Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura

Anime Review: Urusei Yatsura

Ataru Moroboshi is not precisely your average teenaged boy.  For one thing, he’s an incurable skirt-chaser, constantly hitting on any pretty lady who happens by.  Also, he’s incredibly unlucky.  So unlucky, that when alien invaders declare that a random person from Earth must compete against their champion in a game of tag, Ataru is that random person.

Urusei Yatsura

The alien champion is Lum, who looks like a sexy version of a Japanese oni.  Ataru is suddenly much more pumped at the prospect of catching her, but the alien girl turns out to be able to fly.   The Earth is on the brink of defeat when Ataru’s long-suffering main romantic target Shinobu agrees to marry him if he wins.

This gives Ataru just the boost he needs to catch Lum and win, but in the process he accidentally proposes to Lum, who accepts, because she’s fallen in love with him.  Soon Ataru’s home suburb of Tomobiki Town is a hotbed of aliens and weirdness.

Urusei Yatsura, also known as “Those Annoying Aliens”, was the first big hit by manga creator Rumiko Takahashi.  It was turned into a long-running televison series, several direct to video features and some movies.  I recently finished watching all fifty DVD volumes of the TV show.  The manga, marketed in America as Lum: Urusei Yatsura, has not been fully released in English due to misguided marketing leading to poor sales.

This romantic comedy series, heavy on the comedy part, is full of zany characters, puns, slapstick gags and amusing situations.  Ataru is a jerk, yes, and deserves about 80% of what happens to him, with the rest being random bad luck.  But he also has his good points, when the mood strikes him.   And it’s not as though the other fellows in the series are much better in their own ways.

Lum undergoes a huge change over the course of the series.  At the beginning, she’s a pretty horrible person, the type who shouts “I’m having your baby!” while Ataru is trying to talk on the telephone.  But she soon becomes much more likable, with her innocent failure to fully understand human culture taking the fore.  Part of this is because Shinobu was supposed to be the main love interest, but the readers liked Lum better, and feedback caused Ms. Takahashi to adjust the story to match.

During the first couple of seasons of the anime, this makes for some inconsistent characterization, as earlier stories from the manga were sometimes skipped over, only to be done later with the original characterization intact.  Over the course of the series, the anime also did a number of filler episodes.  These can usually be spotted by having much less Ataru, and a more melancholy/nostalgic tone.  Takahashi-penned stories often ended with a stinger that restored the status quo or punctured any lingering seriousness, filler episodes tend not to do this.

One pattern Ms. Takahashi uses a lot of is introducing a new zany character whenever the series starts to drag, having stories that pair them up with various members of the existing cast, and seeing if they stick.  This wound up with the series having loads of characters, some of whom only showed up once a year.  The most successful of the later characters is Ryuunosuke, a young woman raised as a boy by her crazed father, who explored gender issues in a way that would be more directly referenced in Ranma 1/2.

There’s a lot of slapstick violence, mostly aimed at Ataru; modern audiences may find Lum’s habit of shocking him with lightning bolts every time he displeases her uncomfortable.  Also quite a bit of fanservice, with Lum topless in the first episode (it’s for plot-related reasons!  Totally legit!)

While the series is massive, it’s very episodic, so picking any random volume or one of the movies shouldn’t be too confusing.  Okay, the second movie, Beautiful Dreamer,  is very confusing, but that’s on purpose due to the  nature of the plot.

Recommended to anime fans who haven’t seen where a lot of the currently used romantic comedy tropes came from, and comedy fans in general.

Book Review: Deathless

Book Review: Deathless  by Catherynne M. Valente

Marya Morevna is not like the other girls in Saint Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad.   She sees the husbands of her sisters while they are still birds.   But times are changing in Russia, now the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics.   The People have no time for magic, and Marya does not see the bird that becomes her husband.   A pity, for this husband is named Koschei, and now she is snared in his story.

