Anime Review: Shiki

Anime Review: Shiki

Megumi, post vamping

Megumi Shimizu hates living in an isolated mountain town in the middle of nowhere.  She wants to move to the big city with its bright lights and fashion centers.  So she dresses like a fashion model and yearns for the hot big city boy who moved in last year.  She feels unappreciated by the hicks in her village, and wonders if she can get in good with the posh-looking people who just moved into the European-style mansion on the hill.

Yuuki Natsuno hates living in a hick town too.  Ever since his hippie wannabe parents moved the family here, he’s been looking forward to getting back out.  He’s trying to ignore the crazy stalker girl in the silly outfits, but she’s not taking the hint.  At first, he denies that the strange things going on in Sotoba are any of his business.

Dr. Toshio Ozaki doesn’t mind living in Sotoba, but he did back when he was a teenager.  Right now, he’s got other things on his mind.  Suddenly, a number of villagers are falling ill, suffering from a form of anemia that is invariably fatal.  It doesn’t seem to be caused by any known infectious agent, but if it’s not a disease, what is it?

Shiki is a horror anime (based on manga) about a small town that is rapidly being taken over by vampires (or “shiki” as they come to be called.)  And when I say “horror”, I don’t mean just the genre, I mean that it is genuinely horrific.  Both the shiki, who are not all bloodthirsty monsters at heart, and the humans, some of whom are bloodthirsty monsters at heart, find themselves doing anything they must to survive.  There’s a lot of blood onscreen, particularly in the second half once the existence of the shiki becomes more generally known.

There are a number of very good bits–the shiki are smart enough to only officially move into the neighborhood after the anemia cases start, to throw off the timeline for anyone who might guess the truth, and quickly replace the government officials who might alert the outside world.  Also, there are different types of shiki with slightly different rules, which hides some of the obvious patterns.  Dr. Ozaki, in turn, proves to be far more resourceful than he first appears.

On the other hand, many of the character designs are silly-looking, particularly some people’s hair.  Megumi has the excuse of being a wannabe fashionista, but some of the others–wow.  One of the female vampires dresses in fanservice outfits almost exclusively, although that may be overcompensation on her part.  Some vampire fans may be frustrated by the relatively slow opening; it takes several episodes before the action parts of the plotline kick in.

If you liked Salem’s Lot or are a vampire story fan in general, I can recommend this as a good example of the genre.  The gory bits, however, mean that this is not suitable viewing for small children or the sensitive.

Book Review: Dark Waters

Book Review: Dark Waters by Robin Blake

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an Advance Reading Copy, and there may be minor changes in the final product.

Dark Waters by Robin Blake

It is the Year of Our Lord 1741 in the small but bustling English town of Preston.  Attorney and coroner Titus Cragg is shocked but not surprised to find his drunkard uncle-in-law has fallen into the river and drowned.  The coroner’s jury rules it an accidental death, and that seems to be an end of it.

But then a man falls dead under suspicious circumstances just before a hotly contested election is scheduled, and it just so happens that he shares strong political beliefs with the first to die.  Is there a political conspiracy afoot?  Mr. Cragg must unravel the riddle with the help of the young and scientifically inclined Dr. Luke Fidelis before there’s no more room to store the bodies.

This is the second historical mystery featuring the team of Cragg & Fidelis; I have not read the first.    There are author’s notes at the end concerning the politics and monetary system of the time, which enhance the value of the book. The characters are likable, and the plot moves well.

Trigger Warning:  period slut-shaming.

This is good of its kind, and I recommend it to historical mystery fans.

Note:  I have reviewed another book titled Dark Waters; there is no connection beyond the titles.

Book Review: The Jewels of Aptor

Book Review: The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delaney

The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delaney

This is the first novel by Samuel R. Delaney, published in 1967.  He was one of the first successful African-American science fiction authors, as well as one of the first openly gay SF writers, and certainly the most successful person so far to be both.  He’s associated with the New Wave movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, although this particular novel is closer to the old model of SF.

Geo, a poet, his sailor friend Urson, and a Strange One thief nicknamed Snake are recruited by the White Goddess Argo to travel to the semi-mythical island of Aptor and steal a jewel from the Dark God Hama.  Along the way they are joined by another sailor, the “Negro” Iimmi who has been to Aptor before.  Soon they are dealing with monsters, cults and ruined cities.  And of course, the quartet has not been told the entire truth about just why Argo wants those jewels.

While the setting looks at first glance like fantasy, it is indeed science fiction, as is made clear by a ruined city with a cracked nuclear reactor in it.  Some things don’t quite make sense in the history timeline, and that’s a plot point.

