Manga Review: Bleach Volume 10

Manga Review: Bleach Volume 10 by Tite Kubo

Ichigo Kurosaki is not your typical Japanese sixteen-year-old.  For one thing, he has naturally orange hair which makes him look like a delinquent.   But more importantly, he can see ghosts.  For some reason, his home city of Karakura Town is particularly inhabited by ghosts, and he can only very occasionally help out.  This gift also allows him to see the initially invisible to normals Rukia Kuchiki, who is a Soul Reaper charged with escorting ghosts to the afterlife and fighting Hollows, ghosts that have succumbed to despair and become monstrous.

Bleach Volume 10

Rukia is badly wounded by the Hollow she’s hunting, and in desperation transfers her Soul Reaper powers into Ichigo.  He turns out to be a natural at the combat part of the job, though he still needs a lot of guidance on everything not involving hitting things.  Ichigo’s classmates Orihime Inoue and Yasutora “Chad” Sado also develop spiritual powers and begin helping him deal with the increasing Hollow problem.

However, someone in the Soul Society (the organization that controls the Soul Reapers) has accused Rukia of breaking their law by empowering Ichigo.  She’s been abducted back to the afterlife to stand trial and be executed.  Ichigo is determined to go after her and rescue his friend, with the aid of Orihime, Chad and Uryu Ishida, an archer who belongs to the rival Quincy organization (or would, if there were any other Quincies left.)  It’s not going to be a cakewalk!

Bleach is a shounen (boys’) manga that ran in Weekly Shounen Jump from 2001 to 2016.  It was popular enough to spawn an animated television show and several movies, as well as video games and rock musicals.

The manga’s primary strength, beyond its initial premise, is its many interesting characters.  Kubo is great at character design, and tended to introduce a new herd of characters whenever he got stuck.  This did, however, lead to a certain amount of cast bloat, so that fan favorite characters would often not be seen for many chapters as each new character got a moment to shine.

Kubo, in common with many other shounen creators, also had difficulty with keeping female characters in the fray.  Rukia loses her powers in the very first chapter, acting as an advisor to Ichigo until she starts to recover, at which point she’s abducted and imprisoned for the Soul Society arc.  After being freed, she’s mostly sidelined and gets maybe one good fight per arc.  Orihime picks up one of the most broken powersets in the manga, but is a pacifist so seldom uses it to advantage, and is abducted in the arc immediately following the Soul Society, spending most of it the prisoner of the main villain.  And the pattern for other female characters is similar.

The character art is good and it’s usually easy to tell characters apart, but the backgrounds are often skimpy at best.

Back to the volume at hand, #10.  Our heroes, including Yoruichi the talking cat, have made it to Rukongai, the city where most of the Soul Society and their oppressed masses live.  (Seriously, this is not a pleasant version of the afterlife.)  However, the massive stronghold of the Soul Reapers, the Seireitei, is protected by an anti-spiritual energy barrier, and they were unable to get through the gate.

They have, however, managed to get temporary allies, the explosives expert Kukaku Shiba, and her surly brother Ganju.  Kukaku has a way to shoot a “cannonball” through the barrier with people inside.  Ganju will be coming along as he has a grudge against Soul Reapers involving his deceased brother.

Meanwhile, we look in on the Soul Reapers organization, briefly meeting more than a dozen new characters, some of whom will be important.  Most of them aren’t villainous, all they know is that there are intruders in the Soul Society of unknown motive.  We also see that they have internal politics going on.

Upon arriving in the Seireitei, the group is scattered by a poor landing.  Ichigo and Ganju face off against the hot-blooded Ikkaku Madarame and dandyish Yumichika Ayasegawa of the 11th Division (known for its combat skills.)  Ichigo does very well against Ikkaku, considering, but Ganju is outmatched against Yumichika and has to resort to running.

Back on Earth, the minor characters form a hero group to keep Hollows from overrunning Karakura Town while their main defenders are away.  (This is primarily comic relief.)

The introduction of the Soul Reaper captains, several of whom will remain relevant for the rest of the series, makes this a key volume.   We already see foreshadowing of events that will come up much later.  On the other hand, this is also the beginning of the cast bloat that became such a problem later on.

I’d recommend starting with Volume One, and seeing if that’s your thing–by this volume, we’re into the long storylines that will dominate the rest of the series.

Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King

Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader’s Edition for the purpose of writing this review; no other compensation was offered or requested.  There will be changes in the final product; the one I know about is that the published version will have a darker cover, less “chick lit” and more “piratey.”

