Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ani-Monday on July 30

Last night's Ani-Monday was a movie, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance. I had vague hopes for a decent Highlander movie here, unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed.

The storyline was a mish-mash of the movie and the television storylines sprinkled liberally with a Japanese tilt. There was nothing new, and in fact it kind of bored me by the time the hallway point rolled around.

I'm fairly certain I missed the climax when someone IM'd me, and because it was a more interesting conversation than the movie was interesting, well, I paid more attention to the conversation than the movie.

Anyways, the story revolved around one Colin McCloud (one wonders just how many Immortals the McClouds can produce), and surprise, his search for vengeance because a Roman general (another Immortal) murdered his wife.

And if that sounds familiar, it's because it was a very similar plot to the one which was featured in the original Highlander movie.

Then there were odd, supernatural elements, which quite frankly don't have a place in the movie. Horned creatures and demons, and of course the ghost of a dead druid priest. Brilliant additions to the mythos.

Another problem was the setting. It was set in the future, but as the movies have already shown, there has been multiple end games by this point. Why on earth are there still Immortals running around? Especially, the four which were featured in this film.

Graphics were all right. Not the best that I've ever seen, but they weren't horrid either.

Music, was disappointing, as I don't remember hearing Queen at all.

Voice acting was typical, English voice acting - which means it's just a few shades better than fingernails on a chalkboard.

Over all, I'm disappointed in this. I wanted a good Highlander story, but this wasn't it. It was, as I mentioned above, a rehash of plot points from the various existing media featuring the McClouds. Additionally, with the number of McCloud Immortals, you would think at least one of them would be a villain, now THAT would have been a plot point that would have interested me.

By this point, I wish they had kept to running episodes of Noein and Tokko. Thankfully, they'll be back next week.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling...

Another weekend has came and gone. Lost now to the mists of time are all those chances to read a bit of science fiction, or watch the latest and greatest anime.

Of course, those lost bits of time were spent with the family, so I guess that that was a fair trade at least.

If you've stopped by or looked through the RSS feed, you'll notice that I finally managed to put up that Transformers review. Truth be told though, I've already stacked something in its place that I need to review, Heinlein's novel, The Cat Who Walked Through Walls. I finished that somewhere around Thursday of last week, if not Wednesday, so let's see how long before I get its review up.

For Ani-Monday this week, we have a movie: Highlander: Search for Vengeance. How well this movie was put together, and how well it flows with the live-action movies and television series? I have no clue, though I probably will by midnight tonight, and more than likely I won't be regretting it. After all, they only have to be better than Highlander: The Quickening to not be the suckiest thing in the Highlander series, and that ain't hard at all.

This bit from last Monday's ramblings still holds true:

I still hope to get those fun essays about society, filtered through Heinlein out, but who am I kidding. I might get to them one day, and in fact, my vacation is coming up in less than a month. Seven days of being stuck on a mountain without dedicated internet connectivity. If I don't get caught up with my writing there, well there's no hope for me then.
And I went to see Shrek the Third yesterday. But I don't think I'm going to review that, as it was more of the mindless entertainment drivel than anything worthwhile. Though it did have some funny moments. It's also possible I'll be going to see Meet the Robinson's sometime this week, and I really want to see the new Harry Potter movie, but who knows when I'll have the time.

Air TV Vol. 1 DVD MenuOn the anime front, the wonderful slice-of-life show, Hitohira, about the drama club, is over, I'll smack together a review of that soon, and a couple of new shoes dropped in my lap (Mononoke & Shiguri). What they're about, who knows, but I'm willing to give anything a shot at least once. Additionally, the Air TV Volume 1 DVD is out now (or at least has been reviewed at Anime-Source). I love this anime, and Pi, when you're reading this, read that as a hint saying: Christmas.

One final thing, I finally gave in and put up a MySpace page at http://myspace.com/nokrakana. There's just too many things that point that way, and then you have to be a 'member' to view them. And it's not just the private profiles, but also pictures and movies. Highly annoying to me, but it is done.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

My son...

I have an infinitely amusing story to tell you all tonight, yet to fully understand, I must tell a short story from my days as a somewhat arrogant teenager. Back in those days, I was often the smartest in the classes, books-wise at least. Today, I realize what a cad I could be, and the lack of common sense I would often exhibit. Anyways, I had a favored saying for when I would be questioned about the facts that I would spout:

I know everything, I just can't remember it all at the same time.

Even then I had a bit of a sarcastic streak.

Anyways, I even held that arrogance once I entered college. In fact, it wasn't until I got married that I realized just how little I knew. Additionally, make no mistake, I was being sarcastic and well, was amusing myself at least. I knew that I didn't know everything, but compared to some of the people in the public education system, I might as well have.

So, my parents and my wife all know, and easily recognize that saying. All of them, having been on the receiving end of it over the years, and my wife has tossed it back at me a number of times over the years since we have had kids.

She's got a bit of a sarcastic streak like that. One of the many, many reasons why I love her.

Now, for the amusing story. We were going over to my parent's house to drop off the eldest one for a short visit, and having a discussion on something, what it was escapes me at the moment, and is ultimately unimportant.

For my son, with the perfect deadpan face, looks up from the action figure he was holding and said:
I know all things.
Oh yeah, that is SO my son.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Clone Wars at SW.com

StarWars.com has a new section dedicated to the upcoming Clone Wars cartoon: http://www.starwars.com/theclonewars

All I have to say is that these are some of the ugliest character designs that I've ever stumbled across. I mean, LFL is a multi-billion dollar company. They can do better than this. They HAVE done better than this.

Frankly, a lot of the character designs from the Tales of the New Republic website that was all the rage a few months ago were much, much better.

This is just embarrassing.

I know 3D animation is all the rage, but the folks that popped out Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within did a better job on their CG models. And that was what? 7, 8 years ago?

Heck, PIXAR routinely spits out better looking models.

In my less than humble opinion, they would have been better served to have done a mixture of CG and traditional animation styles, as is often done in anime these days.

But the truth be told, what was so bad about the designs that Genndy Tartakovsky spat out for the original Clone Wars cartoon? Did LFL feel the need to play with them so much? I liked those character designs - despite how thin and gangly they all were.

And while I can see the Tartakovsky roots of the new designs, it looks like someone took those designs, and made them too angular and harsh.

What was the point? Was the need to be in 3D so great? Why couldn't they have just used 2D animation (even CG)? Did they have to do this or was it just a matter of wanting to be able to produce yet another toy line?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sayanora Sad Sensei

Oh my stars and garters. I've found what is probably one of the funniest animes ever. It's entitled Sayanora Zetsubuo Sensei (roughly translated as: Goodbye Sad Teacher). It's a black comedy, and here's the synopsis from Anime-Source.com:

A suicidal teacher, who can see nothing but the worst in life is saved from committing suicide by a girl who turns out to be one of his students. A girl who is unfailingly positive, unable or unwilling to see anything negative in life. Who believes with effort, any obstacle can be overcome. The teacher with no hope, gets a student with more then she needs, and a class in desperate need of guidance.
I've watched the first two episodes so far, and they both started with the teacher trying to kill himself, only to get saved by the girl, by her almost killing him. He then screams at her: "What would you have done if I had died."

And then going from that opening joke, it just gets better and better. From the Hikikomori student to the stalkers to the just surreal-ness of the animation and waht's happening. I can't wait to see what comes next here. I was just thoroughly amused the entire time I watched this one.

But of course my favorite gag, has to be the 'suicide kit' which the teacher carries with him. Contained within it is a Best of Enya CD.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

J.K. Rowling has released the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, entitled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Clocking in at 750+ pages, this is a massive tome, worthy of the books which Hermione always seemed to be reading in earlier entries. Of course, if the publisher had gone with a slightly smaller font (read that as the font they use in 'adult' novels) then they could have easily shaved a 50 or more pages off of this book. Which in turn could have knocked down the nearly $40 price tag to the more usual $25-$30 for a hardback. So, anyways, I was at Books-a-Million on the day this was released, not really expecting to buy it, as I was going to wait until they released the whole set as a boxed collection of hard covers (I don't have the first 5 novels). Yet, when I saw that BAM had marked it 40% off for being a best seller, and then I get an additional 10% off for being a bonus card holder, I couldn't not buy it. Heck, I'd be stupid if I spent $40 on it later when I could get it for $20 then. So I picked up that hefty novel, and went about looking around BAM. A while later, I went to the checkout, there was only 1 open, so I got in that line and waited. While waiting, I flipped open the front cover to read the dust jacket flap for the book's synopsis, and this is what I read:

...


