES as well as Totoro and even though the nature of the match meant not everyone got a lot of chance to shine they all looked good and payed their roles well. Nao and Satsuki went next (and in rapid succession), leaving Saya and Maruko against Karen and Nori. Nori and Saya had been mostly paired off throughout the match, and they had some really good exchanges in this section until Karen and Nori were able to isolate and eliminate Saya, leaving Maruko in a 2 on 1.

The most experienced of Ice Ribbon’s rookie team persevered to eliminate Karen to even things up and eventually get the better of Nori (in a really good final section) to win for her team. This was 100% the right outcome, as the building story had been the DATES’ dominance and this last battle was Maruko and company’s final chance to prove their equals and gain some respect. Great story, great match. Nori impressed me the most here, and I hope to see a lot more of everyone involved going forward.

After the match Maruko’s team seemed to head to the back without any consideration for their finally defeated rivals, but they came back with Ice Ribbon jackets for Team DATE instead, finally fully accepting them into the roster and leaving things peaceful and in a state of mutual respect between all eight wrestlers after the feud’s end. Again, really well done.

 

5. Gatoh Move Title Tournament Semi-Final: Kotori vs Aasa – Gatoh Move 8/26/17

The main event of Gatoh Move’s 8/26 show was the second semi-final of their title tournament and would determine who would face Riho in the finals at their September Greenhall show.  It was appropriately treated like a big deal and felt important. The outcome was never really in doubt with Kotori on a march to face her tag partner in the finals, but they did an excellent job building drama for near falls regardless and put on a main event that is a testament to their skill even at relatively short times in wrestling.

They went right for each other from the first second in another match that made good use of the environment yet felt different from the other two on the show. I continue to love Aasa’s gimmick, and her energetic onslaught trying to overwhelm the more experienced Kotori was a perfect story for the match as the latter was forced to get creative in countering Aasa’s exuberance. One particularly great spot involved them fighting out the window then running around the building back through the door. Kotori entered first and tried to ambush Aasa, but the latter just BARRELED through Kotori with one of her Vader splashes instead. As expected Kotori eventually prevailed, and she beamed pride throughout the roundtable and even during the meet and greet afterward while Aasa did likewise with little spots of disappointment and despondence. Great touches from both.

 

4. Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs So On Flower (Aoi Kizuki & Moeka Haruhi) – Wave 8/30/17

 

This was a short but great opener with strong structure and story. Moeka and Aoi jumped their decorated and certainly favored opponents during their entrance pose and never let up, going full throttle trying to prove themselves in Avid Rival’s league. Misaki and Ryo fought back of course but couldn’t ever quite get full control of their opponents nor stop the underdogs’ onslaught. Aoi and Moeka essentially overwhelmed AR and Moeka eventually pinned Mizunami for the upset. This was action packed and really well worked to the point it was satisfying despite (and felt longer than) the literal few minutes it actually ran.

 

3. Meiko Satomura vs Miyu Yamashita –  Tokyo Joshi Pro 8/26/17

 

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This was fantastic and edged out the main for match of the night. I’ve commented before that I felt Miyu was capable of more than I’d seen her show, and this was totally the breakout performance I’ve been wanting from her.

She wrestled like someone with something to prove from the very first second and really took it to Meiko, believably smothering the veteran at points with relentless offense, but just couldn’t put the larger, more experienced wrestler. Meiko of course is an artist in the ring and always a joy to watch. Loved this.

Afterwards Miyu slaps Meiko a couple of times out of frustration (and apparently in a challenge for another match) and Meiko’s so impressed with Miyu’s fire she applauds her for it. Great stuff.

 

2. Ultra U-7 Semi-Final: Mio Momono vs Yoshiko – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 

 

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I hate to admit it given my personal bias, but Yoshiko was awesome here and this was easily the second best match of the night. She was a perfect monster for Mio to attempt to outlast while just refusing to stay down under the larger, more experienced wrestler’s onslaught. The crowd was evenly split between heavy home promotion support for Yoshiko and visiting Marvelous fans (like me) going nuts for Mio. They went to time limit, then overtime where only a two count was needed. The heat for the nearfalls during that final portion was insane.