Daughter of the Pirate King

We first meet Alosa disguised as a cabin boy on a ship that’s been captured by the pirate ship the Night Farer.  Despite this, she is soon spotted as a woman, and the very prize Captain Draxen and his brother/first mate Riden attacked to find.  Soon Alosa is secured in the Night Farer‘s brig, and a ransom demand is being made to her father, Kalligan the Pirate King.

Just as Alosa had planned.  For the brothers have one third of a legendary treasure map, and the only way to get on their ship to steal it was to be invited.  But though Alosa is clever and skilled, there are a few secrets she doesn’t know, and that could sink her mission before the fortnight is out.

This adventure novel is aimed at the higher end of young adult, with a protagonist who doesn’t hesitate to kill people if that’s what’s needed to accomplish her job.  Alosa has had a rough, even abusive, childhood being trained up to become a worthy successor to her father.  As a result, she has quite an edge, and her first-person narration often puts other people down in the process of showing herself to be good enough to please her father.

The one person on the enemy crew who can keep up with her acid tongue is Riden, who is perhaps a bit more compassionate than is safe for a pirate.  It comes as no surprise to the reader when the two start falling in love despite their respective positions.  The romance might be obvious, and take up more time than the action, but the banter is nice.

Alosa at times comes across as smug, especially when she reminds us that she’s holding back to hide her true awesomeness, but that does make the moments when the rug is pulled out from under her more satisfying.

The world building is minimal; it’s the Age of Sail but with a vastly simplified political situation, and a fantasy element that becomes more important in the last third of the novel.  While most of the immediate plot threads are wrapped up, this is a bit too obviously a book with a sequel coming soon.

Content:  In addition to the child abuse mentioned above, sexual assault is something Alosa thinks about a lot, due to her circumstances.  There’s some heavy petting scenes, but the characters never go all the way.  Also torture just off-stage.

Primarily for pirate story fans who do not mind a heavy romance subplot.

TV Review: Blackadder Goes Forth

TV Review: Blackadder Goes Forth

The year is 1917, the place, somewhere in France.  British troops are dug into trenches, not too far from the German troops in their trenches.  This particular part of the front line is the location of Captain Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson.)  Experience has taught him that the British strategy of sending men “over the top” in waves to assault the German lines just results in dead soldiers, and the captain has no interest in dying.  He hatches scheme after scheme to get himself away from the front lines, or at least delay the fatal charge.

Blackadder Goes Forth
“A war which would be a damn sight simpler if we just stayed in England and shot fifty thousand of our men a week.”

In this effort, Captain Blackadder is badly assisted by his second, Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), an upper-class twit who believes all the propaganda about honor and glory, and the company batman (military servant), Private S. Baldrick (Tony Robinson) who is profoundly stupid but does the best he can.  They try to outwit the mad General Melchett (Stephen Fry) who thinks that using the same tactic that has failed eighteen times in the past will surely trick the Germans this time, and Captain Kevin Darling (Tim McInnerny) a rear echelon bureaucrat who is determined to kiss up to the general in order to stay safely behind the lines.

This was the fourth and final series of Blackadder, each short (six episodes) season using mostly the same actors in similar roles in different times, as though they were reincarnations.  Blackadder himself seems to improve somewhat over the ages–his first incarnation is both very evil and stupid, and slightly lessens those qualities in each subsequent variant.  Captain  Blackadder is bright (but not quite bright enough) and his goal isn’t particularly wicked (not dying) but retains much of his ancestors’ contempt for everyone around him and skill at insults.

Many of those insults are quite funny, and there are many other laugh out loud moments as the characters react to the situations they find themselves in.  I did not care as much for the gross-out gags involving Baldrick’s cooking (he ran out of real coffee in 1914.)  And to be honest, since the show aired in 1989, rape jokes have lost much of their luster.

The treatment of World War One is satirical, focusing on the futility and loss of life it entailed, and the divide between the courage of the soldiers and the poor leadership of the commanding officers.  Some historians feel the series went too far with this, and warn that this is after all a work of fiction.

Especially striking is the final episode, “Goodbyeee”, in which the Big Push is ordered at last.  The mood turns more somber as Captain Blackadder’s plans to escape fail one by one.  Lieutenant George realizes that all his friends are dead and he doesn’t want to die himself.  Baldrick asks the obvious question, “why can’t we all just go home?” and no one can give him a good answer.  Even Captain Darling is ordered into the charge as General Melchett fails to understand that this “reward” for loyal service is the last thing Darling wants.

In the final moments, the soldiers leave the trench and go into battle–their fate is left unsaid, but the screen fades to a field of poppies, symbolic of the fallen of WW1.  It’s a bleak ending for a comedy.