Some points in the novel are suggestive if one knows the author’s history; “Black Dude Dies First” is inverted, with the first person on the voyage to die being a pale-skinned man named “Whitey.”  Iimmi turns out to be well-educated for a sailor, being on sabbatical from his college studies.  And there’s a distinct lack of the kind of perfunctory hetero romance subplot that often got shoved into science fiction stories of the period.

Oh, there’s a pretty damsel, but by the time our heroes finally meet her, she’s in the middle of her own escape, not very much in distress at all.  Much more time is spent on the men’s strong friendships.  Still, most of the time it’s a fairly conventional fantastic adventure story.  (You can even see traces of The Lord of the Rings.)

A confusing prologue is referred back to at the end, with a bit of the changes in thinking caused by paradigm shifts that would become a major theme of Mr. Delany’s work.

Like many first novels, it’s not quite up to the standards of the author’s later work, but it’s good of its kind and well worth looking up at your library.

Open Post: Wedding

Open Thread: Wedding

Clip art from Word

Went to my cousin’s wedding on Sunday; she married a Norwegian guy.

Big church service with the families showing off their musical talents and my cousin’s father the preacher giving the homily.

Got to ride in a stretch limo for the first time to and from the reception.  Considerably less comfortable than a city bus.

Reception was on a boat that went up and down the river.  Got to sit with the parents of the bride as I was a singleton.  Chocolated fruits at each place setting, along with a complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste (more important with the wedding cake as some layers had very purple frosting.)

Got home very late.

How have you folks been?

Your thoughts and comments?

Book Review: Murder for Revenge

Book Review: Murder for Revenge edited by Otto Penzler

Revenge

This is another themed anthology, this time around the concept of revenge.  That’s a pretty loose theme as these things go.  It’s got a big-name author list going for it though.

“Like a Bone in the Throat” by Lawrence Block starts the book off strong with a tale of a man condemned for a crime he certainly did commit.  The death penalty isn’t enough for some people, but who gets revenge in the end?

“Power Play” by Mary Higgins Clark is most notable for starring Mr. and Mrs. Harry Potter (this book came out in 1998, after Philosopher’s Stone came out, but well before the J.K. Rowling series became huge.)  An ex-President visits an old friend in the Middle East, and is kidnapped by what appear to be terrorists.

“Fatherhood” by Thomas H. Cook retells a familiar story from a different perspective, one drenched in revenge.

“West End” by Vicki Hendricks is about a sailing trip with a control freak.  That won’t end well.

“Caveat Emptor” by Joan Hess features a woman in distress who is taken further advantage of by a real estate agent, the story being told by a neighbor.

“Eradicum Homo Horribilus” by Judith Kelman is a bit over the top.  It has a bully of many years trying to trick his favorite victim into coming around for one last humiliation.  Too bad for him she’s taken up botany.

“Dead Cat Bounce” by Eric Lustbader is almost nothing like his usual novels.  On the eve of a wealthy couple’s daughter’s wedding, it’s discovered that the groom has a few dark secrets.  And so do everyone else.

“Angie’s Delight” ” by Philip Margolin has a man facing the death penalty unless he gets a good lawyer, one who can prove he didn’t commit murder.  Luckily, this public defender is a tiger.  Or is it luck?

‘Front Man” by David Morrell is about growing old in the world of Hollywood writing.  Mort Davidson is still a heck of a writer, but the new blood in the front office doesn’t think he can connect with the money-heavy young audience.

“Murder-Two” by Joyce Carol Oates features a relationship between a lawyer and her client that might be the worst thing that fate could have arranged for either.

“The Enemy” by Shel Silverstein is a poem of revenge long-plotted and well-planned.  Revenge served very cold indeed.

The volume finishes with “Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff” by Peter Straub.   A financial planner hires hitmen, or thinks he does–their specialty may be a little different.  It’s the longest story in the book, and is the poorer for it–Mr. Straub becomes self-indulgent and goes on and on.  Chilling ending, though.

Overall, a strong collection, worth picking up if you like at least two of the authors (except Peter Straub as this is not his best work.  For a better piece by him, see my review of “Koko” http://www.skjam.com/2013/06/05/book-review-koko/ .)

 

Manga Review: Puella Magi Kazumi Magica Volume 1

Manga Review: Puella Magi Kazumi Magica Volume 1 by Masaki Hiramatsu & Takashi Tensugi

Kazumi

A couple of years back, there was a surprise hit anime titled Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  While many magical girl stories have dark undertones beneath their fluffy, candy-colored exteriors, Madoka went full on into very dark places by twisting some of the standard genre cliches.  I won’t spoil those plot points here, just in case.

