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.

Doctor Esker’s Notebook Review

I’m a big fan of puzzles and puzzle type games so was very interested to check out the curious little box of cards called Dr. Esker’s Notebook.

As implied above, Dr. Esker’s Notebook is a series of puzzles presented via a deck of cards. There are 73 cards total, made up of 58 puzzle cards, 10 solution cards, and 5 instruction cards.

The solution to each of the 9 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 is well implemented.

The puzzles themselves were quite good, with decent variety to them and some really inventive elements. There were a couple I thought were exceptional, and only one I didn’t really care for. I played this solo, but it feels like 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 were some minor execution issues that hindered my enjoyment just a little here and there, but nothing that was impossible to work around. For example, when several puzzles depend on lining things up properly having white borders on the cards is a particularly poor choice. There were other small things that I’ll avoid discussing in detail due to spoilers, but again largely things that in my opinion kept some good puzzles from being great puzzles rather than anything really problematic.

There is a decent hint system available 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.

Dr. Esker’s Notebook felt somewhere in between board game versions of escape rooms like the Exit series and puzzle books like  Journal 29 to me, and that’s a pretty favorable place to be. The deck of cards approach is creative in the way it was done and keeps this cost friendly, portable, and reusable. Overall I had fun with this and would welcome more puzzle games in this vein.

The NXT Step for the Sun God

WWE and AEW have both signed a number of incredible wrestlers lately. But with all due respect to the rest, none are quite as exciting as the confirmation that Sareee is headed to the US as part of WWE.

My first time seeing Sareee was during my first trip to Japan at the end of 2015. She was a few months under five years experience at the time, and featured in matches spotlighting young talent with fellow Diana rookie Meiko Tanaka against Rina Yamshita & Kaho Kobayashi at Wave’s Young Oh! Oh! 12/25/15 and against Yuuka at Ribbonmania 2015. She displayed great innate ability and instincts, and I was excited to see what the near future would hold for her.

Unfortunately, my opportunities to see Sareee for the next few years were sparse. In summer of 2017 I caught her during her brief tenure in SEAdLINNNG in hard hitting tournament semi-final against Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha. In spring of 2018 I lucked into seeing her at Pure-J in an interpromotional tag team main event alongside Actwres girlZ’ Mari against Manami Katsu & Rydeen Hagane. She was definitely showing all the hallmarks of fully capitalizing on her potential and was an obvious superstar in the making.

I was thrilled to get to see her regularly in 2019. Her tightly contested, visceral title match at Sendai Girls’ 1/6/19 show against Chihiro Hashimoto might have been my top match of that entire trip, yet was just a glimpse of how fully Sareee’s mastered a variety of aspects of her craft. She was wrestling’s next big thing, and it was only a matter of time before everyone noticed.

My best matches of 2019 list reads like Sareee’s resume, and I imagine I sounded like a bit of broken record last year repeating my belief that she’s one of the most compelling and impressive athletes and the biggest rising star in all of wrestling.

Her grasp of the nuances of technical skill, timing, etc is really amazing, as is the intensity she brings to it all. Similar to another personal favorite of mine recently signed (Timothy Thatcher), one of the keys making Sareee so incredible is that she fights over EVERYTHING. The smallest exchanges are still struggles towards getting an edge progressing to the ultimate goal of winning the match. It makes such a difference in believability, and Sareee’s one of the very best at it. Of course she can also hit just the right notes in lighter, more comedic matches, and that versatility will undoubtably also serve her well.

A clear indication that I’m not alone in my opinion of Sareee is the apparent and repeated shows of confidence in her from veteran Japanese wrestlers. During a chunk of 2019 she was simultaneously reigning champion of both Kyoko Inoue’s and Meiko Satomura’s promotions (Diana and Sendai Girls respectively). She even won the Diana title back from the person who took it from her, the legendary Aja Kong.

In my write up of Diana’s 5/12/19 show at Korakuen Hall that Kong vs Sareee main evented, I commented:

“Sareee is wrestling’s next big star, and everyone clearly knows it. She recently won said double title match so is currently a reigning double singles champion across two companies. On her way to the Sendai title she pinned their legendary owner Meiko Satomura, as well as DASH Chisako and other top competitors. And of course any sort of victory over Kong is a huge deal, let alone a singles pinfall. The important part of course is Sareee’s completely believable and natural in this role, with both the technical skills and charisma/mannerisms to pull it all off.”

The mentioned match against DASH Chisako happened a few weeks prior at Sendai’s 4/27/19 show and was yet another stunning display. This featured two of my absolute favorite wrestlers and I actually traveled out to Sendai specifically to see it. It was an incredibly hard-hitting, wonderfully escalating contest that was everything I hoped for. They would meet again in a title defense for Sareee at Korakuen Hall in a match that from all accounts was somehow even better.

I was also lucky enough to see Sareee in a variety of great tag matches that paired her up with unusual opponents and showed even more of her variety and skills. One fun one of note saw her teaming with Pro-Wrestling Eve’s Yuu against Meiko Satomura & Gatoh Move’s Mei Suruga at Sendai’s 5/18/19 show.

During the summer it was reported that Sareee had met with HHH, and the rumors started in earnest. With heavy indications that her time in Japan might be wrapping up, she held a special self produced show in early December entitled Sareee’s Special Night. And it certainly was. 😉

In addition to tearing the house down in the cross promotional main event dream tag team match (Sareee & Syuri vs World of Stardom Champion Mayu Iwatani & Regina di Wave Champion Takumi Iroha), Sareee also showed she could put together a compelling and thoroughly enjoyable card from top to bottom. There was a little bit of everything, with multiple match styles and stories being told, special significance to things such as Jenny Rose’s return to Japan to face Marvelous’ Hibiki (formerly Diana’s Meiko Tanaka) and the injured Natsumi Maki still appearing as the ring announcer, and generally great action all around.

In early January Sareee officially announced she’d be leaving Diana in February and going to the United States. Today it became official that she is indeed WWE bound.

So in what ended up being my last time to see Sareee wrestle live for a while, I attended my first Diana dojo show on 1/19/20. It was a blast and Sareee’s excellent tag encounter alongside her trainer Kyoko Inoue against Actwres girlZ’ Champion Miyuki Takase & Diana rookie Haruka Umesaki was a great note to go out on for now.

There’s some admittedly justified trepidation among fans when independent talent gets signed by WWE considering their less than stellar track record with using people to their full abilities, but I’m still extremely happy for Sareee and hopeful that she will excel in the all the ways she’s clearly capable of. Best of luck to the Sun God in the next phase of her career.