Open Thread: Top Ten Lists 2015

Like many bloggers, I keep a close eye on the stats of which posts get traffic, and it’s time to reveal the winners for this year.  You all like list posts, right?  So here are the reviews you the readers felt were important in 2015.

Urusei Yatsura

Top Ten Posts of 2015

  1. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
  2. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  3. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  4. Manga Review: Assassination Classroom
  5. Comic Book Review: Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1
  6. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
  7. Magazine Review: Analog Science Fiction and Fact June 2015
  8. Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency
  9. Book Review: They Talked to a Stranger
  10. Manga Review: Shonen Jump Weekly (USA) 2014

I might be better off as an anime and manga reviewer, it seems.  Now let’s see how that compares to all clicks since the beginning of the blog!

Shonen

Top Ten Posts Cumulative

  1. Manga Review: Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  2. Comic Book Review: The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition
  3. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  4. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1
  5. Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura
  6. Anime Review: Magi: Labyrinth of Magic
  7. Book Review: Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments
  8. Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans
  9. Comic Strip Review: Spacetrawler Book 1 The Human Seat
  10. Anime Review: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood/Battle Tendency

Admittedly, older posts have an advantage as they just keep having people stumble across them.  Now, let’s break it down by type of review!

Jojo's Bizarre Adventures
Dio and Jonathan

Top Ten Anime of 2015

  1. Urusei Yatsura
  2. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood /Battle Tendency
  3. Mushibugyo
  4. Magi: The Kingdom of Magic
  5. Matchless Raijin-Oh
  6. Magi: Labyrinth of Magic
  7. Argevollen
  8. Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?
  9. I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying
  10. Humanity Has Declined

You folks love your classic anime, it seems.

Flag

Top Ten Books of 2015

  1. Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  2. They Talked to a Stranger
  3. Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments
  4. White Fang
  5. Thanks for the Feedback
  6. Global Friendship Vol. 5: United Kingdom-Zambia
  7. The Pirate Princess
  8. Strip for Murder
  9. The Blue Fairy Book
  10. The 47 Ronin

Non-fiction dominates with the top three spots!

Essential Sub-Mariner

Top Ten Comic Books of 2015

  1. Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1
  2. Batman: Earth One Volume Two
  3. Showcase Presents the Great Disaster Featuring the Atomic Knights
  4. Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales Volume 1
  5. Bodies
  6. Child of the Sun
  7. Essential Rampaging Hulk, Vol. 1
  8. 47 Ronin
  9. Showcase Presents: Superman Family Volume 4
  10. Showcase Presents Superfriends

Who would have thought Namor McKenzie would be so popular?

Assassination Classroom

Top Ten Manga of 2015

  1. Weekly Shonen Jump (USA)
  2. Assassination Classroom
  3. Shonen Jump Weekly (USA) 2014
  4. Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit
  5. UQ Holder, Vol. 1
  6. My Hero Academia #1
  7. Vagabond Volume 1
  8. Showa 1944-1953 A History of Japan
  9. Vinland Saga Book Four
  10. Yukarism

Shounen dominates this list, probably because I review Shonen Jump every year.  Now let’s take a look at where my visitors came from this year.

The Return of George Washington 1783-1789

Top Ten Viewing Countries of 2015

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Brazil
  4. Canada
  5. France
  6. Australia
  7. Russia
  8. Germany
  9. Italy
  10. Indonesia

The first two are no surprise, but way to go, Brazil!  And I had one lonely visitor from Curaçao; I hope they’ll be back next year and bring friends.

The top search term of the year was “Mack Hassler”; this science fiction poet is largely responsible for my Analog 1000 review doing so well.  I feel kind of bad my review of his work was lukewarm.

Which reviews did you enjoy this year?  Anything I should review in 2016?

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 3

Manga Review: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 3 by Go Ikeyamada

Quick recap:  Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi are fraternal twins who have been dressing as each other at their schools as part of a wacky scheme to bring up Mitsuru’s history grades.  Each of them has fallen in love while in disguise as the opposite sex.  Hilarity ensues.