Kazumi takes place more or less in the same world as the Madoka series.  Young Kazumi wakes up to find herself stuffed in a trunk, naked, and with no personal memories beyond her name.  After some confusing adventures, Kazumi discovers that she can use magic, and is told that she is a mahou shoujo, a “magical girl.”  Kazumi is told that magical girls make a bargain with certain beings.  In exchange for having a wish granted, they must use their magical powers to fight monsters known as “witches.”  Being amnesiac, Kazumi does not remember what her wish was.

Kazumi meets other magical girls, and fights some monsters.  But given the world she’s in, there must be something else going on….

It’s difficult to go into too much detail about the plotline without discussing spoilers.  Suffice it to say that this volume is deceptively light-hearted, and the subtitle “The Innocent Malice” will apply by the end of the series.    I should mention that despite the main characters being junior-high age girls, the target audience for the series is seinin, young men.  In this volume, that’s most notable with some blatant fanservice scenes that the artist’s notes make clear are to appeal to him.

I’m a bit dubious about recommending this volume, as for the people who are into the deeper themes and plot twists, the series will read better as a whole.

Book Review: The Spider #7

Book Review: The Spider #7 by Grant Stockbridge

The Spider #7--decpetive cover

When the Shadow kickstarted the pulp hero magazines in the 1930s, it was no surprise that a similar character, the Spider, was featured at a rival publishing house.  Written under house name Grant Stockbridge (usually Norvell Page), the Spider was wealthy socialite and amateur criminologist Richard Wentworth.  A master of disguise, the Spider was heavily armed and had no compunction about killing criminals outright and branding them with his mark.

The Spider pulps were violent even by the standard of the times; the villains often introduced themselves with a mass murder or mutilation before getting down to their actual business.  The stories were fast-paced, with the Spider almost never getting to take full advantage of his arsenal and allies as events quickly stripped him down to his wits, courage and unbelievable ability to function despite crippling wounds.

This volume is from the 1993 reprint series, which was a “best hits” collection.  Despite the cover, “The Grey Horde Creeps” is not included.  Instead we have two other stories.

“King of the Red Killers” pits the Spider against El Gaucho, a bandit who has gathered a small army of criminals and is wiping out entire communities on the Great Plains.  But first, Dick has to prevent the criminal syndicates of the East Coast from making common cause with El Gaucho.  El Gaucho himself is something of a disappointment, as he is not in fact a gaucho.  He is not even Argentinian!  Once the Spider learns the truth about El Gaucho, he notes that the criminal’s master plan won’t work, but will cause so much suffering in the process that El Gaucho still needs to be taken down.

More interesting is Yvonne Musette, a gun moll for one of the New York gangsters.  She’s one of the most dangerous foes Dick has ever faced because she has some common sense.  She spots the Spider lurking near the gangster rendezvous and realizes that no amount of security can keep him out, isn’t fooled by the Spider’s misdirection, and advocates just killing him once captured, rather than putting the hero in a death trap.

It’s a good thing for the Spider that the gangsters don’t take Yvonne seriously because she’s a woman.

This story climaxes when the Spider attempts to kill someone with his own severed head.  Can’t get much more over the top violent than that!

“The Green Globes of Death” is the second Spider story featuring his foe, the Fly.  When last seen, Dick had stabbed the Fly all the way through the chest with a sword, and the villain then fell from the top of a tall bridge into the river.  Sure, the body was never recovered, but no one in the Spider series has actual super-powers, so the Fly is almost certainly dead.  Thus it’s a bit of a surprise when the Fly turns up hale and hearty, and just as lethal as ever.

The Spider suspects an impostor, perhaps the Fly’s nearly identical brother?  But the evidence is against it–this Fly seems to know things only the real Fly did, and has an identical fencing style.  The eponymous globes turn out to be made of glass, with a green poisonous gas inside.

The true identity of the Fly turns out to have a pretty neat twist, and this is one of the few Spider stories where Dick’s love interest Nita van Sloan gets to take out the villain at the end.  (Nita was pretty competent by pulp standards, but often got sidelined by the climax of Spider stories.)

These are pulse-pounding pulp action stories, and you can probably find the Nineties reprints affordable at used book stores.

For a different character also named “the Spider” see this review: http://www.skjam.com/2013/07/12/comic-book-review-king-of-crooks/

Book Review: Who Died in Here?

Book Review: Who Died in Here? edited by Pat Dennis

died

Themed short story anthologies are a perennial favorite for genre fiction.  “Best of” collections tend to feature heavy overlap with other best ofs, while single-author collections have to rely on the reader being willing to pick up a particular author’s work.  Themes allow the authors to riff on a central concept, and have readers pick it up because they find the theme interesting or amusing.