Deathless

Koschei the Deathless is a famous figure in Russian folktales, the sorcerer who has cut out his own heart, his death, and hidden it so that no man or thing can kill him.  In tale after tale, he falls in love with a beautiful woman, but she is in love with Ivan the Fool, and they find Koschei’s heart, no matter how well guarded.  There are variations to the tale, but they all end the same way.

This version is written by the author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Boat of Her Own Making, and is set against the background of Russian history in the first half of the Twentieth Century.    The fairy tale creatures of Russian folklore have taken on new forms to match modern times.  Even Baba Yaga makes an appearance.

Marya is a complicated character.  Despite the rather disturbing courtship style of Koschei, Tsar of Life, she genuinely comes to love him, and helps him in his war with the Tsar of Death.  And yet she finds herself irresistibly drawn to her Ivan when he appears.  Marya wants to avoid the fate the story has for her, but makes decisions that drive her farther down that road.

Given that the non-graphic sex scenes dance on the line between rough sex and spousal abuse, I do not recommend this book below senior high level.  There’s also some very dubious consent that may trigger some readers.

For those who might be interested in Russian folklore, and fans of tragic romance.

Open Thread: Minicon 49

This past weekend, I went to Minicon 49 at the RadiShTree Hotel in Bloomington.   It’s a book-oriented science fiction convention with an older-skewing crowd, running around 500 people.  So it’s not overcrowded and a good place to talk to your once a year friends.

Art by Don Maitz, with additions by Pat  Scarramuza
Art by Don Maitz, with additions by Pat Scarramuza

This year’s theme was “Pirates and Airships” largely because the artist Guest of Honor was Don Maitz, who people who are not SF fans may know best from the Captain Morgan rum bottles.  (Fun information:  Mr. Maitz’s first draft of the Captain Morgan painting had the pirate in period-correct clothing, but he decided that the anachronistic outfit looked more “piratey.” )  Also on the Guest of Honor list were Jenny Wurtz (the Mistwraith series, and Mr. Maitz’s wife) and Catherynne M. Valente (the Fairyland series.)

Minicon 49 was listed as three and a half days, with some activities starting on Thursday, but I arrived Friday.   I attended the “Fandom or Fandoms?” panel, which discussed generational differences in how speculative fiction fandom is approached.  I stayed for the “Healthy Online Gaming: Just One More Turn” panel, which talked about online gaming addiction, how to prevent it, how to deal with it and how to spot if you have it.

Opening Ceremony (“ceremonies!”) were fun as always, with a rousing beginning,  Jenny Wurtz marching in playing the bagpipes.  I was saddened to learn that Blue Petal (a long time fannish personality who once played in a convention RPG I ran) had passed away.

After that,  I went to the “Navigating the World of Small Press Publishing” panel, with several authors and publishers discussed the joys and pitfalls of working with small presses.  One of the panelists didn’t make it as he was so busy selling his book that he lost track of time.  (Also because last minute mixups meant that panelists weren’t named in the programs.)

Late night was party time (I especially enjoyed the Helsinki Worldcon bid party) and Moneyduck.  For those of you who have not heard of the latter, Moneyduck is a game where you write a word or phrase on a piece of paper and pass it to the next person.  That person draws a picture of the words.   They then conceal the original phrase and pass it to the next person, who writes words based on the pictures.  Repeat until the paper has gone all the way around the table.

On Saturday morning, I went to the Catherynne Valente Reading, where she gave us a snippet from her upcoming Fairyland book.  Should be interesting.

That afternoon, I moderated the “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans” panel, the recommendations from which are in an earlier post.   There was a young woman in the front row who wanted to study moderation as she will be doing that for a Hetalia panel at ConVergence; that inspired me to do a good job, and I am told it showed.

Later that afternoon,  I also participated on the “Page 117” panel.   The idea was to pick a random page from a book, in this case the hundred and seventeenth, and read it aloud.  The panelists and audience then discussed whether they’d continue reading based on that page.   As it turns out, some good books have boring 117s.  One particular volume had a page that was so over the top macho action that it set me to giggles, even more when it was revealed that the protagonist was a woman.   All my entries were from books I was donating to the freebie table; they were all gone by the end of the day, and I hope the new owners enjoy them.