So Cute it Hurts!!  Volume 3

This volume picks up moments after Aoi, the eyepatched hunk Megumu has a crush on, got visual confirmation that she’s actually a girl.  (She’s put on a towel in the intervening seconds, preserving the “Teen” rating.)  After some relationship fumbles caused by neither party having been in a romantic relationship before, it’s established that Aoi still likes Megumu (and is secretly relieved he’s not gay) but he still gets panic attacks whenever he gets closer than two feet to a girl.

Meanwhile, Mitsuru’s secret has been spilled to school bully Tokugawa (without the necessity of being naked).   She simultaneously hates him and is lusting for his body, and winds up blackmailing Mitsuru into a date in exchange for not revealing the secret to the teachers.  Mitsuru isn’t sure how to take this, and he still hasn’t gotten around to telling his deaf sweetie Shino who he really is.

This volume appears to be the end of the crossdressing plotline, though I suspect Mitsuru will need to dress up as Megumu again at some point.   Now we’re on to more standard complications to teen romance, as Aoi angsts about the dark secret behind his panic attacks, and Tokugawa doesn’t understand why Mitsuru is attracted to Shino more than her.  (Hint:  It’s because Tokugawa is a bully and Shino is a beautiful cinnamon roll, too good and pure for this sinful Earth.)

The art and characters continue to be adorable, although the sugar level may be way too high for some readers now that the gender-bending shenanigans are over.  I especially liked the scene where Megumu uses her recently learned sign language skills to express her feelings to Aoi when words just weren’t cutting it.

Still recommended to shoujo fans.

Anime Review: Young Black Jack

Anime Review: Young Black Jack

Black Jack was a manga series by Osamu Tezuka, about a renegade doctor who performs miraculous feats of medicine, but demands outrageous fees.  (Unless he decides to do it for free or a token.)  As Dr. Tezuka was an actual M.D. before he chucked it to become a full-time artist, the series was remarkably realistic in its depiction of anatomy and medical techniques–except when he made stuff up for dramatic purposes.   It explored themes of life and death, and medical ethics.  It’s had several animated adaptations.

Young Black Jack

Fairly recently, there was an authorized prequel made, Young Black Jack, set in the 1960s when Hazama Kurou (his birth name) was still an idealistic medical student.  The anime version is currently streaming on the Crunchyroll website.

The 1960s setting allows the show to bring in social topics that were relevant then.  There are plots dealing with student riots, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and corruption in the medical establishment (this last a recurring issue in the original Black Jack series.)  Time and again, Hazama exceeds his authority to perform medical miracles; sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not so much so.

This series is notable for bringing in bits from other Tezuka works, such as the nerve gas MW, which was central to the MW manga.  Most striking of these transplants is Dr. Hyakki.  In the Tezuka manga Dororo, Hyakkimaru was a swordsman whose body parts had been taken by demons, and replaced by artificial parts with hidden weapons.  As he defeated the demons, he got his original body parts back, becoming more “human.”  In this series, Dr. Hyakki is a surgeon whose limbs were lost in a car accident, and must rely on prostheses.  He begins his own battle with “demons” once he learns that it wasn’t an accident.

There’s some period racism and sexism, more sensitive viewers might find the depictions of wounds and disease distressing.  Others might disagree with the political viewpoint of the Vietnam War episodes.

The acting is good, and there are some lovely sequences.  (The surgeries themselves tend to be abstracted.)  Recommended to fans of medical drama shows and Tezuka fans.

Book Review: Slow Dancing Through Time

Book Review: Slow Dancing Through Time by Gardner Dozois in collaboration with Jack Dann, Michael Swanwick, Susan Casper and/or Jack C Haldeman II.