The cast is excellent, and the writing good (despite some gags falling flat.)  I’d recommend watching all the Blackadder series in order, but if you have a special interest in World War One, this part stands on its own.

And now a video about poppies:

Book Review: Space Captain/The Mad Metropolis

Book Review: Space Captain by Murray Leinster/The Mad Metropolis by Philip E. High

This is another of the Ace Doubles–two short science fiction books in one volume, printed upside down from one another.  In general, these are a good deal.  A readable copy won’t set you back more than a brand new paperback in most used bookstores.

Space Captain

Space Captain is the story of Captain Trent, a starship captain from a line of captains that extends all the way back to when they sailed ships of wood on the oceans of Earth.   Trent is hired to captain the Yarrow, a smallish cargo ship, into the Pleiads, a region of space so infested with pirates that even the pirates are complaining.

Faster than light travel is possible, but not FTL communication, and while in “overdrive” the only communication possible is detecting other overdrives.  A more powerful drive can blow out a lesser one, and the pirates have the most powerful drives in the sector.  Thus the situation is similar to the 17th Century age of piracy.  However, the Yarrow has a new edge, a device created by its engineer that should blow out another ship’s overdrive regardless of how powerful it is, without endangering the ship it’s on.

In its first test, the device fails; but Trent’s superior captaining allows him to temporarily drive the pirates away from a passenger vessel.  That vessel has aboard, among other things, the daughter of a planetary president.  Trent puts in motion an elaborate scheme to both salvage the passenger ship and capture some of the pirates.

While Trent’s plan succeeds, the ruthlessness of the pirate gang soon complicates matters, and the space captain must track the outlaws to their lair–and will that blasted device ever work right?

This is not one of Mr. Leinster’s better works.  Captain Trent is stoic and calculating, and somewhat awkward in social situations, and that’s about all the personality we see.  He’s more an archetype of ship captain than an actual person.  Most of the other characters come off similarly.  McHinny the engineer is the most distinctive, being an obsessed, egotistical inventor.

Marian Hale is a pure damsel in distress type, and the entirety of the romantic subplot is Trent being attracted to her because…she’s the only woman in the story with a speaking part.  She’s barely in the book.

The space as an ocean metaphor is overworked.  One peculiar technology moment is needing to take photographs of the ship’s viewscreen with a separate camera, then make photocopies from those, rather than oh say using a screencap and sending it directly to the printer.

Overall, the action is dry, a series of events that follow one another.

The Mad Metropolis

The Mad Metropolis opens with ordinary laborer Stephen Cook being locked out of a bar at night.  Which doesn’t sound so bad, except that in 24th Century Free City Two, being outside in the dark is a death sentence.  “Psychos” haunt the streets looking for human prey, and the Nonpol patrols are scarcely more compassionate.

It soon becomes evident that Mr. Cook, is not as ordinary as he believes himself to be.  For one thing, while he’s been operating at the mental level of a low-normal serf, Cook is actually a potential super-genius.  And he has other qualities, as yet unknown, that make him a danger to the government’s plans, and thus the attempt to have him die in a “tragic accident.”  Cook soon throws his lot in with the Oracles, one of the city’s factions, but even they do not know the full extent of the troubles to come.

Free City Two (formerly London) is an eerie place, where everything is disguised by hypnotic projections that fool all five senses (and even mechanical ones!)   There’s a chilling scene where Cook forces himself to see what the city actually looks like, and how badly designed and dilapidated it truly is.  And its society is just as rotten as its surroundings.  Cook is shocked to his core about halfway through when he sees a human child for the first time.

The government has a plan; creating a global computer network that can assist them in keeping order.  Turning it on, however, only creates more problems, as can be guessed by the fact that the main computer immediately dubs itself “Mother.”  Mother soon has to deal with the erudite Oracles, the mercenary Nonpol, the criminal Syndicates, all of whom have their own ideas of what needs to be done.

Stephen Cook, of course, is the true key to the future, if he can figure out why those mental blocks were put in all those years ago.  He makes a more interesting protagonist than Captain Trent, spending the first part of the story trying to survive against the odds, without the information that would explain why people want him dead.  And even when he unlocks his full potential, Cook still has room to realize that he needs to change his path.

The supporting characters get moments in the spotlight, giving us a bit of their personalities and motivations even when Cook is not present.  Jan Tremaine, a female Oracle, is the love interest, and even though the romance is perfunctory, it develops decently within the narrative, and she has her own personality.

The action is exciting, with a strong sense of danger.  One interesting technology bit is the equivalent of the modern police car onboard computer that can access data from headquarters and vice-versa.

This isn’t the best Ace Double I’ve read, but has points of interest for the fan of older science fiction.

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