I wrapped up my panels for the day with “The Year in SF”  by which was meant primarily SF books.  There’s a few I am looking forward to seeing.  The parties I spent the most time at were the Ethel Romm Meet & Greet, and the Livejournal Party.

Sunday morning, I went to the Film Room’s presentation of “Wolf Children,” an anime movie about a widow who has to raise her kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.  It’s a bit melancholy.  After that was done, I stopped by the end of the Janny Wurtz interview.

My main panel for the day was “Maenads, Oracles and Madwomen”, which turned out to be mostly about Baba Yaga and how she is a liminal figure.  (One of the panelists mentioned how nice it was to be around a group of people who used the word “liminal” in conversation.)  After that, it was time for the “Mega Moneyduck Reveal” event.  A roll of paper had been set up by the Consuite, and the game had been played all weekend.  What started as the phrase “silent and very fast” wound up being something about birthday cake. There were some hilarious segues.

Closing ceremonies were also fun.  Catherynne Valente mentioned that she’d been nominated for a Hugo award; we’ll see how she does.  The ceremony culminated in the usual assassination of the MnStf President, and then it was time to go home.

The book I was reading for most of the weekend was “The Why of Things”, about causality.  it sparked several interesting conversations.  I’ll have a review of it up in a few days.  I also got to see pieces of three Syfy Original Movies, which all appeared to be parodies of giant monster flicks.

Next year is Minicon 50, which will be four (exhausting) days, and the planned guests of honor are Larry Niven, Jane Yolen, Brandon Sanderson and Adam Stemple.  You might want to get your registration in early.

Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans

This last weekend at Minicon 49, I moderated a panel on “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans.”   As is common at this sort of thing, a lot of series and films were mentioned very briefly, and not everyone had the opportunity to write them all down.  Therefore, I promised to put up a list.  I should note that this list covers a wide variety of genres and styles, so you may see things that are not to your taste.

Wolf Children
Wolf Children

In roughly alphabetical order….

  • Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero:  A story that examines what happens after teens summoned to save magical worlds are returned to Earth.  (Note: the main character is a pervert and the show is heavy on female fanservice.)
  • Akira:  Motorcycle gang members deal with psychic children in a post-World War Three Tokyo.  One of the first anime films to make it big in America, massively compressed from the groundbreaking manga.
  • Appleseed: Post-apocalyptic society building with a heavy emphasis on artificial humans so close to biological ones that the lines are blurred at best.
  • Aria: A very quiet series about gondoliers on a terraformed Mars.  The setting is heavily based on Venice.
  • Attack on Titan:  Action series about humans in a walled city battling anthropophagous giants.  Extremely violent, anyone can die, some fascinating world building.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra: Not actually anime, but heavily influenced by it.  An alternative Earth setting with “benders”, people who can control the classic elements via martial arts training.
  • Azumanga Daioh: A slice of life series about a loose group of friends who go through high school together.  Some mild fantastic elements implied.
  • Big O:  In a city that has lost its memory, negotiator Roger Smith must resort to giant robot battles when negotiations break down.  Noted for a very dubious ending as the third season never materialized.
  • Bubblegum Crisis:  Cyberpunk series about armored vigilantes that fight Boomers, robots that have gone amok (not always by accident.)
  • Chobits:  An impoverished student in a world where personal computers are humanoid in shape, discovers an amnesiac “persocom” in the shape of a young woman lying in the garbage.  some interesting themes of humanity’s interactions with their machines and the effects of computers on society are set aside for soppy romance by the end.
  • Crying Freeman:  A mysterious criminal organization turns an innocent man into their assassin, whose body obeys orders even as his eyes fill with tears.  Quite a lot of sex in this one.
  • Dot Hack: A multimedia series of series revolving around a massive online immersive reality computer game.  Can be confusing, as important information only appears in other stories, not all of which are available in America.  Spawned a number of imitators.
  • Final Fantasy Advent Children:  An animated sequel to the fan favorite Final Fantasy VII video game, demonstrating the advances in computer animation since the game came out.  Cloud and his friends saved the world, but at great cost; can they get together for one last push to keep it saved?
  • Fruits Basket:  An orphaned girl becomes a servant to a big, screwed-up family cursed with animal transformations.  Despite their magical abilities, her compassion may be the strongest power of all.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood:  There are two series based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, as the first one aired while the manga was still ongoing and had to come up with its own ending.  Both series revolve around brothers who practiced forbidden alchemy and paid the price.  They join the military to gain the resources they need to try and make things right.
  • Future Diary:  A young man discovers that his cell phone diary now records what he’s going to do in the future.  which would be cool if there weren’t other people with future diaries who want to kill him.  It seems the last one living will become the new god.  The standout character is Yuuno, the young woman who takes “stalker” to a whole new level.
  • Ghost in the Shell: By the same artist who brought us Appleseed, the cyberpunk tales of a special police unit that deals with cybercrime of all sorts.  The chronology can be confusing, but the themes run deep.
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:  A film about a young woman who discovers the ability to leap to the past and redo events, which she promptly abuses.  But just because you’ve erased an event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it turns out there are, in fact, rules and a cost for time travel.
  • Iron Man: Yes, an anime series based on the Iron Man movies, and thus on the comic books.  Tony Stark goes to Japan and fights opponents based on Zodiac creatures.
  • Karneval:  A very new series about a young burglar, a mysterious albino boy, and a government agency they join for protection when a bioaugmentation organization puts them on its hit list.
  • Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:  The title character is a young woman who longs for excitement in her life, so creates a club to seek out weirdness.  She is unaware that most of the club members are in fact the weirdness she seeks, or that she herself has a hidden power.  Hugely popular.
  • Moretsu Space Pirates: “Bodacious” space pirates in the American market due to the direct interpretation “flaming” being even less felicitous.  A young woman discovers that she is the heir to a pirate ship.  “Pirates” in this future are actually privateers, and it’s mostly for show…but then the politics start happening.  Notable for centering around a good mother/daughter relationship and female friendships without making the male supporting characters useless or invisible.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit:  A spearwoman becomes bodyguard to a prince who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit.  Things are much, much more complicated than they seem.  Notable for such things as having a heroine that’s pushing thirty, good worldbuilding (the author is an anthropology major) and not having a villain as such–everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just violently disagree on what that is.
  • Nichijou:  The ordinary life of four ordinary high school girls, one of whom happens to be a robot.  The closest genre might be “magical realism”; many strange and wonderful things happen, but it’s all part of the characters’ ordinary life.
  • Planetes: A hard science fiction series about astronauts whose job it is to clear space junk from Earth’s orbit.  Very down-to-earth (pun intended).
  • Project A-ko:  A girl with superpowers and her ditzy best friend transfer to a new school, where they meet a snobby girl with mechanical genius and a grudge against them.  Their battle is interrupted by an alien invasion.  Lots of fun.
  • Psycho Pass:  In the future, the cops have a way of detecting whether you are likely to commit a crime.  And if you detect too highly, they might act pre-emptively.  Dark.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:  A girl named Madoka is offered a wish, any one wish, in exchange for which she must become a magical girl and fight “witches.”  Her new friend Homura doesn’t want her to do this, and there are a variety approaches to the life of magical girls.  This is a deconstruction of magical girl tropes, so you may want to watch some Sailor Moon or Pretty Cure or other “standard” magical girl show first.
  • Queen’s Blade:  In a fantasy land, several women compete in a tournament to see which of them will become the next queen.   Extremely heavy on the erotic fanservice, but oddly feminist otherwise; the women have varied personalities, agendas and agency.  It’s a love/hate show.
  • Record of Lodoss War:  Essentially Dungeons and Dragons: The Anime.  On the island of Lodoss, a small band of adventurers discover that a secret hand is behind the wars that rack their lands.  There are two continuities, the direct to video version, and the television series.  the latter replaces the last third of the video version and moves on to a “next generation” plotline.
  • Robotech:  An oldie but a goodie, it took Macross and two other mecha series from Japan and edited them together into a surprisingly coherent continuity.    In what is now an alternate history, an alien craft landed on Earth, and was turned into our planet’s best defense against the aliens who had sent it.
  • Rosario + Vampire:  A “harem” series about a boy who mistakenly transfers into a school for monsters, many of whom appear to be pretty girls.  Some exciting fight scenes with the many monsters, but also much fanservice.
  • Samurai Champloo:  In a rather odd version of Meiji Restoration Japan, a samurai, a renegade swordsman, and a young woman search for “the samurai that smells like sunflowers.”  Interesting music.
  • Serial Experiments Lain:  A young woman builds her own computer, and connects to the Wired.  Government agents are not pleased by this.  Very surreal, and a mind screw.
  • Summer Wars:  A young man is dragooned into posing as his classmate’s fiance during her family reunion.  Meanwhile, a hostile program has taken over a major Internet hub.  These things turn out to be much more connected than they might look.  Very much a family movie, though the dub adds extra cursing.
  • Tiger and Bunny:  A superhero story in which the heroes are commercially sponsored and appear on a reality show.  Surprisingly much less cynical than that sounds, it’s very much a homage to American comic books.
  • Witch Hunter Robin:  Government agencies track down and capture/kill mutants known as “witches.”  Robin herself is a witch who serves humanity.  But is she really on the side of good?
  • Wolf Children:  A woman falls in love and marries a man who is also a wolf.  But he dies shortly after their second child is born, so she must raise their kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.
  • Yokohama Shopping District:  A very humanoid robot runs a cafe at the end of the world as we know it.  Humanity is almost gone, but our creations live on.  A very quiet story.
  • Yume Tsukai: “The Dream Master”; the main characters have the ability to pacify nightmares, turning them into restful dreams.  Which is kind of important when the nightmares can manifest in the real world.
  • Zipang:  A modern day Japanese destroyer travels through time to World War Two, and changes the course of history.  No take-backs, no reset button ending, and semi-realistic consequences, especially when the current Japanese try to interact with their historical counterparts.

