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Wicked (Wicked Years 1)
Wicked (Wicked Years 1)
by Gregory Maguire
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All right, when not pointlessly crude, 6 April 2010
I should probably say, that I came to the book after listening to and falling in love with the songs from the stage adaptation of 'Wicked'. The songs were all so catchy and enjoyable, and the more I listened to the lyrics, the more tidbits about the storyline I picked up, and the humour and original ideas in it made me curious, until I decided to try the book it all sprang from.
I did start with fairly high expectations, but also with a kind of determination to find it enjoyable and interesting, at least. I was already biased in favour of most of the characters, after all.
I have to say, though, that I was really disappointed. It isn't that it's a badly-written or unoriginal book. The whole concept of it is quite original, certainly an original take on a well-known story, and I love reading about so-called villains, and understanding their mindset and motivations etc. Maguire does a good job of setting up a plausible political stage against an interesting and varied cultural backdrop, which does counterbalance the fairytale aspects with a more grounded, 'real-life' feel.
Elphaba, the future wicked witch in question, did start out an interesting character, for me, and certainly I think her characterisation as a baby is the most enjoyable stage of her biography. When we're re-introduced to her as a young woman, I was a little disappointed that the edge and the wit of her baby-self had dulled with time. Baby-Elphie did more with her one word, 'horrors', than grown-up Elphie seemed to do with a whole vocabulary. She was obviously supposed to come off as amusingly acidic, clever and observant. Somehow, to me, she just came off as pointlessly immature and nasty and almost a bit superior at times, though moments of genuine feeling made up for that in part. Even then, though, I never felt that her affection or loyalty to any of the other characters was properly developed- it seemed to just appear out of nowhere. Her attachment to Galinda makes her more likeable, but you're never really shown what it's based on.
Other than Elphaba herself, I didn't find any characters to be particularly well rounded-out or especially likeable. And this is the point where I have to bring up what was, for me, the thing that really ruined the book.
It's just FAR too focused on sex. Whether directly or indirectly, through random sexual scenes or base-level innuendos, it just felt like Maguire was constantly trying to shoehorn in various crude or semi-explicit references. The worst thing about it was how unnecessary, tasteless, clumsy and out of place it always was, like suddenly finding a dead fly in your cup of tea, and it really spoiled the tone of the writing. Also, not to be self-righteous, but I got really fed up of the total lack of morality or principle, as far as sex went. No one seemed able to have a faithful relationship of any kind, and when Elphaba herself became a sexualised character too, it felt sudden and out of character, either based only on lust and convenience, or somehow based on a genuine love which sprang up in about six pages- again, underdevelopment. I had to grab the nearest Jane Austen work I could find to remind myself that characters can be intelligent, well-explored, interesting and passionate without having to grab 'cool/edgy points' by ignoring any sense of chastity.
It was the selling-out, as I saw it, of Elphie that made me finally give up and close the book halfway through, which is something I've hardly ever done before. I realised that I just no longer cared what happened to any of the characters, because they were all too one-dimensional to actually care about. It's a real shame, because the premise of the story had a lot of potential.
I'll just go back to enjoying the songs, like I did before.


Sukisho: Complete TV Series [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Sukisho: Complete TV Series [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing., 31 Jan. 2010
The premise: high school student Sora, who has lost all his memories from the past, is landed with a new roommate, Sunao. However, neither Sunao nor Sora are quite the carefree teenagers they ought to be, as there seem to be symptoms of hidden or multiple personalities hovering just below the surface, ready to wreak havoc with school lives and love lives.

It's not the most intriguingly original concept, as multiple personalities, mysterious pasts, and boy-love, have been used in anime plotlines many times before, and doubtless will be many times again. So it's really down to the execution.

The good news is, the animation is of a reasonable quality, and there are a couple of moments here and there that are genuinely quite funny. Also, if you're a huge shounen-ai fan, yes, there's a fair bit of that. The not so good news is that just about everything else about the series was, for me, either uninspired and average, or even poor.

The character designs were a bit over the top for my taste, especially regarding the outlandish hair colours and twice-the-size-of-their-head or crazily long styles on several of the guys. I've loved my anime for long enough to be well accustomed to pink or blue hair and odd styles, but, for me, the designs in this series didn't really work in the context of a mostly drama-genre high school anime. And- personal opinion- some of the voices were just plain annoying. Specifically, the three kids, whose presence in the series was completely pointless.

