The Emerald City of Oz: Somehow, a Volume with a Literal War in it Has Next to NO Action

L. Frank Baum’s Oz books had been steadily getting better, up until the fifth book, The Road to Oz. I really hope that it was just a fluke. Well, the only way to figure out if the series is getting better or worse is to continue it! Let’s jump into book six: The Emerald City of Oz.

In this installment, Dorothy’s aunt and uncle are S.O.L. And while a good therapist would tell you not to run away from your problems, Dorothy suggests to do just that! She has Ozma invite them to live in Oz forever. And what a time to move in, as the Nome King is planning to invade.

Up to this point, the government of the Emerald City has been well-established. However, when Baum gave us the recap of how it worked, I realized another prophecy of Baum’s. But this one, er… Well, to sum up, everyone has equal money in the Emerald City. Oz is a Communist kingdom. Aaaaah, American culture, you never cease to baffle me.

Anyway, the basic structure of this volume alternates POVs, from Dorothy showing her relatives around Oz, while the Nome King’s general recruits followers for his cause. I initially looked forward to this, because I thought, “Hey, we can reintroduce some of the minor antagonists from earlier in the series! Continuity!” However, I was once again an ignoramus for having hope in Baum. Instead of doing that, we are suddenly introduced to a number of one-dimensionally evil races, one of which is a literal race of furries (different from the ones in The Road to Oz). 

Not only are there new bad guys in this volume, but there are also brand new denizens of Oz. Classic Baum, constantly adding new things instead of expanding upon existing things. Because it’s whacky! The new races are as imaginative as usual, such as a race of people made out of puzzle pieces. There’s also a race of paper people, all created by a single girl—once again, Baum unwittingly stuffs sacrilege into kids’ brains. At least he has balls. 

But no matter how creative Baum gets, it seems I just cannot get immersed in this world. Everything in it is just distributed, and doesn’t feel… like anything. People still love this series so much? How? I can only see this being good at the time, before Tolkein raised the bar (a bar that is definitely not met even these days). It takes so much more than ideas to have good worldbuilding, and I expected more out of such a beloved series. I guess that’s one thing that it has in common with most modern stuff (Oooooh snap).

Honestly, I have nothing else to say. The climax is boring and rushed, possibly shoehorning in a new plot device that I’m supposed to have believed was in the Emerald City from the very beginning (I say “possibly” because it could’ve been mentioned and I forgot because I was bored). Oz researcher Peter Glassman, once again, acts as if this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But this time, his reasoning seems to entirely rest on the fact that Emerald City has alternating POVs. This is what I hate about classic literature as a whole. People just laud them for being the first at doing something, as if that makes it better than any later stuff that does the same thing better. By comparison, I can at least say that Dracula is one of the best vampire stories ever. It was a no-nonsense thriller, where the vampires were real monsters that didn’t glow with shoujo sparkles. Oz is not Dracula.

It’s not all bad, though. There were a couple of interesting bits that I feel like should be brought up. First off, there is a place (I forgot what location was called), where its people had anxiety attacks over literally every possible negative eventually, even the super improbable ones. Baum, arguably, predicted the slowly deteriorating mental health of America. It’s exaggerated, but I actually related to these people, since I’m living in a world where the media will make everything out to be the end of days. There is also another case of Glinda the Good being not-so-good. They meet these rabbits who have been forcibly evolved to a civilized state completely against their will, and only because Glinda felt like it. That final book looms ever ominously before me, man.

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Final Verdict: 6.7/10

Emerald City of Oz gets a slightly higher rating since it has some of the more inventive ideas (even if they are superficial). Overall, this book sucks. I would be glad to be finished with it, as it was meant to be the final Oz book. However, we are not even halfway. I’m suddenly Han Solo, because I have a bad feeling about this.

The Last Fallen Star: My First Ever Impression of Korean Culture

As someone who’s been alive within the last ten years, I have borne witness to the sudden rise of South Korea’s influence on the world’s entertainment industry. And considering I’ve been into Japanese culture for a long time, I’ve basically been jealous of Korea to this day. Anime have been out internationally for decades, and only a handful of them are accepted by your garden variety “all-American”. In my experience, it feels like Japan has only gotten more disdain as facets of their culture continue to come into the fold. And yet, all it took was ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’ for South Korea to be welcomed with open arms. Nowadays, manhwa and webtoons seem to be eclipsing Japan’s manga industry, and BTS the biggest active music group in the world, with their other K-Pop compatriots not far behind. Eventually, I just lost it, and absolutely HAD to know if I was missing something. And my voyage into Korean culture begins with Graci Kim’s novel, The Last Fallen Star, one of two Korean I.P.s from Rick Riordan Presents.

