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.

 

 

Imperfect Girl Manga Review

“Looking back on it now, I realize that incident is what turned me into the novelist I am today. An author is someone who creates tales, but an aspiring author is someone who lies, and nothing more. This incident happened ten years ago, when I was in college, and merely an aspiring author. If those events never took place I wouldn’t have become much of anything at all, which is why I think I need to thank her, thank that girl …”

 

I’ll be sharing thoughts on the entire series (volumes 1-3) as a whole here. I will try to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but the above description from volume 1 by the publisher does NOTHING to convey what the series is really about so I will have to get into some plot details to properly discuss the points I wish to make.

 

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Ok, so the book description provides an intriguing hook and is connected to the narrator’s personal arc, but gives pretty much no information or framework about the plot. I find this to be an issue mostly because the story is pretty messed up. The college aged narrator is kidnapped and held captive by an elementary school girl after randomly seeing her act oddly at the scene of an accident where her friend was killed. Exactly what you’d expect, right? No, me neither.

From that disturbing premise came a manga that was unsettling in a lot of the wrong ways yet still extremely compelling and intriguing. I was constantly torn between wondering where things were going and being afraid to find out. Oh, and wanting to shake the main character for being an idiot. The girl was a far more interesting character, and even in context of all the strange happenings, emotional issues being addressed, psychological elements, etc, the narrator’s actions and reasonings often overstepped from those of someone in over their head and dealing poorly to flat out nonsensical. On top of that I considered abandoning it after the second volume also due to how creepy it was, but continued since there was only one left to go and I was admittedly curious.

 

I am glad I finished it. The overall concept of the story and pieces of what was being built towards were as interesting as certain elements along the way indicated. But it all could have been much better executed. It strayed too often from psychological suspense towards full on horror, and certain, important context regarding the narrator’s actions seemed short changed due to pacing issues and info dumps. I don’t know if these issues were in the source material or an effect of adaptation, but overall I wish the journey was approached differently to do more justice to the admittedly compelling underlying story line.

Overall I felt this short manga series both tried too hard in some ways and not hard enough in others. Again, it could all relate to the source material. Part of me wants to recommend anyone who can stomach the premise read it anyway because of the things it does do right and some of the thought provoking themes struggling to transcend the telling, but between the uncomfortableness of the approach and missteps along the way I really can’t.

Quick Takes: Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story

A brief look at a couple of films I’d been really looking forward to.

 

Deadpool 2

“Well, that’s just lazy writing.

 

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Uh, yeah. So since my review of the first movie is so exactly what I think of this one too it’s time to cut and paste a bit:

“If ever there was an epitome of ‘good for what it is,’ Deadpool (2) is it.

Ridiculous, rude, and raunchy from the get-go, Wade Wilson’s over the top adventure revels in excess and absurdity. It also largely works, thanks to clever writing, self-awareness, and Ryan Reynolds’ delivery. This is no masterpiece, but it is a hilarious ride to tag along with. There’s a lot to be said for knowing what you set out to accomplish and sticking to it, and Deadpool (2) is exactly as expected in all the right ways.”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up again. Beyond that the humor alternated between hilarious and annoying, Cable and Domino were well done, the plot was strong (outside a couple glaring holes), and overall I enjoyed it. This will all get really old at some point, but not yet.

 

Next.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

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Part of the reason I’m using this format instead of a full review is I honestly don’t have too much to say about this. It was a fun way to spend a couple hours, and that’s about it. Acting was quite good and the plot held up and kept things interesting. The thing is nothing was particularly surprising, noteworthy or magical here for me. I enjoyed it, but nothing beyond that. Which is fine overall and this is definitely worth a watch, but I usually get more out of Star Wars movies.

 

Deep Inside Your Soul: Farewell to Mika Iida

Straight up: there are few wrestlers that give such an impression of having fun in the ring as Mika Iida. There was always a “spark” to her performances that held a captivating edge to it. I haven’t been a fan of hers for very long relatively speaking compared to the length of her career, but she made a strong impression in a short time to become a favorite of mine and it was a  privilege to be at her final show at Korakuen Hall on May 4, 2018.

 

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My first times seeing Iida wrestle were during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015 / early 2016. I saw her in a pair of 6-woman tags, teaming with Cherry & Hiroe Nagahama against Hiroyo Matsumoto, Makoto & Maruko Nagasaki at Ribbonmania 2015 and with Fairy Nipponbashi & Hikaru Shida against Ayako Hamada, Yumi Oka & Yuu Yamagata at Thanksgiving Wave on 1/3/16.  Both matches were good but a bit limited by time and format. Even so Iida stood out among the several wrestlers that were new to me, and I remarked at the time that I was “particularly interested in seeing what Iida can do with more of a spotlight.”

