The Girl from the Other Side Volume 8 Review

Choices, prophecies, and consequences…

The Girl from the Other Side is a slice of life tale in a dark, fantastical world but also has significant overarching plot threads that are coming together in these recent volumes. Best to start reading with volume 1.

After the intense, dread filled tension of last volume things continue with a different kind of crisis. I continue to be amazed at the skill with which Nagabe continually weaves meaningful revelations large and small about both current and prior events seamlessly together without any unevenness in the pacing and presentation of his tale.

There’s a lot to this volume, and the emotional impacts can practically be felt. It’s packed with meaningful character moments and development while moving the plot along quite a bit and introducing new levels to ongoing mysteries. There’s enough here to feel satisfying while also greatly ratcheting up anticipation for the next installment. One of the best volumes so far. Going to be pondering the themes here for quite a while.

Hemlock Volume 5 Review

This is planned to be the penultimate volume of Hemlock, with significant reference to what’s come before. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

Lumi’s story is building to a crescendo and this volume shares a lot of context and insight into both the present and the past. Some things were easy to predict and others well done surprises, with it all developing in a natural feeling way. A bit of this feels like a breather after last volume’s developments and revelations, but done well without any loss of story momentum and while putting pieces in place for the finale. I have no real idea where it’s all leading, but there have been tons of little hints throughout all the books who’s significance I’m sure will continue to become clear.

Hemlock has been on hiatus for couple of years now, with no set timeframe for return. But Fenton has given updates and does still intend to complete the next (final) chapter at some point. Even with a rather harsh cliffhanger and the uncertainty behind of when this may continue, I’m still glad I revisited it and caught up. I find Hemlock extremely engaging, and I look forward to hopefully following Lumi’s tale through to the end.

Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook Review

Doctor Esker’s Notebook was an interesting and overall enjoyable batch of puzzles in a fairly unique format. There was obviously a lot of potential to expand on the idea, and here I’ll take a look at the sequel Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook.

Like the original, Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook is a series of puzzles presented via a deck of cards. There are 74 cards total, made up of 59 puzzle cards, 10 solution cards, and 5 instruction cards. It stands alone and does not require Doctor Esker’s Notebook or any knowledge of it to play.

The solution to each of the 10 puzzles in the deck is a 2-4 digit numeric code. The solution cards are numbered 0-9 on their backs, and when arranged in the correct order for each solution they will identify the next puzzle to be played (via seemingly random elements on the answer cards coming together to form words, pictures, etc). It’s a very clever, elegant way to handle solving the puzzles and as with the original game is well implemented here.

Like with the original, I played this solo but felt it would also work well with a small group (I’d probably cap it at 4 players rather than the “1-6, or more” the box suggests).

There was a wider variety of difficulty in these puzzles, although I thought they were a little easier on average. I found several of them really clever and well executed though, and the game built to a nice crescendo with some of the best puzzles coming toward the end.

I particularly loved the fact that the final puzzle parallel that of the first game without really feeling like a repeat. The minor production issues from the first were missing here, making things feel more polished.

However I did feel a couple of the puzzles tried too hard to be accessible. These puzzles aren’t really deep enough to have multiple paths to solve, so when one puzzle was actually two completely separate, simplistic puzzles that lead to the same answer it completely felt like unnecessary padding.

Even more annoying was that one puzzle had essentially included instructions on how to solve it. It was weird and unwanted. It would have been a great puzzle otherwise, but was instead reduced to a rote exercise.

Outside of those issues though I found the remaining puzzles engaging and fun.

The online only hint system is exactly the same here, with several hints for each puzzle allowing players to choose how much help they want. I like the approach a lot, but it’s worth mentioning that the hints and solutions are strictly available online so if players get stuck on a puzzle visiting the website is required to continue on.

Despite some minor criticisms the Doctor Esker series is continuing to be quite good for what it is, which is a fun little collection of decent puzzles presented in a cost friendly, portable, and reusable way. Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook doesn’t really break the established mold at all, but there’s nothing wrong with more of a good thing.