The art of collaboration is an interesting one; two authors (rarely three) blending their skills to create a story neither could produce individually.  Ideally, the reader should be able to see the fingerprints of the collaborators, but not the seams between them.  Gardner Dozois wrote a number of fine collaborations in the 1970s and 80s, before taking on a full-time job as editor for Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

Slow Dancing through Time

This volume reprints fourteen of those stories, along with essays by the collaborators on the collaboration process, and afterwords for each story written by Mr. Dozois.  (It also has a list of his other collaborations if you want to hunt them down.)  The stories cover science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a couple of them on the edge between genres.

The first story is “Touring” (with Jack Dann & Michael Swanwick), in which Buddy Holly gets a chance to perform with Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.  It’s a Twilight Zone type story, although the language is saltier than Rod Serling would ever have been allowed to air.  The book ends with “Down Among the Dead Men” (with Jack Dann), a chilling tale of a vampire trapped in a Nazi concentration camp.  It was quite controversial at the time, and still packs a punch, despite where the horror genre went during the Nineties.

Standouts include  “A Change in the Weather” (with Jack Dann), a bit of fluff about dinosaurs that hinges on the last line (and provided the endpaper illustration), “Time Bride” (with Jack Dann) about the use of time travel to emotionally abuse a girl (and with a downer ending as the cycle continues), and “The Clowns” (with Susan Casper & Jack Dann), another chiller featuring a little boy who sees clowns that no one else can.

Some of these stories may be hard to find elsewhere, such as “Snow Job” (wth Michael Swanwick.)   This tale of a con artist and a time-traveling cocaine addict first appeared in High Times, which can be difficult to find back issues of.

Overall, the quality of the stories is good, but budding writers may find the essays on collaboration more useful to them.  Recommended to speculative fiction fans.

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle Volume 1

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle Volume 1 story by Yun Kouga, art by Sunao Minakata

Azuma Tokaku is the star student at  Private Academy 17, secretly a school for assassins.  As such, she’s being temporarily transferred to Myojo Private School, to participate in Class Black.  Supposedly, Class Black is a game disguised as an ordinary homeroom class–twelve assassins compete to see which one of them can  kill the thirteenth student.

Akuma no Riddle Volume 1

The target is Haru Ichinose, a bubbly girl who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.  But we soon have hints that her past is dark indeed, and she’s much harder to kill than she appears.  Azuma begins to have second thoughts about her mission…perhaps she should be protecting Haru instead?

This manga (“Devil’s Riddle”) has been adapted into an anime series as well.  (I am told the anime compresses the series and cuts out several subplots.)  The author’s notes mention a “social game” but it’s not clear if this series was adapted from that or vice-versa.

In the tradition of dystopian YA, it is readily apparent that the teenage assassins have not been told the entire truth about what’s going on, and some of what the adults have led them to believe is completely false.   Azuma’s teacher at Private Academy 17 tells the reader as much, and looks forward to her figuring that out.  Most of the characters have very dark backstories, most only hinted at in this volume.  (Haru’s body is covered in nasty scars, and “Tokaku” means “rabbit’s horn”, aka “a thing that does not exist” like a jackalope.)

Most of the first volume is given over to brief introductions to the characters; there are thirteen girls in Class Black, a homeroom teacher who appears to be oblivious to what’s really going on, Azuma’s teacher, and the mysterious person who set up Class Black.  Azuma and Haru get the most characterization as “trying hard to be an emotionless professional” and “overly cute girl who refers to herself in the third person.”

The art is decent but relies heavily on hairstyles and uniforms to distinguish the characters.  There’s a couple of fanservicey scenes in aid of the plotline.

The book’s primary weakness from my point of view is that it seems overly calculated.  Each of the young women is designed to fit into a particular “appeal category” (the big-breasted one, the one with glasses, the one that looks underage, etc.) and I would not be surprised if this was originally published in a magazine with a primarily male reader demographic.  Also, the premise kind of unsuspends my disbelief.  Yes, I can accept for the sake of the concept one small private school that trains assassins, but here we have twelve teenage girls who come from twelve different schools and are all trained assassins.  Plus we’re given to understand that Class Black has happened at least twice before without the outside world noticing.

