Archive for the ‘Ongoing Investigations’ Category

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #239

May 26, 2014

hisui_icon_4040  A long time ago, we used to be canceled.

It was a fairly well publicized story. On May 22, 2007 the last episode of the Veronica Mars series was played on TV. While there were many dangling plot lines it seemed that the ending of season third would be all they officially wrote about the series. In 2013 a Kickstarter was launched to fund a movie that could finally give some closure to the series. It was wildly successful and the movie caused quite the hubbub. Kate and I loved the movie. You can hear our gushing praise on the Speakeasy. The movie did rather well on tying up all the loose ends from the TV series while showing that Veronica continues on to be her bad self. But the momentum of the Kickstarter seems unstoppable. The first major item from that continued energy is a Veronica Mars novel.

If you went into Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line with a healthy amount of trepidation no one could blame you. Fiction based on TV series can be wildly variable. If you have ever read things like Star Trek or Star Wars novels you will know that reading those books can be like playing Russian Roulette. Since writing novels like this is a work for hire affair you will get all stripes of writers looking for a pay check. Sometimes you get some amazing synergy when a good writer totally gets a series and has a great story for the characters to dig into. Most of the time you get some mediocre work. Maybe the author writes the characters a bit too much like their own characters as opposed to their established portrayal. Other times the characters are on point but the plotting is weak. Sometimes you just get shlock that makes you wonder why you did not just read something from fanfiction.com. Your never sure what you’re going to get.

Thankfully this first novel feels like a good Veronica Mars story. Not the best Veronica Mars story. But it feels like a good episode of the TV series. I think that is exactly what you want for a book like this. A radical examination of the character or an experimental work seems a bit too bold out of the gate. Unless you plan for this to be the only novel something that impactful would make everything after it feel limp. You want something that assures the audience that these novels will be enjoyable and exciting but not that they are GOING TO CHANGE EVERYTHING FOREVER.

At the same time the story feels like more than just a throw away story. Veronica and her father move forward after their somewhat strained relationship in the movie, Mac moves into a more predominant role, and there are one or to other changes that are spoilers I won’t go into. Enough happens that it feels like a real TV episode. If everything is static the novel feels like a filler arc from a shonen show. Too many changes and it feels like silly fan fiction.

Also all these changes are canon. So this won’t be pushed aside by a new movie or series.

The actually case moves quickly. I read the story in two days without even trying that hard to read it. But at the same time it does not feel rushed which is possible the greater crime for a novel to commit. The fast pace does help some of the later twists feel stronger. I read the novel in two days and I was hardly trying very hard. So I did not meditate too hard on the mystery and was more absorbed in it. It let me notice some of the clues so the solutions did not come out of nowhere but did not let me dwell on them too long so I figured out everything before it happened. If the story had moved a bit slower I probably would have meditated on it more.

Apparently the book already has a sequel lined up called Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss & Tell. Jennifer Graham and Rob Thomas are still writing this one so at least the writing will be consistent which means I can look forward to it with a minimum of trepidation. For such genre fiction that is a fairly strong endorsement.

narutaki_icon_4040 Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham was way too good for being a novel based on a media property.

The voice is what is most important in a venture like this. If the voice doesn’t come-off like Veronica then it is just a mystery novel. But Veronica sounds spot on in the way she verbalizes both in dialogue and internal thoughts. Kristen Bell made the character what she is, but from this book you can tell how well written the character has been and how well the writers understand her.

Biggest and best part of the book has to do with Veronica really sinking her teeth into being a for-realz P.I. Not that she doesn’t bust out some of her old tricks, but she is now an adult and professional and it changes the dynamics a a bit.

There is a lot of personal progress made in this book which left me very surprised mostly because if they make another movie I don’t know how they will reconcile it with the book(s?). But I won’t fret over that, instead I’ll look forward to the next story!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #238

May 5, 2014

narutaki_icon_4040 I started reading A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima, a series that apparently had a great reception prior to being put on CR Manga. I myself hadn’t heard of it, but I am much less aware of shonen romance titles. In any case, all the love that poured out from people when I mentioned reading it is well deserved.

Ishida is an ex-bully, who became bullied himself, and has given up on friends and life as he drifts through high school. Shoko is the girl Ishida and his classmates bullied due to her hearing impairment. Ishida seeks her out, all these years later, in order to apologize before ending his life. But suddenly, after years of isolation, he has made a human connection and that snowballs into another connection and another and another all which changes his course.

The beginning of the series is actually an extended flashback, things don’t really shift into full gear until the second volume. It is an angering and painful few chapters which makes the changes later so much more earned.

Despite the serious nature of that premise, and by all means A Silent Voice is thoughtful in its seriousness, the series creates people who aren’t simply downtrodden. There is light and hope in the series in such unexpected ways. Everyone is fully realized and has layers, a character like Ishida being so sympathetic is testament to this. The people from Ishida’s past, and his mistakes and how he deals with them, are incredibly complex. It isn’t so easy to dismiss people or to rebuild one’ life, and it is doubly hard for a boy who doesn’t truly believe he deserves better.