In The Last Fallen Star, you have your usual secret coven of witches. I’ll give you three guesses as to what the main protagonist, Riley Oh’s, problem is. …Did you guess that she has no magic? Yep, that’s exactly the case. The other old beans in the clan try to act like they don’t think she’s just baggage, but it’s not a particularly good facade. So, what does Riley do? She and her sister, Hattie, perform an illegal spell that has a chance to give Riley temporary powers. I’ll give you three guesses as to what results.

If you guessed that it goes horribly wrong, then that would be correct, but also an understatement. In fact, Riley’s parents end up in a position where they decide if they or Riley get permanently ejected out of the clan. Riley decides for them, and boots herself out, afterwhich the sisters perform ANOTHER illegal ritual that puts Hattie’s life at stake. Of course, the solution is for Riley, and her friend Emmet, to find a MacGuffin. Why wouldn’t it be?

Positives first. The story, unlike other Presents books, doesn’t waste time. The premise being entirely centered around MacGuffin-finding screams padding, but it’s actually relevant to a much bigger plot. It’s much more dialogue-driven than other Presents books, but not having random Korean monsters attack just for the sake of action is another plus for the pacing.

Sadly, that’s about where the positives end. The Korean-mythology-based worldbuilding is pretty typical. It’s your garden variety urban fantasy, with the different portals to witch-land in the middle of unassuming public areas, various rituals, and really dense-headed coven bigwigs. The specific legends used in the story, such as Korea’s creation legend, are… alright, I guess. Even taking my Shinto bias in mind, it’s your usual “the world is created perfectly and then someone does something stupid.”

The cast also leaves something to be desired (big surprise coming from me). Riley, being adopted, magicless, and wanting to be included in social circles, ticks all the boxes on the “relatable” checklist. I also dislike her for using the word “amazeballs”. The male lead, Emmet, is your typical best friend, and his arc revolves entirely around his response to the inevitable big plot twist reveal. We don’t get to see many gods—in fact, we only see one—and she is not as memorable as she could’ve been.

The only other issue I have is with the climax. It’s a good climax from a sheer entertainment standpoint, but I feel like some stuff happened solely for shock value. Also, the final twist feels like Kim trying to make readers feel that participation-trophy-specialness, which—according to Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck—leads to mental health disorders.

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Final Verdict: 8/10

The Last Fallen Star is the second best Rick Riordan Presents book I have read thus far, which is not saying much considering that I don’t like most of them. And even then, I still didn’t love it like I do that one series I will be covering at some point. I’m willing to finish this series, but I don’t think I’m going to learn why people like this particular brand of mythology.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: Read it Before Ragnarök

Lately, I’ve been questioning my admiration toward Rick Riordan, the author of Percy Jackson, a.k.a. “The Storyteller of the Gods”. I read Percy Jackson over ten years ago, and needless to say, it helped me become who I am today. I would’ve never wanted to study Japanese culture to the Nth degree if it weren’t for Percy. But I haven’t reread Percy to this day. In 2017, I attempted to read Trials of Apollo—completely skipping over Heroes of Olympus—and I never finished it. With every Apollo book, I liked it less and less. Furthermore, I kept getting disappointed at the books published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint; books that all had to get his seal of approval. With me questioning the tastes and talents of one of the most defining people in my life, I was tempted to do a Percy Jackson retrospective. However, that series is five stinking books long, and I had so much crap to do as it was. Instead, I turned to another series of his: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. It was only three books, so it was doable. Although Norse mythology is the second most overused template for fantasy worldbuilding, I at least had some vague familiarity with some of its more nuanced aspects, thanks entirely to one of my new favorite bands, Brothers of Metal. Without further ado, let’s see if I can like something by Rick Riordan!

In Magnus Chase, the titular character has been homeless ever since his mom died in a fire. After living in the slums of Boston, he gets your typical visit by a long-lost, mysterious relative. This time, it’s his Uncle Randolph, who tells him the usual: he’s the son of a Norse god. Magnus gets this fancy sword thing that’s been lying in the Charles River, but then he dies. He awakens in Hotel Valhalla, where he must join the other halfbloods on adventures.