Did we miss your favorite title?  Want to expand on the descriptions?  Just have some questions about anime?  Let us know in the comments!

Open Post: Top Ten as of Right Now

I’ll be away from my computer for the next little while, so let’s have a Top Ten list post!

Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.
Created for me by Indigo Caldwell; please do not reuse without permission.

These are the top ten content posts for the last year.

  1. Anime Review: Labyrinth of Magic
  2. Manga Review: Vagabond Volume 1
  3. Book Review: Good Advice from Bad People (really rocketed up the charts!)
  4. Manga Review: Ayako
  5. Comic Book Review: 47 Ronin
  6. Book Review: Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right
  7. Book Review: The 47 Ronin
  8. Comic Strip Review: Dick Tracy
  9. Anime Review: Kill la Kill
  10. Manga Review: A*Tomcat

The “all time” list is identical, except that Kill la Kill and A*Tomcat trade places.

What reviews have you enjoyed?  How’s life treating you?

Have a happy Easter!

Manga Review: Magi #1

Manga Review: Magi #1 by Shinobu Ohtaka

In a setting not unlike the Middle Eastern tales of the Arabian Nights, there is a boy named Aladdin.   He’s lived in isolation until now, so he doesn’t know much about the outside world, or how society works.  Soon, Aladdin meets a drifter named Alibaba, who’s a poor laborer now, but dreams of conquering a dungeon, a mysterious trap-laden building filled with treasure.

Magi #1

After some difficulties with Alibaba’s current client, the wine merchant Budel, and a run-in with the local slavery laws, Alibaba and Aladdin find themselves with no place to go but the dungeon.  It’s filled with dangers, just as described, but more dangerous may be the rival group of treasure hunters….

