Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Manga Part 2

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books by clicking here

uqholder1   uqholder2

UQ Holder! Vol. 1. 

UQ Holder! Vol. 2.

Ken Akamatsu, artist and writer

Kodansha

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. Neutral.

My Reality: Tōta’s dream is to make it to the city and climb the giant tower to space and do something great (he’s not sure what yet). All he has to do is defeat his ultra powerful teacher/guardian Yukihime. She insists that it be done through fighting skills, but when Tōta and his friends try some magic, things quickly go wrong and Tōta ends up with the immortality of a vampire – a gift from Yukihime. Together they travel back to Tokyo through the semi-deserted countryside,Tōta’s naivete helping them pick up friends and avoid bounty hunters – or the former from the latter, in androgynous young Kurōmaru’s case, looking to attack Yukihime, to seek Tōtas fortune. Whatever it is.

UQ Holder ends up being the name of the group of powerful immortals of which Yukihime is the head. It’s not just a vampire book – there are all kinds of immortals with different vulnerabilities and strengths, which was cool. The group exists to protect a group of yokai (Japanese demons/monsters). As a manga, it has all the usual hallmarks of a shonen series – the enthusiastic young (but very talented) seeker, the journey, the mentor and sidekick(s), the tests/fights. Up to book 2, it’s not so clear what the evil organization is, although Tōta does get beat up a lot. Because I don’t read a lot of shonen, I am not tired of these tropes, but I also can’t judge if this is a fun iteration of the genre or not. I haven’t read the precursor to which this series has a small connection, Negima. And I read it on a computer, which means it felt tiresome just because I was reading it on a computer.

Will teens like it?: What I do know is that teens love this kind of book, and they’ll probably like this.

Is it “great” for teens?: Maybe?

Art Taste:

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 9.08.08 PM

nijigaharaholograph

Nijigahara Holograph

Inio Asano, writer and artist

Fantagraphics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I ended up buying this because I was sick of waiting and really liked Solanin, and had read some very good reviews.

My Reality: The world of Nijigahara Holograph is mindbending and sad. Most of the characters, whether at age 10 or 20 are struggling through depression and other messed up stuff – they have been victims of and perpetrators of bullying and abuse. A lot of the worst things happen around the Nijigahara embankment, which leads to a field next to a stream coming out of a tunnel. Once a girl insisted a monster lived in the tunnel that would end the world. Her classmates pushed her into a well.

The story flashes back and forth in time, and possibly characters come back and forth in time within the story. I’m not sure. I just finished reading it and I feel like I have to read it again to solidify it. It’s a depressing vision, told beautifully. Asano’s art is much more realistic than most manga you will find published in America, the kind of characters that are easy to extrapolate to their real life versions. Which makes the surreal, disgusting, violent, and sad parts of the story that much more affecting.

Will teens like it?: I think some teens would like this type of story a lot.

Is it “great” for teens?: While I would recommend this to some teens who are into it, and think that teens who seek out complex stories should find it, I do think it is primarily a story written for adults, with adult themes. So after a couple reads I can tell you if I think it’s great, but right now I can say that I don’t think it’s for teens, even if teens will find it and like it (and I’m okay with that).

Art Taste:

nijigaharaflashback

worldtrigger1   worldtrigger2

World Trigger, Volume 1

World Trigger, Volume 2

Daisuke Ashihara, writer and artist

Viz Media

I can’t find these anywhere, legally. I have no interest in reading illegal copies, especially because they will be on a computer.

I really like the covers, though. Nice contrasting colors and angled edges!

Here’s the description from VIZ:

“Earth is under constant threat from Neighbors, invincible monsters from another dimension that destroy our way of life. At least we have the elite warriors of Border, who co-opt alien technology to fight back!

Our hero Osamu Mikumo may not be the best agent, but he’ll do whatever it takes to defend life on Earth as we know it.

When Osamu meets a feisty humanoid Neighbor named Yuma, everything that he thinks is right is turned on its head. Can the two natural enemies ever become friends?”

Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Sci-Fi

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

I had 4 sci-fi titles bunched up together. Two of them are not going to make it to my eyes in time.

ringworld

Ringworld, an adaptation of the sci-fi classic by Seven Seas, could not be procured even through my library system’s excellent ILL department, and I don’t think I’d like it enough to spend money on a digital copy. I would if I were actually on the committee, but luckily I don’t have to. It sounds like a cool idea, and I am tempted to read the original prose novel.

rust3

I am sad that my library does not have Rust V.3: Death of the Rocket Boy, by Royden Lepp, because it’s been out since May of 2014. This is a series, originally published by Archaia, that I’ve been following since it first came out. Each of its volumes has made it onto the Great Graphic Novels list, and last year the 2nd volume was in our top 10. I want to read the next (last?) installment of this story in an alternate historical time about a jet-pack/boy and his adventures in Canadian farmland. But I’m willing to bet that it makes it on the list again this year. I would buy a copy but it wouldn’t make it to me in time. Bad planning, me.

But anyway, on to what I did manage to read:

boom_woods_v1

The Woods Volume 1: The Arrow

James Tynion IV, writer

Michael Dialynas, artist

BOOM! Studios  

Anticipation/Expectation Level: It was on my radar but I didn’t know anything about it other than the cover looked cool.

My Reality: I had so much fun reading this. In many ways it’s very much a classic high school adventure, but the high school is suddenly transplanted to an alien planet with an extra-mysterious conspiracy added in (I will say no more about that). There’s a survival/road-trip element as a group of the students head out with a super-smart loner at their head, following him because he says he knows whats going on and because the scene inside the school itself is turning into a shitshow, with the gym teacher using all of his Machiavelli against the go-getter Student President, with the principal as a pawn between them. The jocks, nerds, and everyone in-between have roles to play. It gets heavy in a couple of places, but mostly maintains its humor within the tense situations. I loved the coloring here – very purply and saturated.

Will Teens Like It?: Yes, I can see myself booktalking this one for summer reading or something.
Is it “great” for teens?: yes.

Art Taste:

dinosaurnow ourfuture

alexada_tp_v1

Alex + Ada Volume 1

Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, writers

Jonathan Luna, artist

Image

Anticipation/Expectation Levels: Pretty much the same as The Woods.

My Reality: Yay! This is speculative sci-fi that explores technology, identity, AI, android rights, loneliness, responsibility, and grandmothers who mean well. Luna’s style of drawing is perfect – very realistic and flat, with an eye for subtle changes in facial expressions. I almost feel like Alex is too good to be true, but I have to remind myself that there are guys out there who wouldn’t be total creeps in this situation. And he may change in the following issues. If you can’t tell from the cover and my rambling, Alex is gifted a robot companion by his grandma because she thinks he is being depressed for too long after his breakup. Alex is weirded out that Ada, the android, has no opinions and defers to his wants and needs. So he decides to figure out what to do about it.

Will Teens Like it?: Yes

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

AlexAda03_mnchmnch

5 Reasons I’m Provisionally Enjoying Star-Crossed (and a few reasons I’m not)

A Review of Star-Crossed, created by Meredith Averill

The CW, 2014

Star-Crossed

by REBECCA, April 10, 2014

Star-Crossed, as the title suggests, is a science fiction Romeo and Juliet. Ten years ago, in 2014, an Atrian starship crash-landed in a small town in Louisiana. Six-year-old Roman (Romeo) takes shelter in the shed of Emory (Juliet) when the shooting starts, and they form a bond in the few minutes before soldiers rip them apart. After a bloody battle, the Atrians are interned in a camp called the Sector. Now it’s 2024 and, as the result of an integration program that has long been in the works, seven teenage Atrians are going to begin attending a human high school, to test whether Atrians and humans have the potential to integrate.

romeo-and-julietSo, I’ve mentioned before how much I generally loathe adaptations. There is NO reason why this needed to be an overt Romeo and Juliet—in fact, it really hampers what Star-Crossed can do by telegraphing what are going to be the major issues and stakes of the show. I will say it again. I just do not understand why people cut off narratives at the knees like this?! In the case of Star-Crossed, it seems likely that either the CW thinks sci-fi is low art and needed a little cultcha or that they worried that sci-fi would turn off their core teen female audience unless they very overtly announced that it would be a romance. Either way, it was a stupid move. Also, can we please agree that, in 2014 (and definitely in 2024), Romeo and Juliet is really not the only text that comes to mind when we think about people from different worlds whose social situation dictates that they not be together. In fact, it’s become something of a cliché at this point—a story that’s concretized into utter predictability. So, yeah. WHAT THE?