In this case, it’s tales of murder and death somehow connected to bathrooms.  As you might expect, there’s a certain amount of toilet humor, but other stories are more interested in the tub or shower.

As with most anthologies, the quality is uneven.  Standouts include: “Hard Working Red”, about a plumber who takes one too many barbs from an electrician; “Nobody Cares”, which is more of a horror story with a victim who honestly gets what’s coming to him; “Caught With His Pants Down”, which has a twist on the jealous stalker story;”Graphic Design”, in which a man reads tomorrow’s news; and “Problem Plumbing”, about a mother who is both pleased and horrified when her son’s potty training finally takes hold.

They’re all quite short stories, suitable for bathroom reading or any other place you have only a few minutes to spare.  Recommended as a gift for mystery fans with a sense of humor.

 

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash by Cary Bates & Carmine Infantino

Flash

Barry Allen, the Flash, is finally moving on from his wife Iris’ death, and is about to marry his new love, Fiona Webb.  But on the day of the wedding, Flash learns that Iris’ murderer, Professor Zoom has escaped imprisonment.  In the desperate struggle that follows, Zoom announces his intention to kill Fiona just as he did Iris.  Barry stops Zoom–permanently.  But was it an justifiable act of defense, or a deliberate killing?  That’s up to a jury to decide!

This mid-80s epic is not one of the best Flash stories.  The creative team was tired and it really shows.  One issue in particular is half reprints from older stories apparently to give the writer and artist a break.  But it does treat the issue of a masked vigilante killing a criminal with all the seriousness it deserves, before this became the standard operating procedure for superheroes in the Nineties.

The lack of color in this reprint hurts the story several times, not only because Zoom’s costume is identical to Flash’s with a palette swap, but in that recurring villain Rainbow Raider’s entire gimmick is color (and by this time the writer had stopped having people redundantly mention the colors of things.)

Which is not to say that this story is entirely without merit.  There are some interesting subplots, such as the mystery of Nathan Newbury, and the ambitions of a pompous defense attorney who sees Flash’s trial as a meal ticket beyond compare.  A couple of Flash’s villains put in notable appearances (and the final issue’s villain notes that he’s ,kind of sort of doing Flash a favor, which was foreshadowing for Crisis on Infinite Earths.)

Barry makes a couple of mistakes early on that compound his trouble.  First, he still hasn’t told his bride to be his secret identity, which leaves Fiona with no reasonable explanation when Barry Allen disappears permanently.  This causes a mental breakdown that renders her useless or worse than useless for the remaining two years of the story.  (And then shuffled offstage before the actual ending.)

The other is his decision that he must fight Professor Zoom alone, even actively telling the Guardians of the Universe to keep any other heroes from helping him.  This leads directly to killing Zoom being the only way to stop him, precipitating the entire trial plotline.

Again, not the best Flash story, and a bad place to start reading about the Barry Allen Flash.  (And a worse place to start reading about the Wally West Flash, who’s barely in these issues and whose spotlight is the aforementioned reprint issue.)  But for fans of the Barry Allen Flash on a budget, this is most of the end of the run in one low-price package.

For a volume with the beginning stories of the Barry Allen Flash, see this review: http://www.skjam.com/2013/02/27/comic-book-review-showcase-presents-showcase-volume-1/

Book Review: The Guns of Navarone

Book Review: The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean

Navarone

There are more than a thousand British soldiers trapped on a small island off the Turkish coast, and the Germans are sending a huge force to smash them.  The British Navy wants to pull them off, but the only route that can be taken goes right past–the guns of Navarone.  Unfortunately neither sea nor air attacks will work on the Navarone fortress due to its unique position, and a mass amphibious assault would take too long.  But a small team of specialists might be able to scale the unclimbable cliffs, get past the elite Alpenkorps troops, infiltrate the impenetrable fortress and blow up the invincible guns.  Maybe.

Perhaps the best known of action writer Alistair MacLean’s books (he also did Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra), it was made into an Oscar-winning (and notoriously loud) movie in 1961.  I was made to feel quite old when the barista at the local coffee shop had never heard of either book or movie.

This is a very manly adventure book, full of stiff upper lips and overcoming fear and wishing sadly that one didn’t have to kill quite so many of the enemy.  There’s really only one evil German, and even his fellow soldiers don’t approve of his actions.

The plan goes wrong almost immediately, and disaster after disaster strikes the team.  Mr. MacLean was really good at amplifying the suspense and making the heroes the underdogs of the story.  TRIGGER WARNING:  The evil German indulges in some torture briefly

There are some large character changes from the book to the movie (the movie actually has women in it) so even if you’ve seen the film, the book should still have some surprises.  Highly recommended.

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