This is the manga the previously reviewed anime Magi: The Magical Labyrinth was based on.  (Its sequel, Magi: The Kingdom of Magic is now airing.)   The manga starts with a solo adventure of Aladdin, in which he helps out a caravan; this was skipped in the anime to bring in Alibaba faster, and bits reused after the first storyarc.

Aladdin has a rather annoying breast fetish, and some fanservice comes up throughout.  As mentioned in the anime review, most of the characters are suspiciously pale-skinned for the Middle East setting and being out in the sun all the time.

That said, it’s a fun series that will later have a really interesting female character, Morgiana (she appears in this volume, but pre-character development.)

This will mostly appeal to fans of the anime, but might be worth looking into if you’re a fan of Arabian Nights style fantasy.

Book Review: Weird Golf: 18 Tales of Fantastic, Horrific, Scientifically Impossible, and Morally Reprehensible Golf

Book Review: Weird Golf: 18 Tales of Fantastic, Horrific, Scientifically Impossible, and Morally Reprehensible Golf by Dave Donelson

Disclosure: I received this book through a Firstreads giveaway in the expectation that I would review it.

Weird Golf

To make where I’m coming from clearer, I’m not a sports fan, and in specific not a golf fan. I’ve played just enough golf to know the game doesn’t appeal to me as a player, and I don’t believe I have ever watched an entire match on TV. However, I’m a big fan of “strange sports stories” which blend a real-life sport with fantastic elements.

As you might gather, this is a single-author anthology which is exclusively about golf. Thus, the changes are rung by introducing different unusual elements, not all impossible. It’s double-spaced for easy reading.

The best single story is “Grand Slam”, where a veteran golf writer (much like the author) realizes there’s something more unusual than most about an up and coming golfer. The ending’s very predictable, but the research is good.

Mr. Donelson appears to have been his own editor/proofreader, as there are a couple of “relies on spellchecker” errors.

And then there is the story “Superhero Grudge Match”, in which Superman and Batman compete to join a pro-am golf tournament. I was very surprised to not see a fanfic disclaimer, or an indication that Mr. Donelson got permission to use the characters for his book.

It really felt like the writer hadn’t done the research on the comic book characters nearly as well as he’d researched Pebble Beach. The story references some current events that might have made the business pages, but the Batman and Robin combo used were clearly the ones from the 1960s TV series. The characterizations are closest to the Silver Age “World’s Finest” comic books, in which Superman, Batman or both suddenly start acting dickishly for reasons given at the end of the story. Except that this time they’re dickish for the sole purpose of winning a golf game.

Notably, though both heroes end up cheating during the match, neither of them uses the skills/powers that would allow them to be freakishly good at golf. As a comic book fanfic reader, I have to say it’s not very good.

I would only recommend this book to people looking for a gift their golf-mad relative probably doesn’t have already. It’s a light read, suitable for rainy days and waiting for tee times.

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem edited by John Klima, Lynne M Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Glitter & Mayhem

This volume is an anthology of speculative fiction short stories,  themed around dance clubs, loud parties, roller skates, sparkly light and glitter.  They’re full of sex, drugs and disco music.  I’ve never been much of a party person myself, not being fond of noisy crowds, deafening music or flashing lights.  So I can’t speak to the authenticity of the party scenes.

That said, there’s a fair mixture here of fantasy, SF and horror; as well as a couple of less genre-specific pieces.  The characters are a diverse lot, men, women and less defined genders, of multiple sexualities and races.

The stories I liked best were two straight-up roller derby tales: “Apex Jump” by David J. Schwartz, about a small town derby team that gets invited to an away game that’s out of this world;  and “Bad Dream Girl” by Seanan McGuire, which ties into her InCryptid series (which I have not read, but this story makes look promising.)

The introduction by Amber Benson comes off as overly pompous, and is quite skippable.  There are a number of interesting tidbits in the author bios in the back, which should help you if a story makes you want to read more of a particular writer.  This book, by the way, was a Kickstarter project, and the sponsors get their own thank you pages.  I am pleased to say that some of that money seems to have gone to competent proofreading and book design.