No, not this, that kind of blank space right above this, where I shoved the ellipsis. The only thing that annoys me more than a book with a bad synopsis is one that doesn't have one at all. The blurb doesn't have to give away plot points, but it should provide a brief overview of what the reader can expect to be in this book. This one should have mentioned Dumbeldor's death in the previous novel and that Harry, Hermione and Ron had decided to hunt for Voldemort's horcruxes, the physical manifestations of his broken soul, rather than return to Hogwart's. It's a gross oversight on the part of the publisher, and screams that they automatically assume that everyone who picks this book up will want to purchase it. Rather arrogant of them, if you ask me.

But onto the review.

The plot is pretty much as I outlined above. Our heroes have decided to hunt down these various macguffins in order to defeat Voldemort. It was all nicely outlined in the previous installment (Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince) and Mrs. Rowling follows it fairly well. As usual, we get the various deus ex machina as helps for Potter in his quest, and the twists and turns of who Potter can trust and believe. I would call it predictable, but the deus ex machina tend to appear out of thin air, surprising both the reader and the hero. While some are explained later, none are hinted at before. This is pure laziness on Mrs. Rowling's part, unless she just thinks that readers are too stupid to figure out hints, so why should she give them to us.

Characters are fairly standard to what they've been the entire series. Hermione is a know-it-all. Ron's something of a git. Harry's, well Harry. That's not to say that they're not complex and each has their own strengths, weaknesses and quirks, but rather they are all well wrought extensions of the characters they were in the previous novel. And this is an important fact. If you go from The Sorcerer's Stone to The Deathly Hallows directly, these characters will feel odd and not quite right. Out of everything, this building of characterizations is probably Rowling's greatest strength. There's a direct growth in the characters which, while not necessary to read previous novels in order to enjoy the story, to get the full impact of just how much these characters have grown and changed, then you do need it.

What is better, is that it's not just the three main heroes that have done so. It's the villains and the secondary and even the tertiary characters. This is nowhere more evidenced than by the short bit we get to see of Harry's cousin, Dudley.

Settings are the usual magical sites and oddball houses which are part and parcel of the Potter series. Rowling loves her descriptions though, and truth be told, there were some times when I could have used less descriptive text and a bit more dialog or action. Of course, probably a good 99% of the time, a knowledge of the setting is needed for when whatever action for that particular scene occurs.

The theme for this novel eludes me for a moment. I want to say sacrifice, but that just doesn't feel right. Of course other options in this area are the inevitable good versus evil, redemption, falling, living and dying, and learning to understand and get to know those you love and those you hate. Ultimately though, I may have to say that it is all of those combined. This, and all the other Potter books, are young adult novels. Above all the various magic and mystery, they are modern-day morality plays. They try to instill the concepts of love and friend, that there are things that are good and right just as there are things that are not. As such, the themes are complex and deep, playing as an almost undercurrent to everything that the characters do and say. How they act and react one towards the other, and I'm not just talking about in the antagonist/protagonist sense, but also between protagonists and protagonists and even antagonist and antagonist.

The mechanics of the book were fine. My only complaints in this regard are the nebulous thing about size and paper wastage and of course the lack of a blurb. That really irks me. Grammar and other typos were more or less non-existent (at least I didn't come across any, so it's the same thing to me).

Overall, it's a grand ending to the series, and more importantly, a thoroughly enjoyable read. Not only was the battles fun and exciting, I think it also had the highest death count of returning characters in the entire series. Whether or not those deaths are a good thing, well that's for the readers to decide for themselves. Ultimately, I think I'm going to miss these characters, and am somewhat saddened by the fact that we'll get no more Harry Potter novels. That said, I do think I would like to see some other stories written in this universe. Things such as the first war with Voldemort, or even the duel between Dumbledore and his friend which was referenced so many times in this novel.

I give it a 3.6 out of 4. It would've been higher, but I'm really irked about that lack of a blurb.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review: Transformers

TransformersWell, I finally am getting around to writing this thing. I know it's been two weeks since I saw the movie, but I had noted down the most relevant parts for the review early on. Anyhow, I dragged the wife to this thing. While it wasn't over her unending objections, she wasn't exactly thrilled with the thought of going to the movie.

After all, it's a movie about giant robots. That started life as a cartoon. From Japan.

To say she was happy about going to see this, would probably be pushing things. Content? That's probably a fairly accurate description of her emotions over the whole thing.

Much to her surprise, she enjoyed it. She thought that it didn't need half of the big battle scene at the end, but over all she enjoyed it.

Of course, being the big fan of blowing things up that I am, it's no surprise that I disagreed with that. Additionally, I'm a guy, I have to disagree with that sentiment on principal.

Characters are basically the hero (Sam Witwicky played by Shia LeBeouf), the love interest (Mikaela Banes played by Megan Fox) and then the giant robots (the sweet, sweet awesomeness). In just about everything here, you can see the Japanese roots of this movie. Of course the obviousness of the giant robots, but even above and beyond that in the character arc for Sam. He starts out the movie as the geek. Picked upon by his peers. Laughed at by his teachers. Ignored by the love interest. Then he gets the macguffin , and begins to change, transforming from the geek to someone who stands up for himself, someone worthy of the girl. It's a popular character arc found in many mangas and animes.

The Megan Fox character is less interesting as anything above and beyond eye candy. Sure, she has a well defined character, and we're supposed to gather that despite being the 'pretty girl' that she would look beyond the outer shell of the geek to love him for who he is. Of course, this is the type of heroine who always stars opposite of the Sam-style characters. Personally, I'd love for one of these days to have the 'pretty girl' laugh at the geek character, telling him that there's no way she'd be seen with him.

Optimus PrimeThen we have the robots. These guys are just awesome. Some of the best special effects that I've yet. In truth, I was hesitant about these guys when rumors of the movie first started appearing. Likewise, when the first images of the Optimus Prime truck appeared, I was scared of what Micheal Bay was doing to these characters. Boy, oh boy, were my fears unfounded. Their designs were great, and everything on the robots actually looked like it was transformable. A stand-up job on them. Then the insertion of the CG models into the 'real world' of the actors is so flawless, it's downright amazing.

Additionally, the voice actors were great as well. It doesn't hurt that Peter Cullen has been Optimus Prime since the first U.S. cartoon, but every speaking robot just sounded awesome. This is why anime needs to pay for decent voice actors-when you get good actors for these things, then it works, and it works well. When you're cheap about these things, then you get the screaming-children you find in Dragon Ball Z.

The plot was a basic, save the world, Micheal Bay, explosion, summer blockbuster. There's nothing wrong with this plot, and it's the type of plot which Michael Bay excels at. What's better is that there is enough of a love story in the Sam/Mikaela story arc to interest my significant other, and to make her actually interested in the movie. Ultimately though, the plot was a vehicle for the action rather than a vehicle to showcase the characters. Which again is somewhat typical of Micheal Bay and the type of movie which he excels at.

Music was hit and miss. The composer was Steve Jablonsky-who I had never heard of before, and a quick look-up on IMDB.com reveals that the only thing that I've ever even seen which he had worked on in the past was Desperate Housewives. I'm sure he's a wonderful composer, but he just did not do that good of a job here. The music was too melodramatic in some places, attempting to push what the characters are going through down our throats. Of course, I could just be spoiled by John Williams' work on Star Wars, and music is not exactly my forte, what with being tone deaf and all.

Now, for a discussion on the climax of the whole thing. The big fight at the end. As much as it pains me to admit it, my wife was right. They could have shaved a good fifteen minutes from the fight scenes - like the big chunks of screen time taken up with giant robots spinning in the air - and dropped it. At some point after the ending act started and before the big finale, even my attention had started to wander. Now, with that said, I can't think of any particular portion which could be effectively cut and still have the story and the fight be as awesome as it ended up being. So, what that boils down to is while the fight felt too long, it would not have been as effective any shorter.

Overall, I loved this movie. The voice-acting for the Transformers were great. Shia LeBeouf was great as Sam WitWicky. The action scenes were just cool, and the robots were even better. The downside was that Megan Fox didn't give the best performance of her career here, of course her filmography isn't that impressive, as most of her work are a number of one-shots on television series. The only other movie she starred in that I recognized was Confessions of a Teenaged Drama Queen.

And I'm not even going to go into John Turturro's performance, in what should have been a straight-laced special agent who wears super-hero underwear beneath his suit. Instead we get this horrid Italian-cop thing that's so over-the-top it's not even funny.