Mio’s the hottest rookie there is right now (as I mention often), and I continue to marvel at how incredible she is this early into her career.

 

1.  Avid Rival (Misaki Ohata & Ryo Mizunami) vs Best Friends (Tsukasa Fujimoto & Arisa Nakajima) – SEAdLINNG 8/24/17 and Ice Ribbon 8/27/17

 

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Ok, so this is a little bit of a cheat as I’m including both matches between these two teams in the #1 spot rather than take up two places and leave less room for other great matches.

During my first trip to Japan in 2015 my favorite match (well tied with one other) featured two incredible tag teams going full throttle competing for Ice Ribbon’s International Tag Ribbon Championships at Ribbonmania. When a best of three series of rematches (one hosted by each wrestler’s home promotion) was announced I was beyond excited, and ended up lucky enough to be able travel to see two of the three. These two matches were the previously mention purpose for the entire trip, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

 

The time limit draw at SEAdLINNNG was great, if just a touch below the original match that inspired this series (due to the lack of finish and time spent on some comedy). The one at Ice Ribbon was neck and neck with the original, and a fantastic way to close things out for now. I was actually partially anticipating the “upset” victory and Avid Rival sweeping this series given the way difficulties between Best Friends were being stressed, leading to somewhat of a feud between Tsukka and Arisa. But them coming together on the same page as a team to dig down and prove they could still win was an equally satisfying story. Their entire record is now 2-1-1 in Best Friends’ favor (with Avid Rival’s sole victory coming at their home promotion of Wave in the one match between the teams I have yet to see).

One great thing I’ve noticed in Avid Rival’s development over time is the way they add and modify actual double team moves in their arsenal (in addition to having awesome versions of the also great rapid fire alternating offense a lot of Joshi teams rely on). It makes them feel more like a cohesive unit and gives a sense of evolution.

In my opinion these are the two best tag teams in all of wrestling, and seeing them face off is always a treat.

 

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Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches, all of which are well worth checking out if possible. The five shows I saw this time were all extremely good in general, with numerous other good matches beyond the highlights talked about here.

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Episode 1 Review

“Traveling is fun, and even if I have to kill others, I still want to continue doing it.”

 

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I was admittedly a little trepidatious as I watched the premiere episode of Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World, wondering if it would live up to the heights achieved by its predecessor. The original Kino’s Journey anime is my favorite of all time, so I was both excited and anxious to see this what this new rendition 13 years later would have in store.

The opening two minute quasi-monologue establishing Kino’s philosophy and outlook, including the extremely odd quote I opened with, was a bit worrying. It did set the tone of the series though, somehow having both a touch more melancholy and whimsy at first glance. The scene also made more sense in retrospect once the rest of the episode’s story was told. It was thought provoking and intriguing overall, which is exactly what I want from Kino’s adventures. The joy as always is watching Kino’s visit unfold, so I’ll avoid specifics, but the story here and the country visited were good choices for an initial impression.

The animation doesn’t have the “softness” of the original, but absolutely has the right feel and is beautiful in its own right. Likewise so far I don’t feel the music is quite up to level of original, but again it’s still good.

Overall I’m extremely happy with Kino’s return, and this first episode has a lot of what made the original so special.

 

 

 

Hellequin: Scorched Shadows Review

This is Nathan Garret’s seventh adventure, and the last book in the Hellequin series. Do not start here – go back to the beginning.

 

My reviews:

Crimes Against Magic (book 1)

Born of Hatred (book 2)

With Silent Screams (book 3)

Prison of Hope (book 4)

Lies Ripped Open (book 5)

Promise of Wrath (book 6)

 

This is going to be short, and free of any plot details. It will contain sentiments that in some sense qualify as general spoilers, so consider this a quasi-warning.

 

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The good:

  • McHugh’s writing continues to be excellent.
  • Several major mysteries of the series are addressed.
  • The book was engaging and interesting.

 

The less so:

  • A couple of the reveals were what I least wanted.
  • I despise bait and switch.
  • I feel like I just read a seven book fucking prologue.

 

I still adore the series and highly recommend it, but I’m admittedly a bundle of mixed feelings on where things ended up right now. I found this book excellent and infuriating in equal measure.