Hemlock Volume 4 Review

Hemlock volume 4 builds off of several ongoing story threads. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

While I think it’s great that the author allows each chapter to vary in length as needed, it is nice to be back to a longer installment after the (relatively) short volume 3. There’s a wonderful amount of information and development, including glimpses of Lumi’s past, Simo’s plots, and the third son of Baba Yaga.

But the true treat is Lumi and Tristan going to visit Sindri. Their relationships are weird, complex, and carefully conveyed through natural sounding dialog and the slice-of-life feel that seems so at odds with the subject material yet works beautifully. Subtle touches in both art and plotting add depth and resonance to Lumi’s dilemmas and help to thoroughly engage the reader.

My favorite volume yet of this gloriously unique story of a witch and her familiar.

Top 20 Matches 2019 (Live) Prelude

Going to be sharing a long overdue look at some of my favorite matches I was lucky enough to see in 2019. It’s been a while since my last list for Fall 2018, so there’s a ton of excellent wrestling to cover.

In essentially switching here to time periods (as opposed to my previous lists by trip) a gap was created omitting December 2018. The 2019 list is already incredibly difficult to narrow down so I didn’t want to expand the criteria, but December 2018 had a number of matches I really enjoyed. So I’d like to take a moment just to list those favorites briefly. Please check out the show links for more information.

December 2018:

Honorable mention: Reika Saiki vs Nadoka Tenma – TJPW 12/22/18
5. Emi Sakura, Baliyan Akki, & Masahiro Takanashi vs Riho, Greg Ho, & Mei Suruga – Michinoku Pro 12/21 
4. Emi Sakura, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori vs Nanae Takahashi, Ryo Mizunami, & Sae – SEAdLINNNG 12/28
3. Emi Sakura, Obihiro Sayaka, & Riho vs Mitsuru Konno, Mei Suruga, & Yuna Mizumori –  Gatoh Move 12/31
2. Ice Cross Infinity Championship: Tsukasa Fujimoto (c) vs Maya Yukihi – Ice Ribbon 12/31/18 
1. Regina di Wave Championship: Misaki Ohata vs Ryo Mizunami (c) – Wave 12/29/18 

Ok, on to 2019. The remainder of this entry will cover honorable mentions, including a number of instances where I wanted to talk about several matches together.

Honorable mentions

The Hot Dog Match Ice Ribbon: Frank Sisters Produce 1/5/18

DSC_0309

What better way to start than with a match that became immediately infamous. Ice Ribbon’s second show of the day on 1/5/19 at Yokohama Radiant Hall was produced by the Frank Sisters trio of Kurumi Hiiragi, Akane Fujita, and Mochi Miyagi. The “frank” theme was nowhere as apparent as in the tag team encounter of Tsukasa Fujimoto & Hamuko Hoshi vs Maya Yukihi & Tae Honma.

Music would randomly be played during this tag match, at which point any wrestler currently in the ring could eat hot dogs (brought in by the respective teams’ seconds). The team that had the most hot dogs eaten at the end of the match won (winning the fall to trigger the end of the match by pin or submission was worth five “virtual hot dogs” in the final count).

This was absurd in all the best ways. It was viscerally hard to watch them stuff their faces and then bump on their stomachs seconds later, and as usual with Ice Ribbon everyone was fully invested in making even the most ridiculous of situations wonderfully compelling. This was given proper time to emphasize the gimmick, with the match going almost twenty minutes, and the wrestling in between the eating was top notch. Fantastic in ways I can’t properly describe.

PS – TAE IS A MONSTER.

Gatoh Move 1/13/19

I debated what to do with this entry as sneaking a full show in is a bit of a cheat. But I really loved this as a complete show and wanted to highlight it as such, and this section seemed the right place to put it.