Rick Riordan is at least good at jumping into the action. All that I just described happens in the first forty-seven pages, when most books would take almost a hundred to start in earnest. And like in Percy Jackson, you get acclimated to Hotel Valhalla while everyone there shits on him and his Valkyrie friend, Sam. As expected from Riordan, he does a great job of blending Norse folklore with the modern day in his own signature style. Riordan’s snarky sense of humor is also very prevalent.  

While there are a number of obvious similarities to Percy, Magnus Chase is a bit different. Due to the power of red herrings, it’s never clear who’s on whose side. All we know is that Ragnarök = Bad, and that some people want it more than others. Sam ends up being the daughter of Loki, who’s supposed to be the bad guy, and she gets ejected from Valhalla for bringing Magnus in. Is she sus and working for Loki? Is Loki sus? Whoooooo knooooooooows?!

In terms of writing, Magnus is actually not bad. Riordan is about as talented of a storyteller as I remember, even if I didn’t take the story as seriously as my younger self did Percy. I could easily visualize everything as it appeared, which most authors fail doing. One thing I noticed is how wordy the books are most of the time. Well, it’s kind of a thing I’ve noticed in most Western literature, and it kind of fascinates me for some reason. I know that flavor text can bring more life to the story, but sometimes it feels excessive. As an aspiring writer, my problem ended up being that my stuff was too short. I’ve taken inspiration from the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which Leonard Maltin described as “understatement and restraint.” That’s why I try to not go for BS hyperbole on my blogs. Anyway, sorry for that tangent; let’s get back to the review.

Since middle grade books have to be dummy thick, Riordan does have a number of scenes that don’t seem necessary. I had problems with this in The Storm Runner and a certain other Percy-influenced franchise that I’ll be reviewing in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Riordan at least has the ability to make the filler fun in its own right. Instead of dumb, arbitrary trials that tell stuff about the characters that we already knew, Magnus has more fun and varied activities, like fishing up Jormungandr and bowling with giants.

If there was another thing I could always trust Riordan for was his research. Readers are expected to recognize Thor and Loki (thanks to the M.C.U.), and perhaps Yggdrasil and stuff since everything in every JRPG series is named after Norse mythology. But me, I had Brothers of Metal. I recognized the Norns, Heidrun, and more. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t help me pay attention to the story when they come up. I know it sounds bad, but I couldn’t help it. A lot of the time, I was just thinking of this:

And I may or may not have come up with the post just to plug the band.

Like with more-or-less everything I’ve ever experienced, the characters—once again—don’t quite win me over. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them. If you’re familiar with Percy Jackson, then you’d probably like them just fine. But that’s the thing; they pretty much are Percy Jackson characters in every way. I don’t 100% recall how the Percy characters were, but at least going off of my nostalgic memory, the cast of Magnus is inferior in a number of ways. Magnus himself is that typical wish fulfilment character, with his initial homelessness as an added bonus. At least he’s appreciative of being whisked away to the lap of luxury, for once?

Sam is pretty much Annabeth, which I suppose is inaccurate, since Annabeth herself is actually Magnus’ cousin (apparently, every religions’ gods coexist in the same universe?). Basically, she’s a tomboy and has not much else going for her. Sam’s sibling, Alex Fierro, ends up packing much more sass. As the offspring of good ol’ Loki, their whole character arcs revolve around getting over their abusive pa. Magnus’ other main cohorts end up being Blitz and Hearth, a dwarf and elf respectively. They’re good dudes.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t fond of everyone. There are several other kids in Magnus’…  er… class(?), but they have no presence at all. They crap on him super early on, but they just suddenly stop doing that, and I can only assume Riordan did that initially for shock value. Even with more of a role in the final book, they feel like half-assed characters, especially by Riordan standards. 

The assorted Norse mythology characters, as expected, end up being the cast’s strong suit. They’re full of sass, as well as having the duality of being ancient characters who are in touch with the modern world (something that would lose its novelty if someone were to write a series based on Japanese mythology, since that duality is already part of their culture). Sadly, I was the most disappointed in Loki. SPOILER ALERT, the god of tricksters is—in fact—the main antagonist. While he is an entertaining villain, his role doesn’t exactly shed a new perspective on Norse mythology in the way that other series try with their villains (even if those books fail at the attempt). The only attempt in Magnus’ case is made towards the end of the series, where Loki just says the same old “there’s no real good and evil” schtick that I’ve only seen in stories that fail to actually convey that through context. I’m sorry, but wanting to jumpstart the end of days for no reason seems to be pretty close to one-dimensional evil, just saying. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t think Rick Riordan deserves to be hailed as the Storyteller of the Gods, but he is a very capable writer (even if his references are pander-ously mainstream). Magnus Chase isn’t life-changing, nor(se) does it subvert Viking culture, but it’s nonetheless a solid action-adventure trilogy. It’s also taught me how shallow a lot of the Rick Riordan Presents books feel by comparison, where they merely seem to emulate what people find appealing in Riordan’s books instead of finding their own voices. I recommend Magnus Chase if you like Percy Jackson, or if you want an actually good urban fantasy for once.

