Ongoing Investigations: Case #239

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 #226

narutaki_icon_4040 Wolfsmund (vol. 1) by Mitsuhisa Kuji is the latest release from Vertical. The story tells the tale of a dark period of history set in and around the Alps in the mid-17th century centered around the St. Gotthard Pass (a fortress nicknamed Wolfsmund) and ensuing unrest of the peasant population.

The art of Mitsuhisa Kuji is well suited to details adding a lot to the historical period as well as the setting. I also found her depiction of Wolfram as perfectly unnerving in his clam expressions and easy smile.

The first couple of stories feel more like one shots, but they are really there to build up the reputation of Wolfsmund as a place without mercy and a master who is charming and frightening. The running thread is a woman in town providing hospitality to travelers hoping to pass through Wolfsmund’s gates. Later in the volume, Willem Tell and his son arrive in the town and that is when the story really begins.

It was refreshing seeing a different bit of history being called on as a compelling backdrop. You really wouldn’t call it “forgotten history” but at the same time there isn’t a ton of manga-ka tackling the Swiss peasant rebellions either.

Wolfsmund is brutal historical fiction/fantasy executed with a deft artistic hand. Easily one of the best, and my favorite, new manga titles out. If you’re sitting around waiting for Vinland Saga, this should be your next purchase.

hisui_icon_4040 It is often said that a well crafted villain is more interesting than a well made hero. Wolfsmund seems to take this philosophy to heart by centering the narrative around a truly despicable villain and having him act as a thresher against a wide variety of heroes. That means that characters who would be protagonists in any other story have a very transitory feel as they are more foils there to be inevitably defeated or at least set back by Wolfram, the man in charge of Wolfsmund. So when Wolfram’s inevitable defeat comes you feel his punishment is well deserved after you have seen the number of lives he has destroyed.

Then again this is seinen. It is always a little unusual but not totally unheard of for the villain to never get their comeuppance in a series for older readers like this. Will the story end with Wolfram being taken down and Wolfsmund finally broken? Probably. But you never know. And that is what keeps the story interesting.

Willem Tell is one of those interesting characters like King Arthur and Robin Hood that might have at one time been based on a real person but whoever that person (or amalgam of people) was is nowhere near as important as the legend that sprung about around the figure that exists because of the stories. That means Mitsuhisa Kuji has a character with casts a fairly large shadow but can be worked with since he is far more legend than real man so you don’t have to worry too much about pesky sticking points of history. But as The Rose of Versailles has shown with someone like Duke du Orleans that you can have a decent amount of leeway with real people like The Duke of the Hapsburgs if you make the story compelling enough.

It is always worth pointing out that Mitsuhisa Kuji started working as an assistant for two very different mangaka. She was an assistant for Kentaro Miura of Berserk fame and Kaoru Mori best known for Emma. So you have the hyper violence and grittiness of the dark fantasy series and then soft touches and attention to historical details from the Victorian romance. As contradictory as those styles may seem at first you can see both influences clearly blending together in Wolfsmund. The characters have a gentle almost shojo feel which exacerbates their suffering when really horrible things happen to them. At the same time there is a distinct amount of research given to the details of the setting that make it feel very real. And everyone can die. And I mean anyone. And so two very different styles blend together to make a third type of story very different from its mentor’s but borrowing many of their best traits.

After one book I am curious to see where the story goes. It is a unique historical series with a very different flair. But also buy Vinland Saga. Just buy both series for different reasons ans support more historical manga in the end.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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