The opening match was a treat in the form of a rare singles match between Emi Sakura and Sayaka Obihiro, made even more special by Obi goading Sakura into putting her 3-Count Championship on the line. Mei Suruga wrestling like she thinks she can take on the whole world is AWESOME, and her 3-way against Baliyan Akki and Saki was a ton of fun. The main event was a case of being so-over-the-top-it-worked, as Riho & Madoka were in full villain mode against the hero duo of Mitsuru Konno & Sawasdee Kamen with easily distracted referee Emi Sakura presiding over it all.

The show had a little bit over everything and just all came together into a wonderfully engaging whole.

DareJyo Showcase –  5/1/19

DareJyo is short for “Daredemo Joshi Puroresu” or Anyone’s Women’s Professional Wrestling. Run by Gatoh Move founder Emi Sakura, the idea is to offer a suitable environment for any woman, regardless of age, experience, etc, to learn the basics of pro wrestling in a casual manner within a professional, safe environment. There are limits on the types of things the participants will learn and try (avoiding more difficult and potentially dangerous aspects like certain types of strikes, etc) while still giving a strong introduction and base to build off of.

It’s a wonderful concept, making wrestling extremely approachable while providing the right framework and support system to learn properly.

The approach to their shows is also wonderfully unique and engaging. They start with warm up drills and “competitive” practice sequences (two wrestlers locking up then trying to force each other into the ropes, etc), then proceeded to exhibition matches. As a wrestling fan the little deeper glimpse of preparation and training was really cool to see, and overall this was once of the most unique and fun events I attended all year.

Chigusa’s Return – Marvelous 12/8/19

At Marvelous’ 12/8/19 show at Korakuen Hall Chigusa Nagayo returned to the ring for a pair of special matches. Chigusa wrestles infrequently nowadays and had not competed in her company for some time.

First was a exhibition match where Chigusa teamed with Maria, Mikoto Shindo, & Mei Hoshizuki vs Nyla Rose, Tomoko Wantanabe, KAORU, & Hibiki. After five minutes Chigusa and Nyla would switch sides, with the remaining five minutes being wrestled with the revised teams. It was all about the participants, and often their seconds, interacting with Chigusa. It was a lot of fun and clearly emotional for everyone involved.

After that, it was founder against ace as Chigusa faced Takumi Iroha. This was a deliberately paced, epic encounter that told a story that could only be told between the two of them. The packed Korakuen crowd was electric for it all, and it was a special day all around.

 Tequila Saya’s retirement

After her originally planned last show in October got canceled due to the typhoon, Ice Ribbon’s Tequilia Saya ended up postponing her retirement to cover the commitments left by Giulia’s sudden departure from the company. It would be a great couple of months for her, seeing her first and only overseas match and first and only singles title run. Selfishly it was also nice that it all meant I would get to see Saya wrestle a few more times.

Her final dojo match on 12/28 was a great singles encounter with Ice Ribbon’s ace Tsukasa Fujimoto, and she ended her career with an incredibly fun 36 (plus a few) person gauntlet match in the main event of Ribbonmania. I loved both matches and it was a great way to see Saya off.

——-

That does it for this intro. Hope everyone enjoyed reading about these great matches/shows. More to come soon.

Hemlock Volume 3 Review

Volume 3 is fairly self-contained but builds directly off of previous volumes. Starting at the beginning is best.

** This review contains no spoilers for Hemlock volume 3 but will have them for previous chapters. **

This installment of Hemlock feels different, as it’s both shorter and more focused on a single story than before. The combined effect makes it feel even shorter than it is (still a very respectable 46 pages). There’s a brief flashback to open, then the remainder of the chapter features Tristan’s cousin Kolya looking for some answers regarding Tristan’s death. It doesn’t feature the slice of life feel previously established nor provide a lot of information, but it’s still a nice character tale that follows up on the status of Tristan’s family and drops some tantalizing hints about future story progression.

Though a bit of a departure to the established and not quite as strong as the first two parts this installment of Hemlock is still a good entry in the series that fleshes out a supporting character and adds to the overall mythos being built.

Hemlock Volume 2 Review

Volume 2 of Hemlock stands relatively well alone but builds directly off of volume 1. Starting at the beginning is best.

