Not bad. More happened in this volume than in the previous one and the enemies felt more appropriate to this place in the series than did the enemies...moreNot bad. More happened in this volume than in the previous one and the enemies felt more appropriate to this place in the series than did the enemies in the second volume. I also enjoyed the further insight into the Spook's past. However, I swear the protagonist is getting more and more contemptible and foolish with each passing novel; likewise, his mentor seems to learn nothing from his own repeated mistakes. The author still manages to squeeze in another bit of shallow anti-religious, anti-clerical ranting, but not as much as in the previous volume. (less)
This book contains more racism than I remember, in large part because as a boy i didn't know what many of the terms meant.
ACTUAL REVIEW TAKEN FROM MY...moreThis book contains more racism than I remember, in large part because as a boy i didn't know what many of the terms meant.
ACTUAL REVIEW TAKEN FROM MY COMMENT ON BIRDBRIAN'S REVIEW: 'I'm not sure if I completely misread this book (which I am now re-reading after a couple of decades), but I always thought that the point of Tom Sawyer was to highlight what a jackass boys can be. As a kid I always took this book as a sort of darkly comic cautionary tale, the way so many "trickster" legends are. Tom Sawyer goes around screwing people over, nearly getting himself and others killed, and then in the end everything works out to his advantage so he remains convinced that life will always be that way -- but we, the readers, get to chuckle and say "Yeah, keep on grinning, Tom. You'll get yours in the end." Kind of like "Don Giovanni" or, perhaps more appropriately, Coyote.'(less)
Things have taken a decidedly darker spin, so I would no longer classify this as a "children's" series, at least not in any conventional sense. We lea...moreThings have taken a decidedly darker spin, so I would no longer classify this as a "children's" series, at least not in any conventional sense. We learn the motives and history of Max, start to discover the true nature of the voice behind the Stones, and witness Cielis' great push to enter the war stall before it even reaches the front. Much death, much destruction, and much pseudo-demonic possession. Kibuishi continues to delight and amaze with his art and his grasp of narrative, but his dialogue remains too sparse, too bland, and the characterizations suffer for it. That's become my only real complaint about the series, as everything else about it is top notch!(less)
As I suspected, the series is becoming more and more serious as the artist/author gets a better handle on the characters and what she wants to do with...moreAs I suspected, the series is becoming more and more serious as the artist/author gets a better handle on the characters and what she wants to do with them. She admits in notes throughout the book that she was ("is") just making it up as she went ("goes") along, which shows in certain scenes -- incongruous slapstick, breaking of the fourth wall, etc.
Oddly enough, Alice was apparently the most popular character in Japan. I felt nothing for her in the anime, and in the manga I simply can't stand her. So far, the most interesting story elements are Issei's struggle with the fact that he's a straight woman reincarnated as a straight man and the mystery of who exactly Rin used to be...(less)
I first became aware of "Please Save My Earth" when the beautiful and subtle 6 episode mini-series ran on a local PBS station in the late 1990s. The s...moreI first became aware of "Please Save My Earth" when the beautiful and subtle 6 episode mini-series ran on a local PBS station in the late 1990s. The series relied on softness, on understatement and implication, which served to enhance the brief moments of action and revelation. It also dealt with themes one rarely expects to encounter, even in Japanese television. The only problem I ever had with the anime was that it ended so abruptly, seemingly mid-story, with a strange and incomprehensible series of images set to a recited poem -- this seemed intended to resolve the rest of the story, but it really only made me scratch my head in bewilderment and made everyone I showed it to say "Bazzuh?!?" It wasn't until a year or so later that I learned the show was an adaptation of a 1980s manga series, and that this incomprehensible finale was actually a montage of images from the manga original rendered in the style of the anime.