The biggest problem for this anime, however, was definitely the storyline- or rather, the telling of it. You begin the series with random hints and unanswered questions, which isn't unusual in anime. However, considering that there are only 13 episodes to this series, there's a lot of filler, and the way the main plot is unravelled is uneven and awkward, and, particularly towards the end, pretty unsatisfying. Key moments are handled poorly, with explanations that tested my credulity, or in some cases, were just left unexplained. It was an unfortunate result that climactic moments that were obviously intended to have some emotional depth were just empty and almost a bit silly. Something I love about anime is that characters always have reasons for behaving the way they do, and making the choices they make, but, for me, there were more than a few moments in Sukisho where characters acted without any understandable reason. Really, the darker edge of the storyline was quite promising, and could have been really interesting. It just wasn't very well thought out, and ultimately, a lot was left unexplored. I found myself thinking, '...Really?' more than once.

The only other thing worth mentioning is regarding the shounen-ai element. Yes, it's more than just hinted at, so if you're squicky about such things, you should stay away. However, once again, Sukisho lost its balance. It became quite ridiculous that almost every character in the all-male cast (yes, there is not a single female in this series- not even walking past in the background, ever) is gay. You wouldn't expect every single person in a whole school to be straight, and likewise, it just got silly that every romantic feeling expressed in the whole series was boy-to-boy. It just isn't realistic. Also, Sora is the only character to ever express any hesitation or uncertainty about his sexuality, but unfortunately that was a sentiment that was also left half-explored, and was drowned in the morass of perfectly well-adjusted and confident high school boys around him who were all unquestioningly comfortable about their sexuality from the get go. Again, I had to suspend disbelief. Considering all this confidence, you'd expect the series to boldly take some scenes to bed, and while that did happen, again, the moments were random, sudden, and never given the emotional exploration needed to make them at all meaningful, enjoyable, or even relevant.

If you're a hardcore shounen-ai fan, you'll probably want to watch this simply because it's kinda cute, it's available to buy, and there's boys loving boys. If you're not betting on anything more than that, you could do worse, I suppose. But you could also do a lot better.


Aishiteruze Baby 1
Aishiteruze Baby 1
by Yoko Maki
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cuter than a boxful of kittens, 21 May 2006
This review is from: Aishiteruze Baby 1 (Paperback)
If you like the occasional enjoyment of manga with a relaxed pace, well developed characters, a bit of romance, a bit of drama, and a lot of cuteness and love, this is definitely worth a read.

Kippei starts out as a typical high school player, with lots of different girls trailing after him as he does what he likes, sleeping instead of going to his classes, breaking hearts, and generally avoiding anything that requires any effort. Yuzuyu, Kippei's cousin, is taken in by his family when her mother abandons her, and it falls to Kippei to look after her.

This is one of those series that is actually a lot better than it first appears, each character growing more interesting and likeable as the story progresses. Yuzuyu is a great character, in particular, being very much a child without being overly cute, and it's really heartwarming to see the way she bonds with Kippei, who you can't help adoring as he gradually changes to do his best for Yuzuyu.

There are also interesting supporting characters, like Kokoro, Kippei's classmate, who starts out seeming very two-dimensional and mean, and is gradually developed and becomes a great part of the story, along with Shouta, one of Yuzuyu's friends.

Overall, it's a very sweet, heartwarming drama, without ever getting too cute to enjoy. I highly recommend it.