Luca: Kaiju Plus Italian Food Equals Success!

By this point in human history, most of the United States will have been freed from the pandemic that definitely warranted EVERY SINGLE mandate taken against it. Theaters are open, but despite that, Pixar once again elected to squander the chance to actually profit off of one of their movies. Yep, their newest film, Luca, is included with a simple Disney+ subscription, just like with Soul. At least one good thing came from that whole incident!

In Luca, the titular sea monster (or as I would prefer to call it, Kaiju) boy is having a crap life herding fish-sheep with a dream to see the human world. Naturally, he’s forbidden to live said dream. Fortunately, all it takes is a chance encounter with a sassy teenage Kaiju named Alberto for him to completely disregard his parents and head there anyway.

The first interesting thing about this movie is the setting: Italy. This is, to my knowledge, Disney’s first movie to represent Italian culture, and as an Italian myself, it feels… underwhelming? From what I understand, kids of different heritages are supposed to feel some sort of solace in learning about where they came from. And before you tell me that my apathy is because Italians are White, allow me to tell you that Italians were just as much victims of racism in the early 1900s as any minority group. In any case, you can probably chalk up my lack of an existential and cultural awakening to my neuro-atypical brain. If you’re Italian (and not me), you’ll probably fan-gush your butt off at this setting.

What brings said setting to life is Pixar’s long-running expertise in visual presentation. Outside of a few dream sequences, the movie isn’t as abstract as Soul, but it still looks beautiful. It blurs the line between cartoon and realism thanks to its noodly characters contrasting against the extremely detailed environments. The devil is in the detail as usual, especially when it comes to those quintessentially Italian hand gestures.

Also expected from Pixar is Luca‘s very simple plot. The main conflict is that Luca and Alberto want to obtain a motorcycle to travel the world with, the problem being that they need cash. The best opportunity to get cash is to win the Porto Rosso Cup, and luckily enough, they meet a human girl named Giulia who wants to win the Cup as well. Of course, the whole Kaiju thing complicates matters.

For me, the movie’s biggest strength is in its cast of characters. Luca is kind of generic, but he develops some interesting relationships with Alberto and Giulia. Alberto is an interesting case. He has an assertive policy that inspires Luca to explore the human world, but he does it a bit to the Nth degree. This is shown throughout the movie, and is—in recent memory—one of the few organic buildups to that classic “Disney argument”. Giulia is that best friend type who’s proactive and ambitious; she’s not complex but it’s hard not to like her. I have a strange feeling that, given the month that this movie came out in, people will not be pleased at how Luca and Alberto’s relationship turns out in the end.

The parents—for once—manage to both have proper arcs and not die. Luca’s parents are dense as you can expect at first, but eventually have to acknowledge that their little Kaiju’s grown up. In the meantime, they eventually head to the surface to search for him and have some hilarious escapades. Luca’s grandma is much more likable, but she doesn’t get significant screentime. Fortunately, Giulia’s awesome dad makes up for that lack.

The weakest character ends up being the main antagonist (whose name I’m probably spelling wrong), Erkele. He’s the first Disney “villain” in like a decade, and he kind of shows that maybe they should stick with not having villains. He’s very expressive and funny, but he gets no real arc other than to be a jerk and impede the protagonists.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Luca is a great Pixar movie as usual. I don’t quite think it’s as good as Soul, but it’s definitely easier to rewatch since—for the time being—everything from last year is kind of cursed. In any case, Luca is great, and I want to stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort now.

A VERY BELATED Review of Amphibia’s Second Season

To Season 1 Review


I hate streaming sometimes. I don’t know if the whole season is out on Hulu right now, but for some unholy reason, it definitely wasn’t back when the season two finale of Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) aired. I had to wait for it to come out on Disney+ to watch it! In any case, with all the pieces in place, it’s time for the show to begin in earnest. Let’s FINALLY get to it! Oh, and uh, spoilers from last season.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Anne had a brief but tumultuous reunion with her friend Sasha, who is now buddy-buddy with an army of power-hungry toads. They fought, Anne stood up for her beliefs, and ‘Lean on Me’ ensued. Now separated again in good old Naruto and Sasuke fashion, the only thing left to do is haul ass to Newtopia and find out what to do with the MacGuffin that got Anne to Amphibia in the first place.