I do not think I will be picking up a second volume, but if teenage female assassins are your thing, and the plausibility issues aren’t a dealbreaker for you, you might enjoy this.

Magazine Review: High Adventure #144 Captain Battle

Magazine Review: High Adventure #144 Captain Battle edited by John P. Gunnison

This issue of the pulp reprint magazine has two stories by renowned adventure writer H. Bedford-Jones, both from the pages of People’s.  People’s was a Street & Smith publication that ran from 1906 to 1924 under varying titles, all of which had “People’s” in them.  It appears to have been a generic adventure story magazine, and notable for covers that were more picturesque than lurid, unlike many of the later pulps.

High Adventure #144: Captain Battle

“Captain Battle” has a main character whose name is both more and less unlikely at the same time.  His birth name is Captain Cathenach, the family one being an old Gaelic term for “battle.”  He’s investigating rum-running and other criminal activity in the Pacific Northwest towards the end of World War One.  The main villain of the story is “Yellow” Hearne, a criminal mastermind who has decided to get out of the rum-running business just as Prohibition is making it really profitable as he has even bigger plans.

What brings these men into direct conflict is that they both have an acquaintance with wealthy businessman Philip Nichols…and his beautiful daughter Faith.  Hearne wants to marry Faith, by hook or by crook, but would prefer she do it voluntarily, and as long as the manly Captain is around, that’s too much competition.   Hearne uses the implication that he is a government agent several times in the story to get his way.

Captain Cathenach is also in love with Faith, but has a number of secrets that get in the way.  First, he is actually a government agent undercover as a wealthy eccentric.  Second, under another name, he’s wanted for jewel robbery and murder.  Those he could probably clear up for Faith, but his third secret, the one that keeps him from revealing his true feelings to the maiden, is that he’s going blind!

There are a number of twists and turns, including a mid-story shocker when Cathenach gets a head wound and becomes a simple-minded amnesiac.

There’s some period racism in the story, with Cathenach being of the “my best friend is Chinese” type.  Sexism is more of the setting related type; Faith is plucky, but not expected to fend for herself in dangerous situations.

“John  Solomon-Retired” is another long story, this one featuring recurring character John Solomon, a Cockney ship’s chandler (a dealer in ship supplies and equipment.)   The hero of the story is Ralph Carter, an American salesman who finds himself at loose ends in Java.  Mr. Solomon  enlists Ralph in a favor the older man is doing a Chinese secret society.

It seems that Miss Wilhemina Bergen owns a spice plantation that hasn’t been able to sell its crop due to the Great War sapping trade.   Herman Stoppel, a “half-caste” (mixed race) trader, has been trying to gain control of the plantation for some reason as yet unknown.  Wing Fu, the secret society representative, went to college with Miss Bergen’s late brother, and has determined that Captain Stoppel thinks he can make two million American dollars from something on the plantation.  It’s unlikely to be the nutmeg, even if the American market is in dire need.

Mr. Carter is sent to the plantation to pretend to be a rival potential buyer, to see if he can figure out what’s going on and protect Miss Bergen’s interests.

Once again there are many twists to the story, with much of the later action taking place on John Solomon’s tricked-out ship, and then on Stoppel’s own craft.  There’s a series of plans and reversals until the final paragraphs.

Again, some period racism, though meaner to the mixed race people than to the Chinese person.  Miss Bergen has competence in her background, she’s been running the plantation for the last two years since her brother died, but has no action skills.  Stoppel turns out to want to marry Miss Bergen–and not to gain the money, either!  She is pretty racist in her response to that.

Both are exciting adventure stories with plenty of action and a bit of romance (somewhat more believable in the first story as the characters have known each other for some years.)   They are, however, products of their time and this may not appeal to some readers.