New CamaroThen there is the car. This is the car that I plan on purchasing next (except I want mine to be black and with a rag-top). Mid-movie, Bumblebee changes his vehicle mode into the brand new Camaro. I love and want this car, with the above exceptions. Heck, I could almost think it was worth the price of the ticket just to be able to see this car running on the screen.

In the end, I have to give this a 3 out of 4. I wanted to give it a higher ranking, but the less-than-stellar music and some poor acting here an there pushed down the grade for this otherwise stellar movie.

Drew Star Wars Update

Drew has posted on his SW.Com blog a status update for his upcoming Darth Bane sequel novel, giving it the unofficial title "Rule of Two."

So far what we know about it is that it will feature Darth Bane and Zannah (Rain).

Read all about it here.

Ani-Monday on July 23

Well, we had yet another Ani-Monday last night, again, I only watched Noein and Tokko, not being quite able to force myself to watch Streetfighter II.

As it sometimes happens, my loving wife stayed up with me, though she wasn't really watching, but rather reading something on the Internet. Which really isn't a problem until she suddenly started yelling out loud: "The voices! The voices! Make them stop!"

See, she doesn't even like Anime and she has an otaku's view of English-dubs.

That was during Noein. During Tokko her mouth dropped open as she stared at the screen as the characters cursed like the characters in live-action prime-time television shows do. I was amused, as she started talking to the television, telling it that this was a cartoon. I know she's read this blog, so she should be well aware of the fact that just because something is animated doesn't necessarily mean it's for kids. In fact, I wouldn't allow my 4 year-old to watch these shows. They're not for him. They're for teenagers and adults.

Regardless, in Noein, Haruka is in the future, dragged there at the end of the last episode. She spends the episode not believing anyone, until she manages to find her way to the surface and discovers that her hometown is a destroyed waste land. This episode does give a decent amount of backstory, telling us why the Dragon Knights are searching for the Dragon Torque, and what's at stake. It also introduces the concept of someone who watches the universe but is outside of it. Which immediately makes me think of the Old Man that occasionally appears to Haruka.

Not the strongest episode, but it wasn't horrid. Of course it was about halfway through this when my wife started screaming about the voices. Amusingly enough, the character who in the first episode sounded like Blanche on crack and Red Bull was on the screen that she did so.

Then I watched Tokko. Which was filled with expositionary dialog. So, now the main character has been told everything he needs to know. Which means that the viewer has been told everything twice now. Alas.

On a more positive note, the little-horndog-incest-sister is only in one scene, where she's wondering why her brother wasn't home yet. To answer that question, he was out with the lieutenant with the magic non-breast-revealing jacket. Lucky him, he gets to almost see the breasts of a character that's not a first-order relative.

Oh well. Next week we skip our regular anime adventures and get to see the movie: Highlander: Search for Vengeance. I'm hesitant, but will probably put in the effort to watch it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling...

Well, it's Monday Morning, and that means that it's time for me to list out the things that I probably won't get around to this week.

First, as always, is Ani-Monday on that useless picture-box tonight. Maybe they can continue to push my expectations for Noein down and Tokko up with this weeks episodes. Additionally, the last hour is still taken up by Streetfighter II. Don't expect any comments on it.

Other news related to my anime addiction... Well, I can't think of any. There's a couple series which only have an episode or two left, so I'll get reviews of them up as soon as their final episodes come out. I did drop School Days as it was boring me, but at the same time I picked up something weird called Mushi-Uta. All I know is, its about bugs, super-powers and fights.

Ah well...

Last Friday, I was lamenting about my lack of speculative fiction to pursue this weekend, but that's just because I was stupid and had forgotten that the last Harry Potter book was getting released. I got that Saturday-and no, I did not get it at midnight, nor did I wait in any type of line. Books-a-Million had plenty in stock. Piles of the things, in addition to the boxes they kept back for those who pre-ordered.

So, this means that I am adding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to my stack of things to review. Currently also on that stack are Transformers and The Last Mimsy. Which of those three reviews I'll get to first, I don't know, all I do know is that even my wife is now pointing out that I should have had the Transformers review done by now, and she's not even that interested in speculative fiction.

I still hope to get those fun essays about society, filtered through Heinlein out, but who am I kidding. I might get to them one day, and in fact, my vacation is coming up in less than a month. Seven days of being stuck on a mountain without dedicated internet connectivity. If I don't get caught up with my writing there, well there's no hope for me then.

My good friend, and fellow TheForce.Net/Books contributor Paul (a.k.a. Thrawn McEwok) has a great editorial series running on Who is Darth Krayt. The first part is now up over at TFN and can be found here.

Speaking of TFN, there are still a number of books that don't have reviews up for them yet, so those are also on my list of things to do. But at a much lower priority.

Ah well, I guess that's it for this Monday, enjoy your spec-fic this week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday night Sci-Fi...

Well, it's Friday again, and I've still not written my Transformers or The Last Mimsy reviews. Nor have I written all the various essays which I wanted to write.

As I write, this I know that on Monday, I'll happily list those things again, and have every intention in the world on going through with it.

But who knows, maybe I'll get my act together this weekend and write them.

Anyways, enough about me and my procrastination problem, I'm left with something much more serious.

A lack of science fiction to indulge in over the weekend.

I'll have to watch Eureka sometime this weekend, that's a given. Yet out of all the anime I'm currently watching, only a single show could be construed s sci-fi anymore, and I'm borderline on continuing with that show. But, I guess any anime is technically fodder for discussion here.

Anyways, the things I'm watching anymore are:

  • History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi
  • Kekkaishi
  • Seto no Hanayome
  • IdolMaster Xenoglossia
  • Zombie Loan
  • Dennou Coil
  • School Days TV
In addition to those, I have the following that I wanted to glance at to see if they're worth following:
  • Potemayo
  • Code-E
  • Project Blue Earth SOS
  • Sky Girls TV
Surprisingly, while making that list, I noticed that I had a lot more sci-fi anime that I had thought. I was thinking that the only thing sci-fi I had left this season was IdolMaster Xenoglossia. When in fact, I also have Dennou Coil, Code-E, Project Blue Earth and Sky Girls.

Anyways, I watched episode 13 of IdolMaster Xenoglossia and 38 of Kenichi last night.

IdolMaster is an odd thing. It started its life out as a video game, where the player is to manage these girls into becoming Japanese Idols (something kind of like a pop-star here in the States). Most of that concept just doesn't exist in the anime, instead we get a story about giant robots.

This is the anime I was considering dropping. The past few episodes had been lackluster at best, yet 13 had a plot twist that was just strong enough to keep my interest for a bit long.

Kenichi, I shouldn't like, but I do. I'm not sure why, if I had to hazard a guess, it would be because it reminds me of DBZ, but without the aliens or super powers. Frankly, I think it's just mindless fun-which I appreciate every now and then.

Later on tonight, I'll be watching Zombie Loan, and giving School Days one last chance to interest me.

Now, all that said, how is everyone else going to get their Sci-fi/geek fix over the weekend?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inferno Spoilers

Well, Star Wars Insider issue #95 has some spoilers for the next novel in the LotF series, Inferno.

They can be found here.

Basically, all I have to say about these things is... meh.

I don't think I have ever been so sick and tired of a storyline pre-release as I am over the rest of LotF. It's oddly disturbing.

Of course, a lot of that might be because this entire storyline is a mere rehash of the Prequels. Don't get me wrong, I can understand reusing themes or plots. But there is a world of difference between re-using a plot and rehashing it.

Consider this description:

The Sith are on the rise again. They're using a trade dispute to start their war against the Jedi, and quickly shift focus to a rebellion against the galactic government as a trap for the Jedi. At the same time, one of the most promising young Knights is slowly seduced by the Sith in an effort to get him to join them.
Care to tell me which I was describing? Is it the Prequels or is it Lotf?

Heck, I wrote it and I don't know the answer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Galaxiki...

Man, Star Wars fandom needs this: Galaxiki

I'm not sure of the whole point of this, but what I do understand is that it has a map of a fictional galaxy.

Why I say Star Wars fandom needs it is because there's just not a good online map of the GFFA, and this would do wonders for that. It would also help the professionals keep track of little things like the other planets in the Corellian System and just where Centerpoint is located in relation to Corellia.

Truthfully, it could be utilized in a number of different fandoms-things such as Babylon 5, Star Trek or even the Foundation series.

Jacen's Menagerie

I'm fairly active in the FanFiction community over at TheForce.Net. I love my Star Wars, and I love reading, and FanFiction provides me enough stories and Star Wars to almost quench my thirst. Almost, as you can see from the number of reviews for other books/stories here, that I still read a lot more than just Star Wars and FanFic. Plus, the non-Spec. Fic stuff that I read never makes it here as reviews.