 

 

A year later I was back for Thanksgiving Wave 12/29/16, and again saw Iida as part of a trios team. This time however it was in an elimination match against Kaho Kobayashi, Rina Yamashita, & Natsu Sumire and ASUKA, Kaori Yoneyama, & Sawako Shimono, and alongside two wrestlers I was well familiar with due to Shimmer (Yumi Ohka & Hikaru Shida). Despite being another trios type of match, it was also the opportunity to see more of what Iida could do I was waiting for. I found her team a lot of fun, and remarked at the time that Iida herself was particularly impressive.

After that show was my first opportunity to meet Iida, which was great. She speaks English fairly well and was friendly and approachable.

 

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In Spring 2017 Iida suffered a shoulder injury that would keep her out a majority of the year. She was still at the Wave show I attended in August (which she helped me reserve a ticket for) and it was nice to catch up with her. She was in great spirits and talked about getting better and returning to the ring.

 

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By my holiday trip Iida was back happily in action, but had also announced her retirement for the following May.  With it seeming unlikely (at the time) that I’d see her again after that trip it was wonderful to see her back in the ring and get to see her wrestle several times. At Thanksgiving Wave 12/29/17 she and Hiroe Nagahama had a packed five minute match that was well structured to let Hiroe look good before Iida put her away.  To end the show Iida would win Wave’s Zan-1 Championship for the year (determined by fan vote). It was a wonderful and fitting honor as her career wound down.

 

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During that trip I was also lucky enough to see her team with Maya Yukihi against Risa Sera & Mochi Miyagi at Ice Ribbon on 1/6/18 and in an excellent match against Kaho Kobayashi at Wave’s Young OH! OH! show on 1/8/18 to wrap up my visit. At the time I thought those would be my last opportunities to see Iida live.

 

Instead, I was extremely lucky to have a spring trip to celebrate the marriage of two dear friends of mine be close enough for me to extend my stay to attend Iida’s retirement show on 5/4/18. During the week leading up to her final show, amid numerous appearances scheduled across various promotions, Iida unfortunately dislocated her shoulder during a gauntlet match. She realigned it and managed one more portion of that match in a crazy display of toughness, but then had to acquiesce and withdraw from the match and most of her remaining appearances to recover.

 

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Custom Funko Pop I made of/for Iida.

 

She was still aiming to complete in her final show, twice in fact. In a five minute exhibition to open the show and a 6-woman tag to close it. In a wonderful sign for her recovery (and of course her fortitude and perhaps stubbornness) she took the microphone at the beginning of her exhibition match against Hiroe Nagahama and declared she was ok and turned it into a full match to a large ovation. It was a good contest and a nice callback for me to the match between the two I had seen a few months prior. Unsurprisingly Iida put the up and comer over and the latter was particularly choked up.

 

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Something already noticeable was a sense of Iida really enjoying everything and having a joyous goodbye (despite of course it all being very emotional). This would continue throughout the show and really highlights Iida’s wonderful personality and outlook, as everything from the opener to the main to the ceremonies seeing her off were infused with a sense of fun that made it all particularly special.

 

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The main event saw Iida’s chosen competitors for her final match face off in a 6-woman tag featuring Iida and her opponent from the opening contest on the same side along with Yumi Ohka vs Kaho Kobayashi, Natsu Sumire, & Rina Yamishita. The latter team actually was part of the 3-way trios contest I talked about earlier involving Iida from late 2016. Rina had won this year’s Catch the Wave earlier in the night in an incredible match against Ayako Hamada and had an additional honor here, pinning Iida to end her career.

 

 

The match was the appropriately enjoyable spectacle, including “traditional” retirement spots like whipping all of the roster (and then some) into Iida in the corner with amusing variations like Rina interrupting Gami’s turn and allowing Iida to wipe out the boss instead. Special guests also got in on the action, including Ice Ribbon’s Tsukasa Fujimoto coming in to hit an Ace Crusher on Iida for a near fall at one point. Just a ton of fun all around. The gift presentation and final ceremonies were also touched by humor, perhaps highlighted by Yuki Miyazaki and Sakura Hirota brawling around Iida as she stood in the center of the ring while her career highlights were read.

 

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All in all everything came together in a way that really felt like the perfect goodbye for Iida that reflected her unique, infectious charisma throughout. I’m sad to see her go but happy to have seen her wrestle during her time in the ring and wish her the best in whatever comes next.

 

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