Trigger Warning:  The protagonist of “Subterraneans” commits rape by deception, and is not one whit repentant.

Overall:  There are a couple of standout stories, several quite decent ones, and a handful of clunkers.   If you’re much more into the dance party scene than I am, or are a big Kickstarter fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one enough to pay full price.  Everyone else should consider getting it from the library

Comic Book Review: Spartan & the Green Egg

Comic Book Review: Spartan & the Green Egg by Nabila Khashoggi and Manuel Cadag

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Spartan & the Green Egg

Spartan, an adventurous boy, his three human friends, and his dog Grimm make contact with an alien that manifests itself in the shape of an egg.  Using its vast powers, they go on exploration journeys.  In this introductory volume, the kids travel to the Amazon rainforest and learn a little bit about the locals, as well as about deforestation.

This graphic novel is intended for kids about eight to ten, and the main character is named after Nabila Khashoggi’s son.  It’s very light edutainment, with little sense of conflict or peril.  The children have largely interchangeable personalities, and the Egg makes everything just a bit too easy.

I liked that the lumber company employees weren’t characterized as villains, but they seem awfully superstitious and easily tricked.  It also seems highly unlikely that anyone will listen to their crazy story about forest spirits, and the locals won’t have an advanced alien and super technology on their side next time.  On the other hand, a shaman does show the power to send bad dreams, so perhaps it will work out.

This is one book that could have done with a glossary, or a text page with more concentrated information about the Amazon.

The art is serviceable, but it’s clear the artist has a lot of development potential ahead of them.  The lettering is too obviously computer-generated, and takes away from the feel.  One amusing bit is that three of the children, including the business suited black kid, wear swimming-suitable trunks under their clothes, despite not having planned to go swimming that day.  (The fourth child’s swimgear is never seen–perhaps he wears ordinary underpants.)

It’s an okay introduction to the Amazon for young readers, but will leave many of them hungry for more substantial information.  Consult with your local children’s librarian for what might be a good follow-up book.

Book Review: The Stone Lions

The Stone Lions by Gwen Dandridge

Disclaimer:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The Stone Lions

Ara is the daughter of the Sultan of Granada in the early  15th Century.  She has lived all her life in the Alhambra, the Red Palace.  Frustrated by her cloistered existence,  Ara sneaks out of the walls to see the arrival of her distant relative, the Sufi mathemagician Tahirah.  Before she can re-enter the palace, Ara witnesses a strange scene involving the Wazir, Abd al-Rahmid.

She has little time to think about this, as she is caught by her tutor Suleiman, a learned eunuch, and returned to the women’s quarters.  Suleiman worries that Ara could have fallen into the hands of evil Christians.  Turns out that Christians are the least of the dangers afoot, as the magic that protects the Alhambra from disaster and summons its faithful stone lions is under attack from within.

Suleiman soon falls victim to dark magic,  and it is up to Ara and her graceful cousin Layla to learn the seven symmetries from Tahirah  to restore the Alhambra’s defenses.

This is a children’s edutainment book, supported through the National Science Foundation.    The science part is teaching the concept of band symmetry, one of the mathematical foundations of geometry.  In addition, there’s some history and cultural information that could be helpful to a young reader.  The back has glossaries, maps and a summary of the symmetry lessons taught in the story.

The story itself is pretty good, if perhaps a little heavy-handed at points; the Wazir is a little too obviously evil to have kept it a secret so long.  Ara doesn’t have much of a character arc, her job is to learn the symmetries so she can spot the problems.  Layla has a bit more growth, learning that math can be easier to learn than she thought.  The real character development is for Suleiman, who must learn wisdom from his curse and the changes it brings.

This book is primarily aimed at children about 10-12 (Ara is ten in the back cover text, but twelve in the story) but  should be engaging for readers up to junior high level, especially girls interested in geometry.  Parents may wish to bone up on Spanish history of the period and Muslim culture of the time so they can discuss the book with their kids.

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