Now, after years, I have finally got my hands on translated copies of the manga! They're a bit battered, purchased used on eBay, but they're mine! Mine! Mine! And as it turns out, the manga is very different -- especially in terms of tone and characterization. This volume seems to have been the basis for the first episode (though I may have to re-watch the series to confirm that), yet all the polish of the anime is absent here. The pacing is off, the protagonists are annoying and poorly-defined, and the artist's style is very much a product of mid-1980s Japan. There are brief moments, brief scenes, which carry the feelings and artistry so perfectly captured by the anime, but based on the artist's notes in this volume she was deliberately trying to stretch and challenge herself by doing something unlike anything she had previously done -- and it shows. The manga shifts abruptly from what we might today call "emo" scenes to scenes of sheer goofiness to quality scenes which seem to carry sparks or seeds of the anime I love so much. The art is sometimes reminiscent of "Dragonball Z" or "Doraemon", sometimes reminiscent of "Neon Genesis: Evangelion" or "Mononoke Hime".
I'll keep reading, both because I hold out hope that the artist decided what she wanted this series to be before too many issues had elapsed, and because I want to know what finally becomes of the characters and what the strange images from the anime finale's montage are referencing. Overall, I'd probably just give this 2 stars; the extra star I'm giving it now is purely based on my knowledge of what is to come and the importance of this "set-up" volume for the rest of the narrative. (less)
I had high-hopes for this one, an alternate-history blend of sci-fi and fantasy just brimming with potential, but it proved remarkably disappointing i...moreI had high-hopes for this one, an alternate-history blend of sci-fi and fantasy just brimming with potential, but it proved remarkably disappointing in the end. The primary protagonist was quite the stupidest boy I've ever read about, and his sister was both stupid and obnoxious -- I'm sure her obnoxiousness was intended to be funny, but it failed gloriously in that respect. And while there were a lot of fascinating plot elements and world-building details, the author seemed to be in such a rush to get to the story that he just sort of threw them all out at the reader at random without letting them "settle", meaning most of them never really felt like actual features of this world. And the primary antagonist...oh that was a disappointment. His motivations seemed genuinely fascinating, genuinely compelling, but they were swiftly undermined in the finale where he was revealed to be the tiresome, common garden variety sort of villain.
Unfortunately, I ordered all three books in the series because I had assumed that I would enjoy it. I'm not sure whether I'll keep reading in the hopes that the other two will be better, or just re-sell them on eBay.(less)
Set in an alternate timeline in which most of Asia has been consolidated under the rule of the "Republic of Greater Ea...moreThis is a brutal, powerful book.
Set in an alternate timeline in which most of Asia has been consolidated under the rule of the "Republic of Greater East Asia", the story revolves around a class of secondary school students (all around 14 or 15 years of age) who are abducted and dropped on an island off the coast of their hometown as part of their government's vaguely-titled "Program" -- a survival scenario in which they are forced to fight one another to the death. The last student standing is pronounced the winner, given a modest government pension and sent home (often insane). The class is selected randomly, and to demonstrate the State's commitment to absolute equality, any class can be selected and all students must participate (as the children of wealthy & influential parents discover to their horror). Each student is fitted with a tracking collar which will explode if removal is attempted, and each student is given a daypack full of government rations, bottled water and a single weapon. The weapons range from grenades to a machine gun to a crossbow to a kitchen spoon. The class consists of 42 students total, 21 boys and 21 girls. The island is divided grid-like into a series of zones, and every few hours the Program Director will announce that a few of these zones have become "Forbidden", meaning that any student within their boundaries will find their collar exploding. They cannot swim away because there are boats with armed guards stationed around the island's periphery. If no-one dies within 24 hours, all the collars will be detonated. What follows is a series of confrontations, hallucinations, betrayals, disembowelings and suicides.