Right off the bat, season two is a major improvement. Since the crew is on the move, there is a much wider variety of setpieces. From sketchy inns, to a desert, and… Grunkle Stan?! If that wasn’t an indication of how creative the show gets, then I don’t know what is. In any case, the real treat is Newtopia itself, the biggest and most beautiful setting yet. It’s so big, that a hotel is enough for an entire episode. It is a vibrant and culture-filled location, which sadly lasts a mere five episodes before they must go a’questing again.

Just because there’s more cohesion doesn’t mean that there aren’t Saturday morning cartoon hijinks. Like Avatar, their travels take them on random detours, each with a self-contained conflict, most of which have no bearing on the plot. Even in Newtopia, they manage to cleverly find an excuse to put in filler episodes; stuff like waiting for someone else to analyze the important MacGuffin for them. There is also an issue of episode chronology. Exactly one episode was aired last October, outside of the proper order, just for them to work in a Halloween special. And to rub salt in the wound, subsequent episode broadcasts were delayed until March of this year right after that episode (I’ll give you three guesses why). It’s kind of stupid that it’s the one time that Amphibia goes out of chronological order (at least as of now). 

The characters have improved greatly since last season… to a point. Anne does get some huge growth as things get intense throughout this season, but she’s the same smooth-brain that she usually is. In fact, the characters don’t just continue to make poor judgements; it gets so bad that they start to become self-aware of it. Hop Pop eventually has to face the consequences of his hiding the MacGuffin in the garden at home (watched over by the guy who grows tulips), which leads to great development on his part. Sprig and Polly remain relatively unchanged, with the former being about as much of an ignoramus as ever.

Let’s finally discuss the other teenage girls who ended up in Amphibia along with Anne. As you know, Sasha ends up with the toads, the arch nemeses of the frogs. She aids their captain, Grime, and hits it off with him. Sasha seems like an abusive friend, but it also feels like she genuinely likes Anne and is only pushing her because of weird friend morals (at least through her perspective). As a small aside, Grime ends up being quite the likeable guy, and his chemistry with Sasha is some of the best in the series.

The other friend is Marcy Wu. She’s a strange combination of complete ditz and galaxy-brained, and is immediately way more likeable than Sasha. Similar to Sasha, Marcy ends up netting a fancy military job in the Newtopian Army. Good thing their King isn’t sus, or else we’d have something to worry about! All three girls’ character arcs get the bulk of this growth in the form of three temples, conveniently catered to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Verdict: 8.65/10

Amphibia clearly reinvents the wheel in every way. But for some reason, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. This season was a big step up, and at least leaves me very much anticipating the next (and final?) season. Of course, I won’t be watching ANY of that season until the whole thing airs!

The Road to Oz: Worst Book Since the First Book

Well, time to head down the rabbit hole that L. Frank Baum created during the turn of the Twentieth Century! Today, I passed the one-third point (give-or-take, since they’re not a multiple of five) in the Oz series: The Road to Oz. Let’s see if I can be mildly impressed like the last couple books.

In The Road to Oz, we are thrown right into a conversation between Dorothy and a Shaggy Man who is lost. When trying to help him get un-lost, they both end up in some weird limbo that is neither our world nor Oz. And, well, they just wander aimlessly to find Oz.

One immediate plus is the new cast of characters… to a point. I only enjoyed the Shaggy Man because I decided to picture him as none other than the classic cartoon character, Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo franchise. As funny as that depiction is, the Shaggy Man himself is kind of a jackass (which becomes quite literal as the book goes on). They are also accompanied by Button-Bright, who doesn’t seem to know anything. Too bad Scrooge wouldn’t come out for forty-three more years, or I could’ve made a reference. In addition to that clod, we have a half-girl, half-rainbow(?) character named Polychrome. Unfortunately, the idea of her being “The Rainbow’s Daughter” is the only likeable thing about her; she’s pretty colorless in terms of personality.

Since we’re suddenly on the characters section, I might as well say this: I effing resent Dorothy. She doesn’t hesitate to call people stupid right to their faces. While I would normally like this in a girl, she’s still presented as a lovely bubbly little thing despite how condescending she is. I also want to bring up a quote from her, which was also quoted in the afterword so it’s more like quote-ception: “The queerness doesn’t matter, as long as they’re friends.” She says that despite her homophobic reaction to Billina, who’s queer in the most literal sense of the word (I know that “queer” meant something else back then, but it’s just ironic when you look at it nowadays). 