So, I was reading a FanFic the other day, and the writer had this particular line in place:

Jacen felt his lips peel back, and the man paused – like a pet on an invisible leash.
Instantly, I liked that simple line. It's descriptive of Jacen, his actions, his subordinates and even how he views the universe at large.

Stay with me, I actually have a place where I'm going with this.

Back in the YJK, we were introduced to Jacen's menagerie. This was basically a wall of custom-built cages where he kept his pets. Jacen, the wonderful empath that he was, would tromp through the woods for hours on end, picking up random animals and bringing them back to his wall o'cages where he would then stash them.

And the text makes it very clear, that his biggest trouble was not catching these creatures but rather figuring out what they would eat.

So, we now have back story for what I'm thinking here.

Yet consider just what Jacen is doing here. He's running through the woods, finding animals, tearing them from their environment and shoving them into cages, stripping them of their freedom. Enforcing controls on them, so that they live basically at his whim.

Yes, I know that this is what zoos do, I'm not complaining about it, nor do I advocate turning loose all the animals in zoos. I have no problem with zoos, except when I have to go to one. I'm trying to make a point about Jacen's characterizations here, not zoos.

Regardless, fast-forward fifteen years to LotF. Now, we have a Jacen who's for all intents and purposes a tyrant. He's interning people because of the planet they're from. He's trying to force his view of peace onto the entire galaxy. While he has not yet come right out and screamed from the bridge of the Anakin Solo that if you're not doing exactly what he wants you to do, then he'll kill you, the actions that he takes are definitely leading in that direction.

After the NJO, Jacen never re-started his menagerie. He never again went around picking up animals and tried to figure out just what they eat, or what type of environment they needed to survive.

He didn't need to.

Why? It's because of what Vergere taught him.

Throughout Traitor, our favorite chicken called him a gardener multiple times. Initially, he did not agree with this description, not wanting to choose between the metaphorical flowers and weeds. By the end of the novel, he had accepted the designation. In fact, this was the last bit of Traitor:
A tiny bubble of existence hangs in the nothing. This bubble is called a ship. The bubble has neither motion nor stillness, nor even orientation, since the nothing has no distance or direction. It hangs there forever, or for less than an instant, because in the nothing there is also no time. Time, distance, and direction have meaning only inside the bubble, and the bubble maintains the existence of these things only by an absolute separation of what is within from what is without.

The bubble is its own universe. Within this universe, there are traitors. One is a teacher, and a student; another is a student, and a teacher.

One is a gardener.

This universe falls toward another, wider universe: a universe that is a garden...

Which is still full of weeds.
Notice especially that last line: "Which is still full of weeds." The narrator here is not talking specifically about the Yuuzhan Vong-which is what I had thought when I first read this book a few years ago, after all, those were who Jacen called weeds earlier in the novel. What Jacen is considering here, and yes I know that he's not the POV character, but the line is a reference to his opinions and state of mind, is that there are beings in the galaxy which he will have to cull in order to tame the garden.

Think about it. What is the difference between a garden and a wild field? A garden is orderly, cared for. There's someone there who controls the plants, makes them grow in certain ways and places. Someone there who provides security for the plants by ensuring pests and weeds don't invade the garden. A garden is a very controlled environment.

A great analogy for a police state if you will.

A wild field on the other hand, the plants grow rampant and where ever they can, fighting amongst themselves for resources. They have no protection against pests and weeds beyond what they themselves can produce naturally. It is in essence wild and free.

Anyways, here's Jacen, who's basically changed hats from zoo-keeper to gardener in the course of the novel Traitor. Semantically, there is no difference between what these two folks do. They feed and control their charges. They determine what the best environment for their charges is. In essence, they thing for their charges. Their charges have no true freedom, as that resides entirely with the gardener or zoo-keeper.

Yet in terms of the storyline, especially in Jacen's character arc from the YJK to LotF, it is a startling difference. Jacen as zoo-keeper was focused on animals. He collected his specimens and did whatever he wanted to with them. That fueled and sated his need to control things. Jacen as gardener is focused on all the sapients of the galaxy. While he doesn't collect specimens, he does attempt to force them to do exactly what he wants.

This is seen as early as Destiny's Way where he emotional and logically talks Tahiri into allowing him to poke around in her mind. It's further fueled by his actions in the Imperial Remnant during the Force Heretic Trilogy (FH3), where he spends chapters getting the local Moffs to jump through his little hoops. I won't even bother going into DN3 to describe his actions, and how often he tried to get things done in his own way and in his own time, but basically it was every time he was in a scene.

Of course the ultimate culmination of these forces which have conspired to twist and turn Jacen into a Sith, happened in Betrayal.

I know there's a lot of focus on Sacrifice right now, and his assumption of his Sith name (as chosen during the Darth Who contest), but ultimately, those events were shadows of what he did in Betrayal.

There, he killed, in cold blood a young Jedi Knight, Nelani Dinn. Why? Because she did not fit perfectly into his view of what the garden should be. He had gazed into the future, and he saw a number of them, and the text is quite clear that in the futures that he saw, those where he allowed her to live Luke Skywalker would end up dead. The text is quite clear on that. What it is not clear on, is if Jacen saw every conceivable future. It brings to the fore a number of them for specific mention, and says that he saw scores of them, but nowhere does it say that he saw every future.

Yet, Jacen still killed Nelani in cold blood. Still cut her down, because of what he saw a score of possible futures. He made the decision the same way a gardener would choose to uproot a plant that was getting too close to a much beloved flower.

The text is clear that Jacen no longer collected animals for his menagerie.

But that's because he has a bigger one to play with now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ani-Monday on July 17

More animated goodness, and yet again, my wife stayed up to watch them with me, or at least Noein, as she went to bed at the start of Tokko.

Anyways, Noein is still in mysterious mode, but there's a lot more information sitting there for those of us who don't pay 100% perfect attention, and haven't read the Wikipedia site which tells us what's going on. We know that the Dragon Torque (Haruka) can do a lot of things, one of which is allow it's bearer to choose the future, and basically flip out one dimension/timeplane for another. Then while the time-traveling versin of Yuu tried to save her by taking her to Yuu, he got forcibly pulled back to his own time, taking Haruka with him. Why he didn't just put her down on the steps in front of Yuu, well who knows.

Of particular note, there was an Ouija board scene this episode which raised my wife's scorn, and led her to tell me in no small terms just how bad the dialog and acting was. I think she was surprised when I agreed with her, stating "unfortunately, that's what happens with subs." And in truth, that was a particularly horrid scene. I still lament the fact that American voice actors don't seem able to act, or at least the ones that the anime licensing corporations hire. After all, we know Americans can generate good animated fare, look at The Secret of Nimh. It's 25 or so years old now, and still is an awesome movie with great animation.

Tokko on the other hand is still performing admirably. It has settled easily into its groove of supernatural horror, and the nearly incestuous relationship between the main character and his sister is now somewhat downplayed. Additionally, we got a decent amount of exposition which explains just what is going on. Of course, this means that the police investigator who's at the heart of the story, really didn't have to do all that much investigating to figure things out.

Then finally, we have the re-subbed clips which Ani-Monday uses as bookends for their shoes.

Tonight, was all just repeats. What's worse, is that they were all repeats of particularly bad ones, or ones which were only amusing the first time. At this point, I'm wishing they'd stop showing the things.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling...

Well, it's yet another Monday morning, where I get to tell everyone just what my plans are for No Krakana this week. Why I do this, I'm not 100% certain, because I rarely get to do everything I wanted to do for the week. I'm fairly certain most of you don't care. And finally, well... I can't think of a finally. It is Monday morning after all. Regardless, it's my blog, and I want to regal you with this, then it's my prerogative.

As usual, we have Ani-Monday on the SciFi channel tonight. Our star shows are Noein and Tokko. Also this week, we have Street Fighter II. Yeah... I'm looking forward to that one, let me tell you. Why can't they just go ahead and jump to Read or Die? Of course I have

Additionally, we have my Transformers review. Which I've still not written (and is the cause of my wife to sternly look at me last night and say, "It's a blog. Just write your thoughts in that little window").

And of course, Eureka season 2, episode 2 is airing on Tuesday night. Which I finally did watch Eureka 2-1 . After having missed it on Tuesday night. Twice.