Tami-Julie-friday-night-lights-4533494-2560-1920More bad news. Emory, played by Aimee Teegarden, aka Julie Taylor from Friday Night Lights, has the unfortunate fate of being a really boring character. No idea why they’re writing her like this when most of the other characters are more interesting, but Emory is completely blah and has no real chemistry with Roman, or with Grayson—yeah, sorry, they’re going with that whole love triangle thing, at least for a little while. (Grayson is played by Grey Damon, also from Friday Night Lights, and another character, Zoe, is played by Dora Madison Burge, who played Becky on Friday Night Lights, so while you’re thinking how boring Emory is, what a bad actor Grey Damon is, and how much makeup they’ve slathered on poor Zoe, you can just close your eyes and think of how good Friday Night Lights was).

That bad news aside, Star-Crossed has, so far, been a pretty enjoyable watch, if you go into it eyes open. I mean, it’s a CW show, so. Here are a few reasons I’ve enjoyed the first eight episodes.

1. Civil Rights Conversations. The morning the Atrian 7 start school with the humans their bus pulls up to the school where there is a mass of protesters who harangue them and throw things at them. It’s a citation of the morning the Little Rock 9 enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Little Rock 9 star-crossed

As in any aliens-landed-on-earth tale, there are people who believe that the Atrians are a threat to earthlings, those who are fascinated by their culture, and those in between. Emory and her best friends, Julia (a delightful Malese Jow, who played Anna on The Vampire Diaries) and Lukas (Titus Makin Jr. who was one of the Warblers on Glee) are excited to befriend the Atrians, but there are many who antagonize them from the beginning. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but, to my mind, any show that is having explicit conversations about the ways that fear of the unknown leads to prejudice, which leads to violence, which leads to retaliation, which leads to war, is succeeding, at least in some small measure.

The Atrian 7 disagree about what integration means, too. There’s one scene where the Atrian 7 are lectured about how they have to be a model minority, which some embrace and some revile. Roman, at one point, thanks Julia and Lukas for helping him and Lukas replies “We minorities have to stick together,” and Roman says, “You guys are minorities?” (they’re non-white); Lukas replies, “Before you got here.” So, there are some useful conversations going on, and I hope things will get more complicated as the show goes on.

2. The Atrians! Once you get over the fact that the Atrians look exactly like humans except for their tattoo-like birthmarks and the fact that they are all OVERLY ATTRACTIVE, the Atrian 7—well, we only know four so far—are pretty delightful characters. Roman (our Romeo) is played by Matt Lanter, who I’ve never seen in anything (though he did play Edward Sullen in a satire of Twilightesque movies that apparently exists?) but who I find strangely compelling. No, not just because he used to be a model. There’s something natural and straightforward about the way he plays Roman, which turns a character that would otherwise be chokingly goody-two-shoes into one who seems mature and interesting.

Teri & Drake

Teri & Drake

Sofia (Brina Palencia) is the wide-eyed, human-loving optimist who wants to make human friends because she doesn’t fit in that well with the Atrians. Teri (Chelsea Gilligan) is her opposite. She’s a fierce, badass fighter who doesn’t take any shit. Her mother is the leader of an Atrian splinter group that is willing to use violence to overthrow humanity. Last is Drake (Greg Finley), a bruiser who wants to be tough, but isn’t quite sure where his loyalties lie.

3. Plants. The Atrians’ main sources of power, as well as their main weapons, are plant-based, and one tribe of Atrians is particularly skilled in that regard. Cyper, for example, is a plant that can both heal and kill, and if humans found out about its properties when mixed with Atrian blood, they’d kill for it. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ve decided that this was inspired by the centrality of herbs in Romeo and Juliet. Even if it’s not true, it’s an interesting choice.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 10.40.18 PM4. Pansexuality! In a show that is based on Romeo and Juliet and, therefore, pretty much tells us who the main romantic drama will concern, we learn that Atrians are pansexual, which at least opens up some possibilities for the plot going forward. I mean, we were all pretending that Roman and Drake were together anyway, right?

5. Star-Crossed. Come on. That’s actually a really excellent name for a show that is about Romeo and Juliet and aliens who came from SPACE! (I can’t think of a fifth thing that’s actively good.)

SO, have you all been watching Star-Crossed? What do you think? Do the good things make up for the dopey CW-elements, or will these violent delights have violent ends?

Movie Review: Like the Enemy’s Gate, Ender’s Game is DOWN

A Review of Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, November 6, 2013

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for Ender’s Game but does not give away the end.