I'd seen the "Battle Royale" film, but after reading the novel upon which it was based I am even more certain that Suzanne Collins copied it to write her little "Hunger Games". Every element, right down to the ending, seems to have been mined for "inspriation". The difference is that Takami's book is far gorier, far more serious, and far more believable. The book shifts from perspective to perspective, and nearly every student becomes the protagonist at some point. Running throughout the narrative are the conflicting themes of trust and paranoia, innocence and experience. We watch as, one by one, many of the students snap and turn against one another, even as others refuse to accept that A) this is happening, and B) any of their classmates could possibly choose to participate in this horrible game. As I said, it's brutal, and at times heartbreaking, but it's well worth the investment of time and emotional energy.
This book isn't perfect. There are problems with the Japanese-to-English translation, evidence that the translator either didn't bother editing his translation or felt it was more important to approximate the Japanese concepts than to make it flow properly. Nearly every problem I had with the book could be tracked back to the translation issues, reminding me of Andrew Bromfield's terrible translation of Sergei Lukyanenko's "Watch" series (because of which I only read the first novel). Anyone familiar with anime (especially subtitled anime) will recognize the too-precise translation issues, and might have an easier time ignoring it than those who think these flaws are simply a result of bad writing. Likewise, the prose relies on a lot of distinctly Japanese cultural, philosophical and linguistic elements -- these are easier to ignore, but can still give the reader a moment of pause. Similar problems also came up in the "Watch" series, as the translator failed to explain (either in footnotes or endnotes) elements which turned out to be distinctly Russian. But unlike the "Watch" series, i would be willing to put up with the clumsy translation and contextualization to continue reading more about this setting. That's not possible, since Takami only wrote this one book and has not released any work since, but it's indicative of the caliber of his storytelling. This book is worth reading and its flaws are worth enduring, something I cannot say about "The Hunger Games".
NOTE: American filmmakers have been trying to get this adapted here for over a decade, but the rash of school shootings resulted in the projects being canceled again and again by cautious executives and studios. (I know this because I have the misfortune of knowing someone who worked on one of these projects.) That changed however, when, riding the confounding successes of both the "Twilight" book and film series, "The Hunger Games" blew up and film executives decided a watered-down version of the same story could be used to rope in the easily-impressed pre-teen market. Now the executives say that they won't adapt the novel or film into an American "Battle Royale" because they figure people will dismiss it as a copy of "The Hunger Games". Oh cruel irony! Not that I'm bitter or anything. No sir. At least America will always have the definitive man-hunting-man film: 1994's classic Ice-T/Rutger Hauer vehicle "Surviving the Game"... (less)
A disappointing follow-up to Delaney's excellent first novel. The heavy-handed anti-clericalism and anti-ecclesiasticism certainly didn't help, but th...moreA disappointing follow-up to Delaney's excellent first novel. The heavy-handed anti-clericalism and anti-ecclesiasticism certainly didn't help, but the overall narrative also felt remarkably flat (despite a gripping opening), the characters seemed unengaging and unengaged in one another, and the "big bad" felt like an inappropriate villain for the second story in a long-running series. The Bane would have been a better fit for a later -- perhaps even final -- volume, or as a recurring villain. Instead we hear how horrifying and powerful he is, but rarely get more than a glimpse of that power, and he appears startlingly easy to defeat.
The "horror" of this volume is also lacking. We see a couple creepy things and two genuinely gruesome deaths (a cat and an old man, though the latter is fairly lackluster), but the overall sense of menace and terror is missing. The story is flat, the characters are flat, and the Bane is actually a rather pathetic villain. I suspect this is, in part, because the author really just wanted to use this volume as a platform to rail against his vision of medieval priests and British churches; far more text and time is spent dwelling on how eeeeeeeeeeevil those two elements are than on the Bane itself.
Whereas the first volume took me about 2 days, this one took me well over a month. I found myself drifting and slogging through this book, forcing myself to keep reading simply so i could put it back on the shelf. And once I'd finished, I felt little more than relief that I didn't have to keep reading it. Not a good sign.