The first time I missed it was at the 8 P.M. showing because we were watching The Last Mimsy (ugh, another review that I've not written) with the eldest boy and the wife. The second time I missed it was at the 11 P.M. showing as... well I'm not sure what happened there. I looked at the clock one time, noted that it was 10:43, and the next time I looked down at the clock it said 12:34. So yeah... Anyway, thanks to the joy of streaming video over my high speed internet connection (and my wife for pointing out that SciFi.com HAD streaming , I was able to watch it on Saturday night. All I've got to say is: "Henry! :O "

... I may need to get some emoticons for this site...

Back on topic. Upcoming things I hope to get done this week: Transformers review, The Last Mimsy review, discussion on the balkanization of the United States from Friday, state of society according to Starship Troopers, and of course Ani-Monday discussion after tonight's airings.

Now, shall we start taking bets on what I actually do get done?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Live-Action Cartoons....

I had originally planned an article on the transformation of cartoons into live-action movies/tv series. Specifically as related to trying to bring more... respectability? to anime and cartoons in general. Well, part of what I had written so far involves the fact that I would like to see a G.I. Joe movie. So, imagine my surprise when this article came waltzing across my RSS feed tonight. Apparently, I'm not the only person that wants a G.I Joe movie, apparently Hazbro and Dreamworks do as well.

Anyways, here's the article in question...

A week or so ago, on The AnimeBlog there was an interesting article/write-in poll discussing the potential of live-action movie versions of various anime series. Then additionally, I had to write a blog entry when I heard about the upcoming Thundercats live-action movie. Comic-books and cartoons have long been a source of fodder for Hollywood quite often with mixed results at both the box office and in home-video sales. I mean, there have been some gems such as the original Superman and Batman, and then there have been others such as Superman IV, Batman Forever, Howard the Duck and Masters of the Universe.

Frankly, I'm of two minds of this phenomenon.

On the one side, I still remember atrocities to my childhood, such as those listed above.

On the other, I want to see the field of anime improve, and it to become more acceptable in wider-culture. Hopefully even at some point for the powers that be realize that not everything that is drawn is for children.

Anyways, the article/poll asked the question which anime we want to see made into a live-action movie.

What I found interesting is that a lot of the folks over there in the comments pointed to a lot of action-oriented animes, over the drama-based ones.

Personally, I think that would not be helpful for anime as a genre.

Why do I think that? It's quite simple actually. For every good comic-book or cartoon based live-action movie, there are a dozen that are... well calling them tripe would be nice. In the end even the good ones are ignored by any type of awards not generated by the fans. The same applies to most action movies, or anything described as a summer blockbuster.

Would I like to see some good action series turned into live-action movies? Of course. G.I. Joe, Inuyasha and The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers are some of the many cartoon action series that I would l love to see made into live-action movies. I mean imagine Mark Wahlberg running around as Duke or Famke Janssen as Niko.

But, at that point I have to question just why I would want cartoons made into live-action films. After all, the things done in cartoons are easier and often more over the top than what is done in live-action. Consider, they blew up the Earth in Titan A.E. how much more over the top can you get than that? Basically, you can destroy things, make bigger explosions and pull off a lot more interesting special effects in a cartoon over a live-action movie.

Frankly, what I would want changed, is that tendency of most adults in the USA to ignore animated fare, or worse, deem it for children just because it is animated.

In the end, just saying, "hey we want explosions!" isn't good enough to fight that.

Why?

Because no one would care.

At all.

It would be impossible for it to be a critical success, forget any type of awards. Consider, when was the last time an action flick made it to the Academy Awards for best picture? Or really, anything that could be considered a summer blockbuster?

I guess my qualification would be that I want an anime turned into a live-action flick which my wife would want to see. Mainly, so I can point at it, and say "See Princess, cartoons aren't just for our four year-old. You can stop mocking my watching them now."

So, what types of stories would that need to be? A drama of course. Those types of emotional movies that the Academy loves.

Which leads me directly into the two animes I would want to be made into live-action first: Air and Kanon.

Both of these are very good storylines with strong protagonists. Of the two, Air would probably be the better choice, as it's storyline would be easier to condense into a two-hour movie. Kanon's would need a bit more due to the number of plots going on in that series, actually in Kanon's case, it would probably be better off as a television series rather than a movie.

There are a lot of good dramas and slice-of-life animes out there, few of which ever actually make it to the states (for some odd reason, the licensing folks have a tendency to think we all want the action stuff aimed at 13 year old males). Happily though, that appears to be changing.

My question to everyone else would probably be what cartoon/anime/manga would you like to see be made into a movie? And why?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A new quiz

My wife sent me a new quiz today. Which Jedi/Dark Jedi are you?

Anyhow, here's what I got:

Which Jedi/Dark Jedi are you?
Count Dooku, a.k.a. Darth Tyrannus
Count Dooku, a.k.a. Darth Tyrannus

You are Count Dooku, a human and the only known true master of lightsaber combat Form II, Makashi. You are the most refined duelist in the galaxy, specially trained for combat against other lightsaber-wielding opponents. You effortlessly wield your weapon with grace, striking at the weak points of opponents (Anakin sends his regards for needing a mechanical hand), but you aren't afraid to use Force Lightning against the better opponents. Your dignified bearing and deep, rich voice make you seem important, and you are. However, you betrayed the Jedi and went to the Sith; you paid with your life (and your head and hands) against Anakin over Coruscant. Unfortunately, your beautiful style of combat died out with you.

You wield a red lightsaber.
How do you compare?
Take this test! | Tests from Testriffic

2 Rambling Posts in 1 Week!?

I know that everyone is breathlessly awaiting my Transformer's review. Well, you know what-me too. I'd love to have that already written. After all, I now have to write up a review for The Last Mimsy.

Go me.

Anyways, I took a bit of time out of my obscene work schedule to watch The Last Mimsy with the family on Tuesday, which means I didn't get to watch Eureka when it came on at 8pm. That's not a problem I thought to myself, I can catch it during the repeat at 11.

That's all and good, and I even remember checking the clock on my PC at 10:43 to see how much time I had before the show started. I can bet that pretty much everyone knows where I'm going with this. I checked the clock at 10:43 and then went back to work. The next time I looked at those little bitty digits, the time happily read 12:34.

...

Times like that, I wished I cursed. I'd have a few choice words to say about Software Requirements.

Well not really, but you get the idea.

So, I managed to miss the season premier of the television series that I had actually been looking forward to. Alas, at least cable networks like to repeat things until you're sick of them. Though come to think about it, we didn't really see any Eureka during quarters 1 and 2 of 2007.

Oh well, my final tidbit of pointless trivia which happened to flicker across my awareness this morning on my way into work involves the radio. Specifically, a Brad Paisley song entitled Online.

Here's the opening verse (click here for the rest of the lyrics):

I work down at the Pizza Pit
And I drive an old Hyundai
I still live with my mom and dad
I'm 5 foot 3 and overweight
I'm a scifi fanatic
A mild asthmatic
And I've never been to second base
But there's whole ‘nother me
That you need to see
Go checkout MySpace

I'm sure my wife will be highly amused by it. I can admit it as well, I'm amused by it. Mr. Paisley has a tendency to write wonderfully amusing lyrics, and then he writes things like Ticks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Star Wars EU: Where did Riina come from?

The impetuous for this particular article came from a thread over on the Literature boards at TheForce.Net. Basically the initial post was questioning the relationship between Ikrit's prophecy, Anakin, Tahiri/Riina and Jacen. Especially how it related to Tahiri's mental problems during the Force Heretic trilogy when her secondary personality began surfacing. A secondary question related to the kiss Anakin told Jacen to give to Tahiri and the possibility of that "activating" Riina in some way.

Of course, I answered that Riina was all Jacen's fault.

After all, it's only natural. He's responsible for every bad deed and thought in the EU since his granddaddy's birth. He can flow-walk remember.

Yet, when I was asked for a direct quote to prove it, I had to stop and actually think. For while I had no doubt in my little head that Jacen was responsible for Riina's emergence, I now had to think up a reason why. This was made harder by the fact that this was at the height of Del Rey's insane insistence that Jacen was the real true hero of the NJO . Despite the fact that he wasn't a STAR WARS Hero and he pretty much taught the Jedi Order a view of the Force which leads directly to the Dark Side. Way to go, hero-boy.

So, I was stumbling through my NJO novels, and enlightenment shone down. Kind of like how Jacen realized he needed to kill that innocent girl, just for kicks. Subtext! The proof is in the subtext! Thank the Force for subtext.

Basically, it worked like this. Jacen did it, while mucking about in Tahiri's brain trying to teach her how to use the Vongsense (which disturbingly sounds like some type of drug).