Ever since I heard Ender’s Game was getting the Hollywood treatment, I’ve vacillated between thinking “no way can such an interior novel make a good movie” and thinking, “it’s a pretty straightforward book to adapt.” Turns out I was right on both counts. Ender’s Game has its compelling moments: the battle scenes are cool, as is the tech, and Asa Butterfield has a face well-suited to expressing Ender’s constant calculation. But, as a whole, it fell very, very flat. 

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardThe biggest problem I had with it is that I fundamentally disagree with what writer/director Gavin Hood’s version sees as the heart of the story. For me, Ender’s time at Battle School is where all the most interesting character development and world revelation occur. The time period when Ender’s in Battle School takes up just under 2/3 of Card’s novel, and it encompasses Ender’s four-year journey all the way from being a launchie and learning the battle room, through several different armies, to leading his own army and competing against the whole school. In short, it’s where we learn that Ender is anything special.

In Hood’s version, though, Ender’s time at Battle School is an abbreviated stop along the way to Command School. This means several things:

1. Ender and the rest of the kids stay the same age throughout, because the timeline is scrunched, so we get no sense that Ender is growing up in this new world or learning anything.

2. Ender is the greatest military mind the world has ever known. Or so Harrison Ford keeps telling me. But, because we don’t see his growth, or that there is any difference between Ender’s strategy and those of the other kids in Battle School, we have to take his word for it. The most difficult element to communicate in any adaptation from novel to film is the interiority of characters, and this is doubly true in the case of Ender’s Game because Hood takes away all of Ender’s decisions and strategizing in Battle School that would have communicated that interiority to us.

3. Since we never see that Ender starts as a launchie with no skills and goes on to win battle after impossible battle with never before seen modes of fighting, we aren’t rooting for him. When he finally gets to Command School, I don’t even feel like I know him well enough to care about his success. Which meant I was caring about the success of his strategy in his final exam . . . which is one of many ways (the POSTER being another) in which I think the film both gives away and undercuts the drama of its own ending.

Ender's Shadow mike careyNote: when you leave the film yearning for more Battle School, check out the two graphic novels that treat the Battle School years, Ender’s Game Volume 1: Battle School, which is from Ender’s POV, and Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, which is from Bean’s POV (following Card’s primary and shadow series).

I am always willing to see a film adaptation as its own piece, which is usually all that allows me to avoid a knee-jerk (and unflattering) comparison to the book. In the case of Ender’s Game, however, the fact that I adore the book is the only thing that gave the movie any life for me at all, as my poor brain was automatically scribbling in bits from the book to round the movie out.

The bottom line, however, is that as a standalone film, Ender’s Game has nothing to differentiate it from any of the other kids + war games films out there. The extraordinary psychological character-building that Card’s novel achieves is completely flattened into a film with a main character whose only distinctions seem to be emotional maturity and good hand-eye coordination. Asa Butterfield isn’t miscast as Ender, certainly, but the way the role is written leaves him nothing to do but sweat and cry with blue-eyed conviction.

What frustrates me so much about Hood’s excision of much of Ender’s character development through the write-out of most of Battle School is that there was plenty of room for it. Ender’s Game already clocked in under two hours and contained at least twenty minutes of fat that could’ve been trimmed. That leaves (by my taste for 2 1/2 hour movies) nearly an hour that could’ve been added back into the film. It’s rare that my complaints about an adaptation are so easily traced back to what I see to be a simple flaw in structure, but for me, you cut most of Battle School, you lose the heart of the whole story, which means the end also falls flat.

Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books; usually, if a film adaptation of a book I love flops, then I’m pissed because its images sneak into my vision of the story. I’m happy to say that this won’t be a problem with Ender’s Game—there was so little to it that I don’t think it’ll stick at all. Now all that’s left is to donate $8.25 to my favorite pro-equality charity in order to offset any pennies sneaking into producer Card’s pockets, and forget the whole thing ever happened. Which won’t be hard. Yup, there, it’s gone.

ENDER'S GAME

Ready Player One is Sci-Fi Potato Chips

readyplayerone

Ready Player One

Ernest Cline

Random House, 2011

review by Tessa

Characters

Wade Watts / Parzival – our hero – a teenager living in a stack of mobile homes in future Oklahoma City who has nothing else to live for but figuring out the OASIS fortune scavenger hunt.

James Halliday – reclusive genius and co-coder of OASIS. He left the wiliest will ever – solve his puzzles and find the Easter Eggs embedded in OASIS and you’ll receive his forturne.