We can’t seem to have a Baum novel without an accidental prophecy! So far, he’s predicted the acknowledgement transgender people with Ozma’s character arc, and social media with the name of Tiktok. This time, he predicts… Furries. Yep, literal anthropomorphic animals. And to top it off, these animals transform the heads of some of our intrepid heroes into those of animals, making them look right at home in the world of Beastars! So yeah… if you’re triggered by Furries, then Oz is not for you.

As I alluded to in the title, Road to Oz, well, sucks. There are no real stakes in this one, beyond one random chapter where they have to fight these head-throwing men. The towns they visit are small and bland, nowhere near as neat as the previous book’s setpieces. Also, there’s a Deus ex Machina where the Shaggy Man is inexplicably able to summon a mechanic who can build anything, and it’s never foreshadowed nor explained.

Similar to the previous book, a good chunk of The Road to Oz is just hanging out in the Emerald City. It’s Ozma’s birthday, as a matter of fact. And while this would be a good time for someone to assassinate her, none of it happens, and the whole thing is just… there. Unlike the last hangout, this one has purpose. Baum invents crossovers and shameless plugs during Ozma’s birthday. He introduces us to characters from a whole slew of other books he wrote outside of Oz. But while people at the time would’ve been fan-gushing at this, there’s a darn good chance that we have no idea who the heck any of these assholes are. Hooray for the passage of time!

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Verdict: 6.65/10

The Road to Oz sucks. But you know what, with a fourteen-book series, at least one or two of them have to be utter crap. Hopefully, this is not an indicator for what the rest of the books are going to be, or else I’m in for a real treat.

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz: In Which Baum Tries to be Jules Verne

The afterword of the previous Oz book stated that L. Frank Baum had finally gotten his act together and fully intended on making a whole franchise of Oz. Since they had been, weirdly enough, gradually getting better, I had a vague sense of hope. Let’s see what the fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, has in store for us.

In this installment, Dorothy visits California to see some other uncle of hers. However, she, her cat Eureka, and some kid named Zebediah (and his horse, Jim) get caught up in an earthquake. Said earthquake sends them falling straight to hell, which in Baum’s mind is apparently a glass city inhabited by vegetable people called Mangaboos.

Starting out, Wizard in Oz is actually not too bad. The setting is relatively creative, for starters. Plant people aren’t a remotely new concept, but it’s done so literally that it gives these plant people a complete disregard toward death; after all, you can just plant a new version of that person. 

To be honest, most of the book stays enjoyable. There’s no jarring smooth-brain plays nor outstanding cases of sexism and the like. Unfortunately, it still has Oz’s ongoing problem of having nonsense worldbuilding. While the setpieces are certainly imaginative, especially for the time, I don’t feel immersed or engaged in any of it. Sadly, I have a feeling that this issue will not be resolved, since Tolkein is the one credited for making the first believable fantasy world, and that wouldn’t be for forty-odd more years. 

Bizarrely enough, the characters are a bit more tolerable, and by “characters” I mean “the Wizard and literally no one else.” For some reason, it was weirdly cathartic to see him swoop in on his balloon, seeing him for the first time since the original classic. He’s quite the resourceful fellow, full of all kinds of tricks, and he comes off as more of a badass this time around. 

Of course, no Oz book can be flawless, and this one falls apart at the end. After their adventures in Baum’s version of hell, we see the first instance of some new plot armor: Ozma’s magic belt, which warps them out of danger and into Oz. And when they regroup, the book basically pads itself out. Baum throws together a contrived climax, which basically plays out like one of those Ace Attorney trial days where you spend ninety minutes figuring out something that the witness already knew the whole time. 

Lastly… Well, actually, it’s something about all the Oz books I’ve been hesitant to put out since it’s a referral to someone who might be still alive. The afterwords for these reprints of the Oz books have all been written by a Peter Glassman (whoever he is), with retrospective commentary on the corresponding book. And going off these, he seems like… kind of a Baum elitist. I first got pissed at him in the afterword for Ozma of Oz, when he referred to TikTok as literature’s first robot. That is wrong, for Frankenstein’s monster is literature’s first robot (thanks, Asimov). For Wizard in Oz, he starts by listing off the setpieces and acts like they are one-of-a-kind and could never be reimagined by someone else. How hero-worship-y must someone be to claim something like that, when you can’t possibly take into account the thousands of media that exist out there? Surely one of them must have something similar. In fact, the Koroks from Zelda are similar enough to the Mangaboos, the only difference being that they’re better (Oooooh snap!). The most elitist line yet is at the end of the afterword. During their recap of Ozma’s origin story, Baum—either by accident or design—retcons the story; he changes key points of it and acts like nothing changed whatsoever. And Glassman, well, he praises Baum for being inconsistent. It’s one of those go-to defenses against any sort of criticism: “You just don’t understand the genius at work!” 