 

Book Review: The Opposite of Everyone

Book Review: The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Paula Vauss was born with blue skin, so her mother Karen (“Kai”) named her Kali Jai after the Hindu goddess of destruction and fresh starts.  Estranged from her mother for many years, Paula has become a divorce lawyer, far better at the destruction part than the fresh starts.  But now comes a message that Kai is dying.  And then, out of the blue, Paula learns that her mother had another child, a secret legacy.  The problem is that no one knows where that child is now.

The Opposite of Everyone

Paula has allies.  Her private detective ex-lover Birdwine, struggling with alcoholism and his own broken past, and her brother Julian (born “Ganesha”), a second surprise sibling.  But the trail’s gone cold, and meanwhile Paula must deal with a divorce case turned deadly.With the new information she has, Kali Jai Vauss must re-examine her memories to recover what actually happened to her family.

This is my first Joshilyn Jackson book, but apparently she’s had several bestsellers.  My sister really likes her stuff.  I am told that Ms. Jackson is considered a “Southern” writer, and certainly the book takes place in the southern United States, primarily around Atlanta, Georgia.

Paula is mixed-race (mixed with what she doesn’t know, as there was no father in the picture), and this comes up several times in the course of the story.  The effects are mostly negative in her youth, but she’s learned how to turn her looks to advantage in the present day.  Her unique upbringing and the estrangement from her mother have left Paula broken in many ways, despite being a high-functioning individual–part of her journey in the book is understanding why things happened as they did, and finally growing beyond that.

There’s a lot of talk about sex, Paula having been promiscuous in the past, but none on-stage.  The past comes up to haunt Paula in other ways that are more effective.

The ending is very final; no sequel or trilogy here; and the acknowledgements make it clear that Ms. Jackson has no plans for a Kali Jai Vauss series.

While quite good, this book wasn’t my cup of tea.  Recommended for fans of Joshilyn Jackson and her general type of novel.

Disclaimer:  I received this Advance Reader’s Edition free from the publisher for the purpose of reading and reviewing.  No other compensation was involved.  There may be changes in the final product.

Movie Review: Tokyo Gore School

Movie Review: Tokyo Gore School

Fujiwara leads a double life.  He’s the leader of a gang of high school bullies, and also the teacher-trusted student president.  He’s reasonably comfortable with this, having a binary view of life.  There are winners and losers, and he’s determined to be a winner.   Fujiwara is baffled, however, when he’s suddenly being chased on the street by complete strangers.

Tokyo Gore School

It turns out that Fujiwara is listed as one of the participants of something called the “Chain Game.”  Your data is listed on a cell phone-accessible website, allowing people to track you down.  If you capture the other person’s phone, you learn their darkest secret, and gain points that can be used to erase parts of your data, making it harder to track you.  If you lose, then your secret is out.  A lot of the involuntary participants default to violence as a means of getting cell phones, thus the “gore” in the title.

While some of the secrets are just embarrassing, like having your mom sew your name into your underwear, others are much more dangerous, and Fujiwara will find himself doing anything he must to avoid his secret getting out.  Oh, and the vaguely described “School Justice Bill” the government just passed may have something to do with all this.

This is a 2009 Japanese movie, currently available on the Crunchyroll website.  It’s an “R” for gory violence (which takes a while to get there–the first few fights are relatively bloodless.)  Also on the content front are suicide, rape (off-screen), torture and some rough language.

As you might guess from the plot description, Fujiwara is more protagonist than hero.  He does defend a young woman, but its for his own purposes. He’s invited to join a large group that’s using numbers to protect itself, but declines.  While he’s correct about the deficiencies of the strategy, his refusal is what causes that group to fracture.

Fujiwara’s antagonist for most of the movie, though it takes him a while to figure it out, is his ambitious lieutenant Todoroki, who enjoys violence for its own sake; the other bullies are stupid and easily led.

The movie has some nasty twists towards the end, and its philosophy becomes nihilistic in the negative sense.  There’s some nifty fight sequences, and the gore doesn’t get too overdone.