This series is lovely and brilliant.

(Read it on Crunchyroll Manga)

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hisui_icon_4040 If you have been following our Twitter feeds you will have seen the building we both live in has recently been having Internet problems. This means our normal anime viewing schedule was completely thrown out of whack. Being at the end of the season, with the massive Spring avalanche just around the corner, this is all sort of annoying. But we made due in the mean time. It has let us catch up on two series we had put on hold. We were watching Infinite Ryvius and Future Boy Conan as the result of our poll for our 200th Ongoing Investigation but we started to prioritize some of the newer shows and were saving Ryvius and Conan for the lean times. Exactly for times like this.

I’m really glad that we finally finished Infinite Ryvius from Bandai. I don’t regret watching the series. It definitely was a series that was right up our alley so when people thought we would like it was a good choice. That said I did not like ending of the series. There was some weird hiccups and odd choices in the middle but I was engaged until the ending. I was ready to give this series a thumbs up. But when the last episode ended I was just left with an unfulfilled feeling.

Now it would be easy to assume that the series had no idea what it was doing and just slapped on some random clumsy ending because they did not think the complete narrative arc out from the start. But I feel that the generally ending point seemed like the ending point they had from the start. I’m not really sure how the conflict between the crew of the Ryvius and government could have gone any other way without is just being a total downer ending. Anything else would have required total deus ex machina or some other equally underplayed power to get involved. Past that point the exact number of people who lived or died were distinctly in question. It was clear that the crew was a powder keg waiting to explode so a number of people could died either being killed by space forces as well as their fellow crew members.

I think the characters reactions to what happened seemed really … questionable. I did not need the survivors to be broken husks unable to function in society or ever forgive any transgression BUT certain characters get nothing more than a slight “those were some crazy times” attitudes for REPEATEDLY and PURPOSEFULLY trying to murder large parts of the crew whereas other people mainly either are forgotten or scorned for lesser crimes. At the same time while it is good to see most of Kouji Aiba storyline resolved (he is the main character after all) it did seem like some very important character arc just seemed completely dropped. But we get resolution on the fates of a lot of the really minor characters at the same time. I’m not saying they needed two more episodes of conclusion but a little more time devoted to the central cast and a little less time to finding out the fate and life path of the girl in the dinosaur costume might have been prudent.

Also the creepy stalker finally gets with the girl he was creeping on. And we are supposed to think this is cute. No no no no, Infinite Ryvius. You don’t get to do that.

Other than that I know the pace got to my roommate. He wanted things to go crazy much earlier on. Pretty much total Lord of the Flies ASAP without it being silly. I think the slow and meandering path to conflict was a little more realistic. The slow decent into insanity with several false starts and shifts in power seemed how things were likely to go down. There is a never a time when things become a complete anarchy. Part of this is just due to them constantly having a mutual enemy but also because anytime things slide towards anarchy someone would form some of structure to at least stem the tide for getting to the point of monstrous chaos. But it was not an appeal to some higher principle or ideal. It was just the natural tendency of nature to abhor a vacuum and fill in the empty place with anyone. That said I could see how it can feel like slog to get to the “good part” but I thought the slow decent was smarter.

I just feel there had to be something in between the ending we got and bleak unending nihilistic despair that could have finished the series in a satisfactory ending. Infinite Ryvius main problem is it brought up some fascinating scenarios and dilemmas but at the same time constantly resolved them in a manner that was usually one or two marks off of fulfilling. It never totally botched things but at the same time I was never happy with the way anything turned out. The ending was far too happy for the moral grayness that came before it but at the same time if was far too pleasant for a relentlessly dark ending. I could see how people rated this show very highly but at the same time it failed to win me over in the end. It was not a single poor or unsatisfactory turn that lost me but a thousand tiny paper cuts in the ending that turned me off.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #237

March 18, 2014

hisui_icon_4040 If any one remembers a little while back Kate looked at the first volume of Knights of Sidonia. She definitely had mixed feelings on the series but I was still intrigued to see what the series was like. We don’t get that much legitimate mecha manga in English so I figured I should seek it out when I could. I read the first four volumes myself to see if I had a different opinion. After diving pretty deep into the series I agree with Kate’s overall assessment but I found what threw me off about the series was very different from the things that bothered her.

The premise is fairly interesting. After Earth is destroyed during a horrific first contact scenario the remnants of humanity have been forced to live on colony ships. While fighting the relentless creatures bent on wiping out humanity it seems that the survivors have modified themselves to use photosynthesis, cloning, third genders, and other forms of genetic engineering to survive the greatly reduced resources on their ships. Nagate Tanikaze was an unmodified human who was living outside the system in the bowls of one of the ships until he was caught trying to steal food. When he is forced to fly a fighter which puts him in contact with many of the great secrets of the battle with the Gauna.

Kate really did not like the characters. I understand that feeling. They all seem so inhuman. And that makes sense. It is very clear that the crew of the Sidonia have been so heavily modified that while they are still technically human they are so removed from a modern person that they are practically aliens. The problem is the characters don’t feel uniquely alien. They don’t seem like fulled fleshed out others with distinctly aliens mindsets and personalities. They feel less like creatures apart from humanity and more characters without humanity. But even Nagate who is mostly human feels this way.