Dramacon Volume 1: v. 1
Dramacon Volume 1: v. 1
by Svetlana Chmakova
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LOL indeed!, 23 Oct. 2005
Anime convention newbie Chris goes to her very first con with her boyfriend Derek and a couple of their friends. The aim of the game: sell their love-child indie manga they're so proud of, have a bit of fun, and try not to lose all sense of sanity in the unique world that is an anime con.
All starts out well, but before the end of the first day, Derek's shameless flirting with any and all cute cosplayers within a 20m radius make Chris see red, before, out of the blue, she meets a cosplayer of her own: Matt. Tall, handsome, brooding... Her very own knight in shining armour. But can Chris sort out how she feels in just one crazy weekend?
The synopsis may not appeal to you- you might be thinking it's all been done before, and yeah, I suppose elements of it have been covered in other series. But there are a lot of things that make Dramacon different and special.
One of the biggest pros is the humour. I read this for the first time on a train, and I literally could not help laughing out loud- the wierd sounds I was making trying to stifle my laughter drew me some really odd looks, so I advise you now, don't read this in public unless you're already used to random strangers pegging you as a wierdo. But yes, Dramacon just gets funnier with each page- I think a fair amount of the humour will appeal to you more if you have actually been to an anime con yourself, but even if you haven't, there's still a lot to be amused by here- not least of which the mass of anime in-jokes, with barely-disguised references to everything all anime fans love, from Pocky obssession to Fruits Basket's Kyo's unmistakable stress-mark expression slapped on a cute hat.
Another pro is the characters. I think a lot of female manga characters are irritatingly generic, but Chris is actually really sweet and has an odd sense of humour that really made me like her from pretty much the first panel. You also can't help feeling for her, with some of the things she puts up with! Matt is also a great character- he'd be a typical brooding bishie I suppose, except he also has a wierd sardonic humour that makes him really believable and likeable. It's actually pretty easy to understand why Chris is drawn to him. I suppose Derek is a little typical as the mean boyfriend, but he's still pretty realistically characterised.
The art is also really nice, there's nothing to complain about there, with some of the facial expressions, in particular, making for some hilarious sight-gags.
The story develops nicely, with just the right amounts of humour, romance, angst, drama and excitement to bring the whole book to life and make it a truly enjoyable read. The pacing is perfect for the short timeline, and it captures that sense of hustle and bustle and novelty cons have, and in particular the bittersweet feeling you get on the last morning as you leave was really well captured. And it's completely re-readable- I read it twice the first day I bought it! >_<
So basically, yes. This is a really good manga, the best shoujo I've read in quite a while- if you like Tramps Like Us or Hana-Kimi I think this'll be right up your street, and if you've ever been to a con you'll find a lot of the in-jokes hilarious. Give it a try, it's really good fun and worth every one of the those five stars. Can't wait for volume 2!


Samurai Champloo: Volume 1 [DVD]
Samurai Champloo: Volume 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shinichirô Watanabe
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £9.08

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One more time, 17 Oct. 2005
Shinichiro Watanabe has done it again. Ok, so I've only seen the first volume so far, and anyone who's seen Wolf's Rain can agree not all anime that starts amazingly ends amazingly, but I do have high hopes for this series.
Watanabe, one of the great deities of anime and provider of Cowboy Bebop- quite arguably one of the finest anime of all time- has now flicked back in time to create a new anime/music fusion in the form of Samurai Champloo, a slick, fresh, funny and generally pretty awesome series that plays out rebel samurai-style action to the beat of stylish hip hop.
Jin is mysterious, well-dressed, bespectacled and tends to look quietly p*ssed off about something most of the time. He's our resident bishie, so we can forgive him for that.
Mugen is mouthy, obnoxious, surprisingly skinny and needs a shave. The moment you see him start fighting, you'll be unable to tear your eyes away from the screen.
Fuu is cute, a little ditzy, smart and very determined. It's pretty unusual to come across a female anime character who doesn't fall into one of the cliched archetypes, but Fuu manages it, and I really like her- I think it was when she started blowing things up that she really grew on me, hehe.
The three of these utterly different strangers cross paths in a little restaurant, and the scene is set for a trio and an anime you'll get addicted to by the end of the first episode.
This is possibly the best series out this year, as far as is possible to tell this early in the series, at least; I've already used the word slick, and I'll use it again, because it really describes this show. The character designs are interesting and individual- none of the 'all characters looking the same, just with different hairstyles' stuff a lot of more recent anime has churned out. The most impressive part about the animation, however, has to be the fight sequences. They are absolutely fantastic. No speed lines here- no passionate shouting as the camera pans a juddering freeze-frame. This is pure, solid, beautiful choreography, baby.
The ultimate drool-inducer in the first volume is, unsurprisingly, a fight between Jin and Mugen, and I'm sure there'll be more jaw-dropping action to come on that score. I think Mugen's fighting style is what really does it for me- he's insane, the way he uses almost break-dancing moves and uses his feet so freely. Fantastic!
Overall, this is a truly brilliant series. The animation is stunning and fluid, the music is great and really fits the mood (and I don't even like hip hop), there's plenty enough momentum to keep the storyline interesting and more awesome fights than you can shake a stick at. If you like Rurouni Kenshin, Cowboy Bebop, Bleach, or basically any good anime, you'll love this.