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Final Verdict: 6.98/10

For all intents and purposes, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is the best Oz book yet, and should be rated a 7. However, most of my enjoyment of the Oz books has been ripping into insignificant details as well as Baum’s unintentional power moves, such as Ozma’s gender-fluidity. And as such, I didn’t enjoy this one so much because it wasn’t “wrong” enough. To be honest, I can’t believe I made it this far. Let’s see how much longer I can go.

Time Castaways: Steins;Gate but for Kids!

We all know time travel is iffy. It’s especially iffy in literature, since it’s something that could get needlessly convoluted very quickly. Despite all that, I looked at Liesl Shurtliff’s Time Castaways book series and thought: “This actually looks good.” Let’s see (and hope) if I was right.

In Time Castaways, three siblings by the names of Matt, Ruby, and Corey Hudson, take the subway to school and end up on the Vermillion, a time machine. Yeah, I don’t get it either. They join the crew, led by Captain Vincent, for literal shits and giggles, and they go on various time missions through time-space. 

This story sounds like one of those “edutainment” series, where the whole point is showing how much random historical trivia the author knows. Fortunately, about halfway into the first book, things escalate rather quickly. The established rules regarding time travel are quite simple, and it never goes to complete and utter BS territory, even towards the end where things would normally get out of hand.

And, well, that’s because the plot is extremely simple. Time Castaways more-or-less follows all the usual clichés of the time travel subgenre. Even the biggest revelation, shown at the end of book two, is incredibly obvious from the start. If you have experience with this kind of stuff, it’ll likely feel very cringe-worthy.

What makes Time Castaways stand out, however, is the power of family. Normally, the parents are like “Time travel? You kids need to go to the place with the nice guys in white suits for a while!” and the mom steals some MacGuffin from the main protagonist as punishment for sneaking out of the house so often. But here, the whole family ends up deeply involved in all the mumbo-jumbo, earning their spots as plot-relevant supporting protagonists.

The second book, unfortunately, suffers the same curse that most midpoints in trilogies have. It’s more-or-less a wild goose chase. It introduces the main MacGuffin of the trilogy, sure. But other than that, there aren’t any real developments until the climax.

Fortunately, unlike many-a YA novel, the final book is insane. It’s slow at first, but things go absolutely off the rails as everything comes together. If you find yourself emotionally invested in the cast, your heart will break into a million pieces at many points in the final book.

However, becoming emotionally invested in the cast is quite difficult. Matt’s only real trait is that he has seizures, and being adopted. His level of suffering is about on par with Okabe in Steins;Gate. But unlike Okabe, who has a whacky personality, Matt is… a kid. RELATABLE (*sarcasm*).

His siblings aren’t much better; in fact, they’re arguably worse. Ruby pretty much exists for an unfunny meme where she arbitrarily gets tossed around by the Vermillion, and that’s pretty much it. Corey, meanwhile, is a turd. He’s both the comic relief, and the “always jumps to conclusions” guy. Pretty much every rift in any relationship in the trilogy has him involved, and it’s annoying.

I think boringness runs in the family, because I didn’t particularly care for ANY of the Hudsons. They’re, well, family, I guess. As cool as it is to have the family be important, the characters themselves aren’t really that fun. I dunno, I’m probably spoiled by the utter god-tier level of Spy X Family’s wholesomeness.

Wow, half of this review is the cast! In addition to the Hudsons, we have the crew of the Vermillion. The only one who matters is Jia. She’s the waifu. It’s not even a spoiler that she turns Matt from a boy into a man. That’s about it. Brocco and Wiley are pretty much there. Albert exists to be an utter ass. His motive is supposed to be that he’s a British kid from the late 1770’s, who would naturally hate Americans, but that never comes up again in his character arc. Lastly, there’s Pike, who’s basically a wild card that they tease as someone super mysterious, but she’s more-or-less forgettable.