** This review contains no spoilers for Hemlock volume 2 but will have some for volume 1. **

This volume continues the everyday adventures of the quiet witch Lumi and her new familiar Tristan, the three eyed frog. It took me a little bit to get into the comic’s initial volume but I ended up really enjoying it. Here that momentum is kept and the story is intriguing and compelling from start to finish. We get a lot of information about Lumi’s past and present, including things about her last familiar, her husband, and other witches. Everything is logically connected, well layered, and nicely paced. Like volume 1 what’s here is a complete tale on it’s own but sets up future developments and plot lines.

The thing I like most about the comic is how well formed and interesting the characters and world are. Lumi and Tristan are terrific leads and really make me want to read more about them.

The art is quite good. Appropriately dark but very detailed and incredible as far as expressions and body language. The author is excellent at conveying emotions of the characters and situations.

Hemlock is shaping up to be an excellent comic and has a ton of potential going forward.

Hemlock Volume 1 Review

A look back on a old favorite.

Hemlock is a black and white webcomic about a witch named Lumi. She lives in a friendly giant snail’s shell and is about to cross paths with a young man named Tristan who dreams of a more academic life than that of a farmer’s son.

I was uncertain about Hemlock at the start but got drawn in fairly quickly. The atmosphere and tone is really well done. Lumi’s quasi-boredom at times and Tristan’s distress combine to make the introductory stuff quite interesting. There’s a great balance here between setting the stage and moving things along and a lot of intriguing things are foreshadowed for the future. This is also a nicely complete story in it’s own right in addition to being the first part of a longer tale.

The art’s a little too dark and abstract in a couple of places, but is very good overall with a unique, well executed style. The character designs are excellent, particularly Lumi and Tristan. Fenton is very good at conveying emotion through facial expressions and body language.

I’ve read this both online and in printed form. While smaller in paper size than most comic collections, in does not detract from the reproduction of the art and the paper and printing quality are high. The content holds up well to subsequent reading.

A good start overall with a lot of potential going forward.

Usagi Yojimbo Vol 33 Review

The Hidden is volume 33 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s a single volume-length story, so while it benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures it would also be a suitable jumping on point.

43525980

For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

As mentioned above the entirety of this volume is dedicated to one story (with a short chibi-Tomoe strip included at the end). It features both Usagi and series regular Detective Ishida, who’s grown into a huge supporting role. The Hidden, perhaps unsurprisingly since it’s a bit of a spotlight for Ishida, is another mystery and weaves together a number of disparate elements and plot threads in a thoroughly engaging way. I was particularly impressed with the interesting use of certain themes, as well as its careful subversion of expectations.

A secondary undercurrent of this story seems to lead to a turning point in the series again, which makes sense given Usagi Yojimbo changed publishers after this story. The way it’s done is a little ham handed, but it’s fine overall and moves things in proper direction.

As always I really enjoy Usagi’s adventures, and I’m curious to see how things will progress in the future under new publisher IDW.

The Winter Long (October Daye Book 8) Review

“Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of experiencing things that sound reasonable when you try to explain them to other people.”

Toby weathered a storm a long time coming and the result is a rare moment of peace. But just a moment. Toby’s demons are coming back to haunt her. Even the one she never knew she had…

This is the eighth book in the October Daye series, paying off several long running plot lines going all the way back to the beginning. Start reading there (Rosemary and Rue).

“Please don’t mistake villainy for evil.”

It seems weird to say after the major confrontation and developments of  Chimes at Midnight, but THIS is is the story that the series has been leading to since the very beginning. I gushed in the previous review about how masterfully McGuire had built and layered the story across the series, and if possible it pays off even more here. There are a number of shocking yet logical twists that are done to perfection for maximum impact. I’ve been waiting a long time for a lot of the issues that are addressed in this book to come up, and it all comes together wonderfully.

Nothing further to say really, especially since I want to avoid all the potential for spoiling this suspenseful, excellently executed tale.

Highly recommended.