Hana-Kimi: Volume 1
Hana-Kimi: Volume 1
by Hisaya Nakajo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vol 1- great start, 26 Jan. 2005
This review is from: Hana-Kimi: Volume 1 (Paperback)
I really enjoy Hana-Kimi, in more than one way. There's the loveable characters, the silliness, the cuteness, and the way the story manages to rise above the somewhat generic plotline of 'girl-dresses-as-boy-to-meet-boy-of-dreams'.
In the first volume, Ashiya enrolls in the all-boys' school her high-jump hero, Sano, goes to. While Sano figures out his new roommate's secret pretty quickly, he pretty much defies the generic reaction- instead of falling in love with her or confronting her with it, he just goes on treating her as if she's a guy, feeling too uncomfortable around her whenever he thinks of her as a girl.
Meanwhile, Nakatsu, one of Sano's friends and not the most perceptive person ever, finds himself growing attracted to Ashiya and freaks out, denying to himself constantly that he's gay as he glares at any and every other person who goes anywhere near Ashiya. His jealousy is really cute, and his reactions often make me laugh out loud.
You do get some of the typical storylines- the possessive ex; the over-enthusiasm to make everything perfect so everyone can be happy; the inevitable hints at future feelings that are, in the end, the reason we all keep reading series like this. But a pretty solid supporting cast, and a hero who manages to keep things on the ground without falling into the 'serious-without-a-cause' cliche, as well as the generous smatterings of humour, make this a really fun, enjoyable manga that never feels too ridiculous, or has situations that are too contrived.
The artwork is pretty and cute, if not quite to the standards of CLAMP or Angel Sanctuary, and the characters, to the manga-ka's credit, do grow as the series progresses. There's also the major bonus that this is really re-readable- I must've read the first volume at least five times by now.
If you like the cross-dressing, humourous, cute kind of manga- if you've read Girl Got Game and need something new or better in the same vein (which I think this definitely is), give Hana-Kimi a shot. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.


Demon Diary Volume 5: v. 5
Demon Diary Volume 5: v. 5
by KARA LIM
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unfailing- but we've come to expect that by now..., 6 Feb. 2004
Finally, I got my hands on the fifth volume of Demon Diary, and I read it cover to cover right away as I have done with all the previous volumes. By now, I've started to take it for granted that each new volume will be gorgeous, hilarious, sweet, intriguing and exciting, and for once that isn't a bad thing: because DD never fails.
In this volume, Raenef's personality change is explored and, while it may have seemed like just a plot device to make Eclipse realise how much he likes Raenef the way he was before, it turns out to be much more than that: for a storyline so full of humour, this manga doesn't pull any punches with its fundamental plot.
I won't say anymore on that, or it'll spoil it for you.
However, like volume four, this book does get a little tough in places. I say a little because it's just that: it never gets slow-going or bewildering, it just means your brain has to be a little more alive than was required for the fluffier earlier volumes ^_^ There's more going on, and more threads of story being followed, so the narrative jumps around a few times.
And it's no bad thing. All I can say is, I can't wait for the next volume, even though I'm sad that there are only two books to go. At least we can be glad this won't become a stupidly drawn-out series: Demon Diary is too good to ruin that way.
Here's to the next instalment!


Demon Diary Volume 4: v. 4
Demon Diary Volume 4: v. 4
by KARA LIM
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still proving just how good manga can be, 28 Jan. 2004
This volume of DD is, I think, the most challenging so far. More issues are dealt with- such as the fact that Raenef, while being adorable and caring, is *not* what a demon lord should be. What was a source of humour before is suddenly turned on its head, and becomes Raenef's biggest problem when Krayon challenges his right to be a demon lord, and to have Eclipse as his servant.
Don't get me wrong- there are plenty of laughs in this volume, in true DD style (I can't help bursting out laughing at some of the frames, they're so hilarious!), but there's more exploration into the greater issues at hand as well, building perfectly on what has gone in previous volumes.
Some of this book actually confused me a little, but the coolest thing is that at the end of this volume, there's a little 'helping you understand' section, where Eclipse goes through what happened and why things were a certain way, with the 'help' of Raenef and Chris... *snigger*
Overall, this book deserves all five stars, just like the previous volumes in the series. Besides, if you've read up to number 3, you're definitely going to want to know what happens next ^_^


Inu Yasha 1: Down the Well [DVD] [2002] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Inu Yasha 1: Down the Well [DVD] [2002] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £19.95