Anyways, there are a number of things that we know because they're displayed straightforward in the text of the novels:

  • Tahiri is fine in SbS
  • Anakin "Goes" in SbS
  • Tahiri is sad in DJ but is not suffering from her mental breakdown
  • Tahiri is fine in the Enemy Lines duology, even as she uses her knowledge of the Vong in the Jedi's fight against them
  • She's still fine in Destiny's Way and Ylesia
  • About two-thirds of the way through DW, Jacen starts trying to "help" Tahiri develop her Vongsense
  • At the start of the Force Heretic Trilogy, she's bonkers, and slowly gets worse

To me what is the most interesting is the fact that she uses her knowledge of the Vong so much in the Enemy Lines duology yet we don't get a single hint of blackouts or other representations of her upcoming mental breakdown. In my opinion, this should be where it started at. Far enough down the time-line that she's not quite as "broken" as she was in DJ, and additionally she's using her knowledge of the Vong-including a stint where that uber-Dark-Jedi-old-Corellian-myth-cyborg-thing recognizes her as a Vong rather than a Jedi.

But nope. There's nothing there. Not even a hint of mental instability.

We don't get any hint that there's something wrong with the girl until the start of the Force Heretic trilogy when it's discovered that she had went AWOL earlier (and oddly, no one bothered to look for her, guess she was hitting the Vongsense a bit too much) and abandoned her squadron, the Barefoots.

Additionally, it's during FH3 that we start seeing her blackouts and mental screwiness whenever she is faced with an aspect of her Vong side.

So, whatever activated her mental breakdown had to occur between the start of DW and the start of FH3, because it was right there at the beginning of FH3 that she popped back up, all coo coo for coco puffs.

So, we must ask ourselves, what activity is smacked dab right in the middle of that particular time frame? What activity seems the most responsible for the emergence of Riina.

You guessed it, Jacen mucking about in her head.

How it works is that during DW Jacen has this brilliant idea, one pushed by Luke if memory serves, to try and teach the Vongsense to other Jedi. He decided to start with Tahiri, because you know, the poor girl hadn't already been tortured enough, she also needed to spend some quality alone time with her dead boyfriend's older brother.

Anyways, the text has a lot of interesting things to say about their "meditations" but one of the things that is not said is that he is actively mucking about her head in the Force. But, then I read this:
He tried to build a bridge between Tahiri and the dhuryam, but he couldn't seem to bring the two closer together, and he could sense Tahiri's growing frustration.
I found this most intriguing because a few paragraphs earlier, Jacen ordered Tahiri to shut down in the Force. So basically she's sitting there, and is unable to feel anything from the Force. She's effectively shut herself down here. Yet, the text is clear that Jacen is connected to her enough through the Force that he can feel her growing frustration. Even though Jacen wants her to be shut down, he himself is not.

Basically, he's playing with his new pet.

Is Jacen the only option for Riina popping up? Not really. It could have occurred the same way that common wisdom among the fans implies, that Anakin's death blew some type of circuit breakers in her head. That just seems so Dark Phoenix to me though. Additionally, it's most likely that Jacen actually did it accidentally while playing around in her head-a side effect of him attempting to activate her Vongsense as opposed to any malicious purposes that he held.

But again, he Flow-walks, so we can't put doing something for the sheer meanness of it past his future self.

So, in the end that's what we're left with. Riina is a direct result of Jacen's meddling screwing things up. A concept which I find oddly comforting in view of his early NJO and YJK characterizations.

Of course, now I have to wonder how everyone else thinks that Riina came to be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ani-Monday on July 09

More Ani-Monday, and yet again, another jab at Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Frankly, if I was the type to stop watching tv shows because of the ads, those would do it for me. It just seems petty and in poor taste. What's worse is that the jokes aren't funny.

And speaking of jokes, this weeks re-dubbed "joke clips" were well, less than stellar would be putting it nicely. Frankly, there wasn't a single one that was funny, and there were actually less of them.

Noein did a bit to imply answers, without actually giving any, and we got to see some of the interpersonal relationship between the girls. It was a really good scene as they fought over a boy, with one of them not entirely certain why they were fighting. We also get introduced to Noein the main antagonist of the series, and the mysterious old mans who knows everything but only gives out cryptic clues. As an extra special note, it appears that the Golden-Girls-on-crack souther accent is not a thing of the past, as we were given one that was not quite as over-the-top as it was in that first episode.

Tokko on the other hand is still performing soundly and getting better. That is not to say that it didn't have its drawbacks. Mainly in that while we were given a few answers, the episode did not pick up right where last episode left off, leaving me with a slight disconnected feeling. The relationship between Sakura and Shindo is also starting to get interesting, with her showing visible concern for him at the end of the episode.

I'm still not watching Macross PLUS.

Next week it will be replaced by Street Fighter II though. Of course I am uncertain if it is the old animated movie or some other piece of media of which I am currently unaware. Not that I really have any interest in seeing it in the first place. After all, from my understanding the only thing it has going for it is a Chun Li shower scene which got censored in the US version. Basically, this is the type of anime which nicely reinforces the stereotypes of Otaku.

But who knows, I could be mistaken and impressed by the drama and artistic creativity of the show.

...

Okay, I'd probably have a better chance of getting a decent Star Wars storyline out of Del Rey/LFL.

Is anyone else watching these series?

Monday, July 9, 2007

This week in No Karakana...

Well, it was a busy week last week, and I didn't get everything done that I wanted to put up here. So that leaves me with plenty of content for this week. Unfortunately, I still have to generate that content.

First are my thoughts on Live-Action cartoon movies. That post is probably about two-thirds done.

Mrs. Kidan and I went to see Transformers over the weekend (three hours of uninterrupted no-kids time, we almost didn't know what to do with ourselves) and thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife was pleasantly surprised, though she thought there was too much fighting at the end-an thought not shared by myself or my fellow geek co-worker. Anyways, my review of the new Transformers movie (and yes Princess, I'll tell you my thoughts on it before I post the review for the world to read, and yes, I'll actually speak them out loud to you) should be up fairly soon. Probably before the stuff about Live-Action cartoon movies.

Then tonight is Ani-Monday where we get the next episodes of Noein and Tokko (and of course Macross PLUS which I'm not watching). Then tomorrow night we have the return of Eureka and I'm fairly ecstatic about that.

The final two essays I want to prepare for this week are my thoughts on just where Riina comes from (that's Star Wars EU material) and something about s-groups in Heinlein's Friday and how they relate to the state of marriage in today's society. I just wish I had created that content in time for the Heinlein Centennial celebrations. Other Heinlein related content that I have planned is a glimpse through Starship Troopers to see just how well he previewed the state of affairs in regards to society, and a thought about the probability of the balkanization of the United States from Friday. When those last two will get generated... well who knows. I can be slow on the content stuff sometimes.

Anyways, as noted, I have plenty of content planned, now all I have to do is find time to write it.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Review: Knights of the Old Republic: Flashpoint

Well, the second trade paperback of the Knights of the Old Republic monthly comic series was released on May 16. Somehow, I managed to miss this getting released until the end of June. Frankly, I'm not sure if that's an issue with my own research or if Dark Horse just isn't doing enough to push out knowledge to those of us who have gotten lazy about news with our RSS Readers. I mean, how hard would it be for them to do a new releases RSS Feed filterable via their various zones, and for the monthlies and the trades. Of course, that has nothing to do with the TPB, but rather just my own annoyances.

Anyways, the new TPB is the Flashpoint story arc, written by John Jackson Miller with art by Brian Ching, Dustin Weaver and Harvey Tolibao. If that seems like a lot of artists, it is. The reason for that, is because despite the blurb on Darkhorse's website, the Flashpoint TPB is not a cohesive storyline the same way that Commencement was. But, before we get into that, let's look at the blurb, this is what Darkhorse provides (and what is on the back cover of the trade):

Nearly 4,000 years before the Death Star, fugitive Padawan Zayne Carrick's quest to clear his name for the alleged murder of his fellow Jedi-in-training brings him head to head with the galaxy's most feared fighting force-the Mandalorians!

Along with a petty crook named Gryph and Elbee the grouchy droid, Zayne is a passenger aboard the Last Resort, a renegade ship piloted by the senile genius Camper and his fierce protector Jarael. Together, this motley crew will face kidnappings, hijackings, maniacal scientists, Mandalorian traitors, bumbling bounty-hunting brothers, and a few really big explosions.