I'll read the next book, but this volume makes me glad I only bought the first three. If things don't pick up in the next entry, I won't be continuing with the series.
EDIT: Also, the author asserts that Christians believed women did not have souls, which is A) not true, and B) anachronistic. This book is set in what appears to be the Dark Ages, but the aforementioned claim was an urban legend invented during the Reformation period due to a misunderstanding. A young scholar in the 1500s published what he thought was a hilarious satirical pamphlet in which he pretended to make that claim based on the ambiguity of the word "homo" (it means both "human" and "adult male") in the Latin Vulgate of the Bible; unfortunately for him, a Lutheran preacher didn't get the joke and begin an angry campaign against the preacher. So not only was this never a claim actually made by any Christians, but it was intended to be self-evidently preposterous. Delaney's antipathy towards medieval Catholicism wound up turning him into a modern day version of that Lutheran preacher.(less)
A quick-read, and well-paced, set in what appears to be late-medieval England (knowledge of Greek & Latin is used to indicate an educated individu...moreA quick-read, and well-paced, set in what appears to be late-medieval England (knowledge of Greek & Latin is used to indicate an educated individual, churches are attended and prayers are said, etc.) but localized entirely in a region called "The County". The protagonist/narrator is a seventh son of a seventh son, apprenticed to a "Spook" -- a sort of itinerant witch-hunter and exorcist -- who finds himself woefully unprepared for the rigors of the job.
It's the little things that really make this book work, I think. The County feels both familiar and original, as does the role of the Spook. There's a delightful scene in which the Spook warns his apprentice not to waste ink because it is hard to come by; that seems like a small thing, but it's one of those elements many authors of historical fiction and fantasy seem to forget. Gender roles are constructed appropriate to the period and the setting, but the characters who fill them are diverse. Likewise, I appreciate that while the main action revolves around the (male) Spooks and the (female) witches, evil men and good witches are depicted -- and, in fact, men are presented as weaker and therefore more susceptible to witchery. The author also admirably avoids the old extreme (all witches are evil and must be burnt!) and the new extreme (all witches are good but oppressed by EVIL MEN & CHURCHES!), but his evil witches are truly evil -- resorting to cannibalism and blood-drinking and child-murder to fuel their powers -- and Delaney doesn't spare any of the details just because his book is targeted at children and young adults. Likewise, while the binary system of good and evil is in place in the setting, it's not always clear which is which. The Spook warns his apprentice against a course of action because it is too "barbaric", but that course of action later winds up saving the apprentice. It's fascinating, and I think I actually might pick up the next book in the series.(less)
I'm sure there are a number of reasons I didn't enjoy this book, among them the fact that I have a penis, I'm straight, I am not some kind of Valley-G...moreI'm sure there are a number of reasons I didn't enjoy this book, among them the fact that I have a penis, I'm straight, I am not some kind of Valley-Girl-Hipster hybrid, and I hate California - especially Southern California - with a firey passion. This author's writing is too aggressively and pretentiously precious, the plots (such as they were) all felt tremendously contrived, and the so-called "insights"...well, again, I have a penis, I'm straight, I'm not some kind of Valley-Girl-Hipster hybrid, and I hate California. It's entirely possible that I'm not capable of understanding or appreciating these books, much the way so many women I've known failed to understand and therefore railed against male-oriented literature and cinema (by which I mean ACTUAL literature and cinema, not trash or porn). But I'm going to stick by my 1-star rating; I did not enjoy these stories, and they made me sincerely question the judgment of the friend who recommended them to me. (less)
Tedious. Slow. Unsympathetic narrator. Uninteresting characters. Disappointing execution of a potentially fascinating premise. Unworthy of my time so...moreTedious. Slow. Unsympathetic narrator. Uninteresting characters. Disappointing execution of a potentially fascinating premise. Unworthy of my time so far. I'm moving on.
EDIT: To the author's credit, her prose is well-done. But that's about it.(less)