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy, fun and fantastic!, 22 Jan. 2004
Okay, so we start off with Kagome, a 15 year old, relatively normal girl, who discovers (with the help of a freaky demon centipede) that the well in her family shrine can transport her to the past. 500 years into the past.
Right, so that's pretty easy to follow, nothing too incredible there I guess (we *are* talking about anime here, after all ^.^). But you haven't explored the world of that past yet. You haven't met Inuyasha yet.
Do you know the kind of characters who are insufferable, obnoxious and waaaaay too mean most of the time, yet you *just* *can't* *help* loving them? Inuyasha is one of those characters.
It isn't just the dog ears (but don't underestimate their powers of charm): Inuyasha, like all the characters in this fantastic series, becomes a well-developed, interesting person in his own right, someone you cheer for when he succeeds, and cry for when things go unbelievably wrong. He becomes more compassionate and mature as the series progresses, but, thankfully, without sacrificing his wonderfully obnoxious side, summed up in his love of saying 'keh' to pretty much everything.
To go on to discuss what makes all the other characters so brilliant would just take too long.
There aren't many animes out there with so perfect a balance of action, romance, suspense and comedy, either. I've watched various episodes loads of times, and I *still* burst out laughing at the moments where a facial expression just says it all- absolutely priceless! The fight sequences are stunning, too, in their detail and charged atmosphere.
Music is great. Well, it may seem a little cheesy at first, but it really grew on me and I love all the themes now.
My only warning is the dub. I just don't think it does justice to this series. The Japanese is far better- Inuyasha's voice is great, full of energy and personality, and the way his varying tones add to the atmosphere, and many times the comedy, is fantastic. And Kagome's American voice seemed just annoying a lot of the time to me. *shrug*
Anyway, this is one of those animes you really shouldn't miss out on, getting more impressive and more involving with every episode, until you just can't tear yourself away. With the epic timespan and period setting of 'Rurouni Kenshin', the eye-pleasing action of 'X', the bouncy fun of 'Ah My Goddess' and the masterful storytelling that Rumiko Takahashi never fails to deliver, it's pretty impossible to not love this series.


Legendary Swordsman [DVD] [US Import]
Legendary Swordsman [DVD] [US Import]
Offered by RAREWAVES USA
Price: £11.86

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wanderer you can't help but follow, 22 Jan. 2004
(Note- this is a general review of the whole series- no spoilers though, don't worry!)
First, the story in brief: a young(ish) swordsman, Himura Kenshin, becomes a rurouni to leave behind his dark past as an assassin, and atone for the deaths he has caused. His travels lead him to the Kamiya dojo, where he falls in with Kaoru, Yahiko and Sanosuke. Old, and new, enemies make appearances, tension-filled fights ensue, mirth abounds, and Sanosuke just keeps on chewing on that fishbone of his.
So, why watch this series?
Because it is quite simply one of the best anime series ever made. I've seen quite a few animes, from pure shoujo (like Cardcaptor Sakura) to darker contemplations (such as Lain or Grave of the Fireflies), but this one is one of my firm favourites: it mixes laugh-out-loud humour with a deep and involving plot, with just enough romance to keep you smiling and the kind of action sequences that will have you gripping the edge of your seat.
The end result is an amazing and fiendishly addictive series.
I agree with those who think the Kyoto arc (the middle section of the series) is the best part of this anime: the battles are simply incredible and the character development leaves you feeling genuinely moved, as characters deal with their pasts and work through their inner and outer battles, without ever drowning you in long-drawn-out angst. The most notable example, to me at least, is the fight between Kenshin and Soujiro, whom I regard as one of the best supporting anime characters of all time.
Character design is great, and though the animation itself is not amazing, it works well in context and is more than pleasing enough. It is worth noting that extra effort is made on many of the fight sequences, making them particularly fluid and detailed in comparison to the general level of animation of the series.
One special thing worth mentioning is the music: this series has an excellent soundtrack. There's a great mixture of day-to-day cheerful tunes, as well as haunting scores and forceful, moving battle music.
I would personally recommend watching it subbed- the dub is okay, but I can't help but favour the original Japanese voices over the American version. Some have said Kenshin's Japanese voice is not 'manly' enough, but I've always admired the way he speaks in a light, easy tone one minute, and drops to a deep, serious tone the next. It reflects the opposing assassin/rurouni sides of his personality really well.
Overall, I have rarely been so deeply touched by a TV show as I was by this series, or found such a well-rounded mix of all the best elements that go into a great anime. Needless to say, be prepared for late nights: this anime will keep you up until the early hours.


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