Collecting issues #7-12 of the ongoing comic book series Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, this volume launches our lovable heroes into one of the most outrageous and exciting adventures since Luke Skywalker learned the ways of the Force!
Frankly, from that blurb, I was expecting six issues of Mandalorian goodness and fighting. There are actually three stories here, Flashpoint, Homecoming, and Reunion. How these three were broken up via the actual issues, I'm not certain, but in the end it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that the stories are somewhat... disjointed when viewed in relation with each other.

In terms of an overarching plot for the TPB, there's not one. Each of the stories are fairly self-contained and work within their own constructs, but in terms of a trade the collection of all three is lacking. Of course, these stories have to be put into trades at some point, so this works for that as well as anything else could. The only true issue involved there is that this is the second TPB for KotOR, so having what are effectively filler stories this early in the ongoing storyline is well, disheartening.

Anyways, the first of the stories is Flashpoint. This one is a basic rescue the girl plot, and is a perfectly serviceable story as well as a decent follow-up to the Commencement storyline. Plot-wise there is nothing that jumps out at me as being bad. Nothing overly great, but not bad.

The plot for Homecoming is different though. I'm not entirely certain what the plot is, as it seems to be just a vehicle for character development and back story for Zayne's former master and his cohorts.

The plot for the final story, Reunion, is basically a grab the macguffin story. Of course, the macguffin in this case is a person, but that ends up somewhat irrelevant for the purpose of the story here. The plot would have serviced perfectly fine if the macguffin had been a droid or a box of nails.

I guess because this is a monthly comic strip that maybe I should expect everything to be character-focused and driven, yet such things still cause me to intellectually stumble. I see it in Traviss' Sacrifice and Bloodlines and I see it here as well. Maybe I'm just old fashioned and like a strong plot to push character development rather than the other way around. Regardless, what we're left with are three distinctly differing plots, none of which tell a cohesive story for the trade.

For the characters, we're giving the same major players as in Commencement as well as a few new ones introduced here. The first introduction is the Mandalorian, Rohlan Dyre. Rohlan is the Mandalorian traitor listed in the blurb above, though I'm not certain traitor is the correct description of him. Or at least, see it as accurate of an description of him as the fact that the other Mandalorian's consider him something of a coward. Frankly, I'm interested in his character arc, and slightly disturbed that he disappeared at the end of the the Flashpoint story.

The other characters introduced include Lucien Draay's mom, mainly featured in flashbacks, and the Sith War veteran who did his primary training in the Jedi arts. Of special interest here is that the Draay's are Miraluki, at least partially. The writer also goes to great lengths to show just how... miserable a mother Mommy Draay is in relation to Lucien. Frankly, I'm worried that we're going to get something of a twisted villain/good guy here from this character-you know, one of those, "I'm evil because I'm misunderstood" kind of things. This is a comic book! We should be allowed our rambunctious, over-the-top villains, especially this early in the story arc. Again though, that could just be me though, and the fact that I've watched a bit too much magical-girl anime's recently (specifically Magical Lyrical Girl Nanaho) where all the bad guys really aren't bad, just misunderstood from a certain point of view.

To be honest, the character that intrigues me the most here is Jarael. There's something there above and beyond the proposed storyline regarding the murdered padawans. I for one, can't wait to see where the writer is planning to go with her story arc, and I really want to know why Demagol was so interested in the fact that she had elfin ears. Yes, I know it's because she's a half-breed, but, so what? It's not like she's the only half-breed, or only pointy-eared alien out there.

Art wise, the pencils are well done, and I'm enjoying them. Additionally, Dark Horse chose well with the artists they've picked for the various stories, as they all have very similar styles. This made reading the various stories of the TPB easy. Is this spectacular art? No. Is this the best line art I have ever scene. Not really. Would I mind having some of those pages as their original pencils (or even a copy of the original pencils) to hang as framed art on my wall? Without a doubt. The art is... inoffensive? Which I guess is what Dark Horse wants these days, as opposed to the odd, washed out colors and the lack of details from earlier books, such as Dark Empire. Ultimately though, I like the artwork. It does the job it is supposed to do, and that is that it tells the story. Above that, what more can be asked for?

Overall, I'm satisfied with this trade. I'm not upset that I purchased it, but I am glad that I did so with my Books-a-Million bonus value card. Frankly, it's not the best trade that I've read, and the lack of an overarching plot is definitely felt, but as I said, in the end I did not feel bad about spending nearly $17 on the book. The problems inherent in the multi-storyline per trade are not enough to make me actively dislike this particular trade, and if I were rating each individual story arc, then they would all get high marks. Unfortunately, I'm rating the trade as a whole, therefore the use of multiple stories here adversely affects the rating... which is sad because taken separately all these stories are really good. It's only when they're shoved together into the trade that we get this feeling of, well... disappointment.

In the end, I give it a 2.0 out of 4.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Reading the Constitution

I'm a software engineer by training and trade, as such, I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds from other computer folks. One of those feeds, is for Scott Berkun. His blog focuses on user interface design, project management, innovation, web 2.0 and other tech-savy things.

So, what does that have to do with the Constitution or spec-fic in general? Well, I'm an avid reader, as anyone who notices the number of book reviews hiding under the "review" tag could probably guess, and as such things that are read are of great interest to me.

Anyways, Mr. Berkun posted an entry on his blog and questioned why Americans did not read the relevant documents to our Fourth of July holiday (specifically meaning the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence).

It's a good question, and one I'm suddenly asked myself. Luckily, he provides links to the relevant documents from his blog entry.

Review: Sola

I went into this anime with hopeful eyes. I can admit it. I wanted to like it. After all, one of the guy who wrote it is the same guy who wrote Kanon, Naoki Hisaya. Anyways, Sola is a multimedia event. In addition to the anime, they are also producing a manga, a drama CD, an internet radio show, and even rumors of a PS2 game. Hey, if they can milk it, they should.

Onto the plot... on second thought, go look here for the plot, but be warned, it's Wikipedia and there are spoilers in the description.

In the end, the plot is a fun ride, and the season had two fundamental aspects, the action plot and the love plot. In theory, both plots revolved around Yurito, but though he's the POV character, I think it would be more accurate to say that Matsuri is the protagonist. Anyways, the villain for each of the plots are Takeshi and Aono respectively.

Additionally, all the subplots were fun as well, though I could have used a bit more backstory, but overall that's a minor quibble. My biggest complaint with the series is that some of the surprises which are introduced over the course of the story could have been hinted at some more. In fact the big surprise of the story, I'm still not 100% clear just how Matsuri figured it out. I had no clue it was going to happen, and going back and watching the entire season one episode after another, I still fail to see any hints of it. I guess I could just be missing something, and if I am, I would love for someone to point it out to me.

The cast is relatively small. The main characters are Yorito Morimiya, Matsuri Shihō, Aono Morimiya, Mana Ishizuki, Koyori Ishizuki, Takeshi Tsujido and Mayuko Kamikawa. Like I said, it's not an overly large cast, so that they all get decent enough time to develop their characters. Of particular interest is the relationship between Aono and Koyori, at the start of the series, they're in the hospital together (which is also where Yorito and Mana meet at). The relationship is an interesting one, as Koyori really cares about Aono , much more than the other characters, and with the events at the end of the series, is subsequently hurt worse, and healed more, than the other characters as well.

Art-wise, and character designs, I prefer what was produced for Kanon over this, but since the character designer was Naru Nanao who worked on D.C. ~Da Capo~, the characters resemble those found in that series. Frankly, I think I prefer Kanon's artists. Not that these are bad, they're just not quite as good, as they have a tendency towards rail thin, sharp, pointed chins and slightly misporportioned bodies.

In the end, I enjoyed the story, but was less excited by the artwork. I give it a 3 out of 4.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July

Well, I hope everyone is having a happy 4th of July.

I managed to not go see Transformers, so everyone will have to wait for that review until Saturday or early next week.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Review: The Ghost Brigades


Today's review is for John Scalzi's novel The Ghost Brigades. It is a sequel to his novel Old Man's War, and a prequel to the novel The Last Colony. It is set in the same universe as Old Man's War but only one of the characters from the novel is featured here, and she is barely a POV character. Anyways, the back cover of the of the paperback has the following blurb:

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They're young, fast, strong, and totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity--and it's about to become more dangerous. Three races we've fought before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF's biggest secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac--a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA--is the only person who can provide answers. Jared's brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories, but when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier. Then, as Boutin's memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reasons for Boutin's betrayal... and the fact that some of humanity's enemies have worse things in mind than our mere defeat.
It's a fine blurb, tells the salient points of the novel, and explains the relevant information from Old Man's War that is needed to understand the book. I know I harp on blurbs a lot, but they're important things for a book. Books live or die based on the blurbs provided on the dust jacket flaps or back covers. Plus, it is always interesting to read what the publisher thinks will sell the book.