Aech – Wade’s best and only friend in OASIS and a fellow gunter (Easter Egg hunter)

Art3mis – Wade’s super crush who is also trying to beat him in the hunt.

The Sixers – Unethical employees of a corporation that wants to take over OASIS and use it for their greedy goals.

ReadyPlayerOne RD 1 finals 2

Hook / Worldview

OASIS – a fully immersive online world – has, by 2044, pretty much become the world. The outside world sucks, and it’s free to join OASIS, so there’s no reason not to spend as much time as possible there.  It was invented by a sort of Steve Jobs-like dude named James Halliday. Being an extremely socially-averse person, he left no heirs when he died. What he did leave was a series of puzzles and tests inside of OASIS that, when solved and unlocked, would lead to the biggest Easter egg of all time – his fortune.  They are represented by 3 keys and 3 gates – copper, jade, and crystal.

And because Halliday was obsessed with the culture of his youth in the 1980s and wished everyone else would be, the keys and gates have everything to do with the 80s. So the egg hunters, or gunters, are basically experts in 80s pop culture.  Four years go by after Halliday’s death, and no one shows up on the scoreboard. Until one day, someone does. An avatar named Parzival, who is actually a teenager in Oklahoma City.

Once the first key is found and the first gate opened, Parzival is quickly followed in his feats by Aech, his best friend and a clever gunter, and Art3mis, a snarky girl gunter and blogger who Parzival has been crushing on hard for years.  Oh, and the evil Sixers who exploit the loopholes in the rules of the game so they can win and take over OASIS, turning it into billboardmoneyland.

WHO WILL WINNNN?

220px-Ready_Player_One_cover

Does this book achieve its intentions?

As you can probably tell from the description, Ready Player One is a book written by a geek, for geeks, with much love for geek culture. It concerns a quest, so that means built in suspense, and Cline’s chops as a screenwriter guarantee that the journey from copper to crystal key is smooth and hits all the tried-and-true suspense/tension points.

Accordingly, the response has been pretty huge. Enough so that Cline was able to buy himself a DeLorean and customize it, and get a seven-figure book deal for his sophomore novel (and also a seven-figure deal for the movie rights??). Wil Wheaton narrated the audiobook version of Ready Player One. Cline created his own Egg Hunt in real life (with the prize being another DeLorean). It’s brain candy for a certain audience.

And I guess that audience isn’t me. Sure, I devoured Ready Player One in a weekend and wanted to know what would happen to Parzival, Aech, and Art3mis (and two other players who were clearly created to be meaningfully killed), but I never stopped feeling like I was reading a series of tropes, and ones that weren’t very creatively put down on the page.

I can't stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

I can’t stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

Cline doesn’t stop to think that the reader might want to figure it out his or herself. Or that (s)he might already know some of the stuff he’s saying. He just explains it and goes on to make another reference to the 80s.  I couldn’t even enjoy the nice romance between Parzival and Art3mis, and the fact that Art3mis probably has my BMI so I could identify with her, because the romance was so unwavering and neatly wrapped up – even its rough spots were predictable.

Although OASIS is a giant universe, it lacks depth. After finishing Ready Player One I felt the same way I used to feel as a teenager after staying up too late drinking too many cans of Squirt and mechanically crunching on Bugles or Doritos or whatever–the kind of snacks that companies build mechanical mouths to test for the sweet spot of crunchiness so that they are wickedly addictive.  A temporary pleasure with no real substance.

I would read a fact put forth in the book, like the halls of Wade’s virtual school being no swearing zones, so kids were automatically muted when they used profanity, and immediately wonder – how did no kid hack that yet?  Or, why hadn’t the kids developed new insulting slang to work around the restrictions?  And the universe was so culturally homogenous – I’m not sure if it was because the book is written from Wade’s POV and he hangs out with other gunters and only thinks of the 80s, so all the book provides is planet after planet and person after person based on or obsessed by the 80s – and mostly video games and movies from the 80s. No art, very little music, and the usual suspects of fantasy books. Where were the other subcultures? The black-and-white planet where people dance like Fred Astaire?  And what about the outside world?  It seems less over the top than the world of Idiocracy but less realistically scary than Ship BreakerEveryone in it has just given up – no protesters, information about no neo-hippies forming hopeful communes.

I guess I expected something more complex than a movie pitch disguised as a novel.  So to answer my question, yes, the book achieved its intentions but did not satisfy my expectations.  But whose fault is that?

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