That was not a deal breaker for me. On the other hand it did not help my main problem with the series. The death blow for me was the narrative structure. Everything read like “this happened, then this happened, then this happened.” It is easy from that description to assume that Knights of Sidonia is extremely exposition heavy with lots of talking heads and walls of text. But overall the series is fairly light on blatant info dumps and long speeches. In fact you can read through any given book of Sidonia fairly quickly. It is more that Nagate just drifts from plot point to plot point. I never felt any weight or tension to his actions. If he is hanging out with his fellow pilots, fighting for his life in battle, adrift and space on the verge of death, or learning dark and terrible secrets it all was has the same feel to it. If I were a bit more well versed in the language and mechanics of manga I might be able to put my finger on what is off about the story. I do know it is deeply mechanical. It is not just the overall narrative. It is something as systemic as the flow from panel to panel.

But that is the manga in a nutshell. It has a lot of strong elements that should make it a series that Kate and I loved. But in the end it is an interesting dance performed by someone who is constantly not in synch with the music. They are off just enough that it does not look wrong but it never feels right. You want to like what they are doing but you can’t ever enjoy yourself even though you feel you should.

I do wonder if this is actually a series that could be saved by the upcoming anime. Theoretically a talented director could take what is good about the series and bring it to the forefront while minimizing or even removing what keeps the series from congealing. Also robot battles always just look better animated. I’m not saying that is guaranteed to happen. But I feel if anything could save the series it would be a well produced anime. Since Netflix picked up the series it will be a while before Kate and I will be able to watch it legitimately. But considering how cool we were on the manga this is hardly the hardest wait for us.

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narutaki_icon_4040 Last month I was excited for The Heroic Legend of Arslan manga by Yoshiki Tanaka and Hiromu Arakawa to be licensed, imagine my surprise when it was promptly added to Crunchyroll Manga! So I sped through the first volume over the weekend.

Prince Arslan’s strained relationship with his parents is apparent from the start. His father is a warrior king while Arslan isn’t too bad with a sword (no matter what his attendants have him believe), he is more of a thinker. The people surrounding him are going to be of the utmost importance as we watch him grow from boy to ruler.

Ms. Arakawa has done a great job creating the sweeping epic feel of this fantasy series as a major battle embroils the kingdom in the last couple chapters of vol. 1. Her farming experience (manga and otherwise) is sure to be helping her draw all the calvary! The intensity of the battle, or perhaps massacre is a better word, feels horrific so it should come as no surprise that this series has a high body count.

This story has been adapted into anime and manga before but this may prove to be the best incarnation yet.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #236

March 3, 2014

narutaki_icon_4040 The story in the Mushishi Special of a girl who can’t go into the sun and the eclipse which takes a toll on her family and her town, and her selfish wish for the sun to never to return, fit perfectly in the world of Mushishi.

I rather enjoyed the beginning sequence of little stories and tidbits about the upcoming eclipse being talked about by various people. Various people that don’t include Ginko, though he is mentioned but not by name. There was a feeling of anticipation for him to show up on the screen. It has been so long since last we met our wanderer that I felt my heart swell as he stepped into view.

The Mushishi Special does the trick of making one very excited for the upcoming new ongoing anime. This double episode filled me with good feelings but, as Al pointed out to me, made me forget the melancholy that generally underlies much of the series.

hisui_icon_4040 The Mushishi Special is sort of herald for the new Mushishi anime. The original anime covered lots of the manga but at the same time it also left a decent amount uncovered. But Mushishi is really episodic. There is not really a beginning, a middle, or an end. There are no real story arcs or many connecting threads. It is mostly just Ginko going around Japan and helping people with their spirit problems while researching said spirits at the same time. There are some reoccurring characters but no one who need more than a breif introduction.  So it is a story that can always be restarted with minimal fuss and ended with little sense of abruptness.

The special starts during a Solar Eclipse. The Mushishi are on high alert as the spirts are extremely active during a large natural event like an eclipse. In fact some of them can only act on such a day. In one town a huge Mushi uses the darkness to block out the sun in the area permanently.  While Ginko tries to free the town from endless darkness there are two girls in town who might have a solution but little desire to tell anyone about it.

I was a little shocked that overall this was not that melancholy a story. It really felt like it could easily go down the road to a sad or bittersweet ending. Mushishi as a whole like to go that way. But surprisingly everyone gets what they want it this episode. It is certainly not the way the originally wanted it but in the end they might have actually gotten more of what they needed than what they wanted. (And not at some horrible price.) I sort of figured they would go for the gut punch with this one. Color me surprised.

Overall it was more Mushishi. It was slow but pretty. Thoughtful but not overly ponderous.  Subdued but not comatose or completely morose. It is not an episode that would win anyone over who was not already predisposed to the series but a nice treat to its established fan base. I am sure they are just itching for the new season on the way.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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