If teenagers fighting to the death as part of a game is your thing, this isn’t nearly as good as Battle Royale or Hunger Games but is enjoyable on its own terms.

Book Review: Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

Book Review: Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal

It is late December, 1941.  The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, and America is now at war with the Axis powers.  The United States’ alliance with Great Britain is now an active one, and to cement that alliance,  Prime Minister Winston Churchill has crossed the ocean to confer with  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante

Accompanying Mr. Churchill is secret agent Maggie Hope, posing as a humble typist.  When Eleanor Roosevelt expresses worry about one of her employees who hasn’t shown up for work, Maggie volunteers to go with her to check on Blanche Balfour’s health.  As it happens, that young woman’s health is impaired by the fact that she’s dead, an apparent suicide.  There appears to have been a suicide note implicating Mrs. Roosevelt, but the note itself is missing.  Maggie smells foul play.

This is the fifth Maggie Hope mystery novel; I have not read the previous ones.  This volume is not much of a mystery from the reader’s point of view; we are privy to scenes Maggie is not, so it is really more of a thriller.  Also mixed into the plot are the upcoming execution of a young black man (whose trial stinks on ice) and the British intelligence service trying to find out about Germany’s rocket program.

Ms. MacNeal has done extensive research, and cites her sources in a “Historical Notes” section at the end.  This results in a lot of name-dropping and factoids scattered throughout the book.  I did spot one anachronistic reference; World War Two buffs will know it when they see it.

One of the themes of the book is that leaders are human; they have good qualities, but can also have unpleasant sides, wrong opinions, and do less than good things in pursuit of what they consider more important goals.  Both Maggie and her current lover, benched RAF pilot John, must make difficult decisions about their priorities and what will be the best course of action to win the war.

Thankfully, there’s at least one actual villain in the book to provide some moral clarity–they’re a bad person in every important way, and we can cheer Maggie on as she opposes them.  There’s also some Hope family drama back in England, presumably to set up the next volume in the series.

Maggie Hope herself is (as so often in historical mysteries) a woman way ahead of her time in attitudes and behavior.   It’s sufficiently supported by her special circumstances.

There’s period racism and to a lesser extent sexism and homophobia, as well as that apparent suicide.

Recommended for fans of historical mysteries and spy thrillers.

Anime Review: One-Punch Man

Anime Review: One-Punch Man

Saitama used to be an unemployed salaryman (white-collar worker) whose life was going nowhere.  When a (relatively weak) monster attacked, Saitama remembered his boyhood dream of becoming a hero who could defeat any opponent with a single punch.  He trained really hard, and became that hero…but if you can defeat any opponent in a single punch, your victories become hollow.

One-Punch Man

There is now an anime series based on the manga I have reviewed before, streaming on Hulu as of this writing.  In twelve fast-paced episodes, it covers all the way up to the Boros Saga.

It’s a comedic series that parodies superhero comic book conventions, but also touches upon deeper themes.  The best example of this is the Sea King Saga, which asks (and partially answers) the question of what it truly means to be a hero.  (The Boros Saga is more about how the world’s most powerful hero group, the S-Class heroes, haven’t grasped this concept yet–they’re a collection of loners, many with dubious motives, not a team.)

Good animation and some excellent voice work make this series a good adaptation of the manga.  Also appreciated is some expansion of minor character roles, foreshadowing of things in future plotlines and cameos of characters from previous storylines, letting us know how they’re getting on.

Content issues:  There’s quite a lot of violence, some of it gory–these heroes and villains mostly use physical attacks to deal with their problems.  The Mosquito Woman is, as one viewer described it “proof that ‘Sexy Halloween Costumes’ have gone too far”, but there’s quite a bit more male nudity.  Speaking of which, one hero, Puripuri Prisoner, does all his fights in the nude…and he’s a gay stereotype that may make some viewers very uncomfortable.  I’d recommend parents of younger viewers skip this one.

The season finale provides lots of sequel hooks, to the point that it raises more questions than it answers.

A fun view for grown-up superhero fans.

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