The main character, as the blurb discusses, is Jared Dirac. He's a Ghost Brigade soldier (read clone of a dead human, augmented with alien DNA and a host of technologies) based on Charles Boutin, a CDF scientist who has betrayed humanity. He's an interesting character, and it is interesting to read how he comes into his own both as a human, and as a soldier.

There are three main secondary characters: Charles Boutin, Jane Sagan and Cainen.

Charles Boutin is the primary villain of the piece. We don't actually get to see him, until the final few chapters of the book but oddly enough that works. We're given hints and impressions of Boutin throughout the story, which is an oddly effective way of building up the villain. Unfortunately, he falls oddly flat in the face of those expectations. That's not to say he's not a well-defined character, it is just that during the course of the story, I built up this concept of what and how I thought of Boutin, and then when he was revealed, he seemed petty and venal. Petty and venal worked for his character, it's just not what I was expecting.

Jane Sagan is Dirac's commander. She is the character that featured heavily in the previous novel, and from the excerpt of The Last Colony features heavily in that novel as well. I like Jane's character both here and in Old Man's War. She's tough, yet oddly vulnerable in how she is presented. Imagine, Princess Leia, mixed with Wonder Woman, all on steroids-that's the impression I got of Sagan.

The final of the main secondary characters is Cainen. He's not human, but rather a Rraey. What that means for the reader? Well, the Rraey are a spiritual people, and have a tendency to want to kill humans, and take their colonies. Cainen is a POW in this book, and instrumental in the development of the plot. This means that he gets a whole bunch of character development in response to the plot.

Settings are fun here. We get more of Mr. Scalzi's use of unique technologies, and he extrapolates both existing technology and the technology that he introduced in the previous novel. His entire universe is populated with technology and worlds, and Mr. Scalzi does his best to provide us with descriptions of those things without burdening us with useless information. For example, the starships - we know they are used to transport troops, and use a type of extra-luminal drive revolving around jumping dimensions. What we don't know is such things as the cubic-tonnage or even the shape of the ships.

Part of me likes this. It's clean and concise, but the other part of me wants that information. It desires to know what the ships look like, what their volume is. Of course, that can all wait until we get either a comic book or a movie out of these books. Boy, do I hope we get a movie out of those books.

The plot is similar in nature to most spec-fic war fare. The interesting bit, is the fact that Jared Dirac is built from Boutin. It adds in an element of distrust and tension, as the CDF has to wonder if Dirac would turn traitor as well. There's nothing really to complain about here. The plot is well built, and flows with the story, pushing the characters where they need to go smoothly, and without leaving a bad taste in the reader's mouth.

This is the first story from Mr. Scalzi that I've read that is not in a first person POV. Of course, this is only the third novel of his that I have read, but oh well. With this novel, he proves that he can produce a non-first person story, and can produce it where it works, and works good. All the other mechanics of the story, works perfectly as well. No glaring grammar issues, no typos that I could remember. Wonderfully done.

Overall, I loved this novel as much as I did Old Man's War. I love the way that Scalzi writes, his characters and just the tone of the story. It's fun, and reminds me a lot of Heinlein. There are a lot worse writers out there, and not many contemporary ones that I can think of that are better, and this novel just further reinforces my belief that Scalzi is such an awesome writer.

In the end, I give it a 3.7 out of 4.

Ani-Monday on June 02

Well, we had more Ani-Monday last night, and something odd happened.

No, it wasn't that my wife watched and was enthralled by the anime (see Sweetie, I can bring you into a topic, even if you go to bed early).

But, rather I found myself liking Tokko more than Noein last night. It wasn't any change of quality on Noein's part that done so either. Though, the Golden-Girls-on-crack character was on last night, and her voice wasn't quite the same ear piercing horror that it was during the first episode. The issue, if there is one, is that we still don't have a lot of answers as to what's going on-though maybe we might start getting them. I know a bit about Noein because I looked it up on Wikipedia, but if I hadn't done that I would probably be smacking my head against the wall, trying to figure out what's happening.

Yet, despite that, it's a good thing. You're having to pay attention and follow along with the small clues that they have dropped in order to figure things out yourself.

Tokko on the other hand is more action-oriented. so we get wide angle blood sprays and odd jackets that cover up one character breasts even as she jumps around with the jacket unzipped. How that works, I'm not entirely certain, but I guess I have seen stranger things. Then additionally, the sexual tension between the main character and his little sister is incredibly out of place, and highly disturbing. If anything damages this show, it would probably be that. After all, there is no way normal siblings would call one another "Sexy."

It's just not right.

Again, I could not bring myself to watch Macross PLUS, but at this point it would be a futile effort as I'd be coming into the game over halfway through the OVA series.

The re-subbed clips are still iffy on how well they work. Sometimes they're hilarious, other times less so. This is especially true when they take jabs at Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Frankly, it's childish and though both Adult Swim and Ani-Monday are going after the same demographic, they aren't really doing it in the same time slot. They're not direct competitors.

Anyways, next week is more Noein and Tokko as well as the final episode of Macross PLUS.

Monday, July 2, 2007

New Serenity DVD

Well, this article came to my attention via the Expanded Universe blog written by Thrawn.

Now I love Firefly/Serenity. Both the movie and the television series. Frankly, I think the way that Fox treated Firefly, by jumping its timeslot all over the place to the point where no one could keep track of when it was coming on, was one of the stupidest decisions that they had ever done-and Fox has done some stupid things over the years.

I own the DVD's for both the TV show and the movie. No surprise there, me being a spec-fic junkie and all.

Yet, I have to wonder at Universal's decision to spit out this special edition DVD.

Why did they do it? Is there a sequel in the works? If so, then they have managed to pull the biggest prank on a fandom since RotJ was in filming, as there are absolutely no rumors about one being produced.

Frankly, I can't help but expect that this is merely an effort to get more money out of a devoted fanbase. It's kind of sickening the lengths businesses will go to exploit the fans of spec-fic series. Universal knows that the devoted fanbase will purchase this for one of two reasons:

  1. They truly love Serenity, and want to own the additional extras
  2. They want to support Serenity in a bid to get another movie made
The fact that Universal is playing with the fandom in this matter irritates me to no end. Mainly, because I know that it works so well. I find myself reading the description and wanting the extra features. Luckily, I'm self-aware enough to realize the way I'm being played here. It also helps that I've become something of a cheapskate over the past decade, and can't think up a good enough reason to justify the purchase, and sadly enough, despite knowing that I am being played, I tried to think up a reason.

This is the point where my wife would once again call me a "freak." Of course, she says this even as I buy her the next season of Gilmore Girls on DVD. In her own way, she is just as much a geek as I am. Just one that is more socially aware and accepted. But that's just one of the reasons why I love her-she balances me out, and keeps me from turning into the Comic Book Guy from The Simpson's.

And I mean that literally as well as figuratively. I've put on a few pounds these past few years.

Anyways, as I said, I'm annoyed the way that businesses are treating fandoms. You see it here with Serenity. You see it with Harry Potter (I still remember my amazement at seeing a hardcover book, costing about $15, entitled What will happen in Harry Potter 7 that described itself as a novel offering speculation concerning the seventh and final Harry Potter novel). You even see it with Star Wars (my rant about the Galactic Heroes figures, and then the Prequels in general).

They know that they have a loyal fanbase which will purchase all this trash that they keep throwing at us, but what is sad, is that despite the fact that spec-fic fans tend to be very smart in general, we keep doing it. We keep allowing ourselves to be walked over and abused this way.

What worries me, is I'm stuck wondering if we do so because we love the various series so much or if it's because we refuse to stand up for ourselves, afraid that if we don't buy every little thing that has the logo of our favorite fandom on it, that the license holder will suddenly stop producing materials for us.

I know I refuse to be a completist. I will buy the occasional figure, but will leave most on the shelves. I don't buy all the little stupid trinkets, heck I wouldn't own the Star Wars M&M statuettes if my mother-in-law had not purchased me them for Christmas. Yet that aside, I find myself being an EU completist. I purchase every piece of SW literature I can get my hands on, despite some of it being... well less than stellar.

And that's where my worry listed above truly comes from. I have to wonder about myself-do I really love Star Wars so much that I feel the need to buy every Star Wars novel, short story collection and TPB I find or am I just purchasing them because I want them to continue to be produced. Is is some odd combination of both?

What's sad is that I still don't have an answer.

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