Finally, we have the main antagonist, epically named “Vincent.” Okay, so technically, saying he’s the villain is a spoiler for book one, but it’s extremely obvious that he’s the villain (he has a pet rat for one thing). He’s not a well-written antagonist. He’s one-dimensionally evil, with no strings attached. His motive for everything is literally him being jealous of someone else dating the same girl that he liked; what a brat! I’m not like those who think that EVERY villain MUST be complex and layered, but I like some fun personality to make up for it, and Vincent has none of that.

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Final Verdict (Whole Series): 8.5/10

Time Castaways is great. It sucks that it’s not that popular, since it’s so much better than what actually IS popular. The books have flaws, but they’re very fun, emotional, and full of family wuv. I recommend it to anyone who likes time travel and actually wants to see it done well.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: An American Magical Girl Series (with a lot of shipping)

Despite me being a big weeb, I am more than willing to admit that cartoons are better than anime by a long shot, at least modern ones. However, a number of them tend to be a bit predictable. One day, due to the impulsive part of the brain that says “F*** it”, I decided to watch a Netflix show called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, reviews of which said it had a lot of depth. However, I was hesitant because it’s a reboot. While I loved DuckTales 2017, I was able to appreciate it because I at least knew the characters from other Disney stuff. But with She-Ra… I never heard of the original 1980s cartoon to begin with. Oh well, here I am nonetheless!

So, uh, the main protagonist starts out being raised as an orphan in… the bad guy place? I feel like that would’ve been too complicated in the ‘80s… Also, the “bad guy” group is called the Horde, and their leader is named “Hordak”, as in, the Horde. Ack. Seriously? Anyhoo, said protagonist, named Adora, ends up sneaking out with her anthropomorphic feline friend—creatively named Catra—to some forest where she finds a sword. After being told esoteric nonsense, our Adora-ble friend turns over a new leaf as the swole Princess She-Ra. 

I should start by saying how awesome this show looks. The art is simple, but effective, with a wide variety of pleasing color palettes and anime-like particle effects. It looks a lot like an American graphic novel, which I normally don’t enjoy, but the animation helps bring life to something that would otherwise be lifeless. Similar to Avatar, the characters are very anatomically correct by cartoon standards. 

Like The Dragon Prince, She-Ra 2018 follows a linear narrative right out of the gate. The show wastes no time getting interesting, as Adora swiftly realizes that the Horde has been shoving propaganda down her throat. Also, in case you couldn’t tell from Catra wearing a lot of red, she becomes the Zuko of this series when she finds out about the whole She-Ra thing. And speaking of She-Ra herself, Adora has to get acclimated with the power starting out.

As with about 90% of all American media for kids/teens, She-Ra 2018 has a pretty explicit theme of identity (which I can assume is not part of the original). Adora tends to be torn between her old life with kitty friend, and her new life with the people who are clearly the good guys. Plus, a lot of the residents of this world (which I forgot to mention is called Etheria) clearly know She-Ra as some kind of public figure. This puts pressure on Adora that is (as much as I hate saying it) something relatable to anyone who’s grown up in a first-world country; we all got told that we have to fix the entire world at least once as kids. 

Despite my hearing that She-Ra 2018’s story had depth, it’s sadly not the case. Well, technically it does have depth to an extent. There is a lot to the story, yes, but it’s incredibly straightforward. Also, despite what they set up between Adora and Catra, there is still a clear good and evil side. Even though certain individuals within the horde get interesting character development, the Horde itself is just one-dimensionally evil for no reason. But you know what, a kids’ show is a kids’ show, and it’s not like I exactly enjoy those SUPER complicated stories in the first place. 

Although it does nothing new, She-Ra 2018 reinvents the wheel quite well. It eases you in, but doesn’t waste time with random antics like most cartoons early on, yet giving you enough time to like the characters before sh*t hits the fan. Fortunately, there is enough humor to go around, even during the trying times. The humor is pretty much the standard for modern cartoons: witty comments and an awareness of its own running themes.

However, there’s a weird issue with season two. While She-Ra 2018 doesn’t waste time with cartoon antics early on, it starts doing just that in the second season. While there are some important developments sprinkled throughout, the second season does have its share of self-contained issues that have the usual lack of proper context. Fortunately, it is the second-shortest season, but it’s still the weakest nonetheless.

As good as the story is, it wouldn’t be crap without its likeable cast. Adora definitely has issues to work through, what with realizing that the empire she’s been serving is bad and all. Fortunately, these are all legitimate insecurities which aren’t even remotely on the level of smooth-brain of most cartoon protagonists (but that doesn’t mean she isn’t smooth-brained, period). The friends that she ditches Catra for end up being incredible supports. One of them is a glimmering princess named Glimmer. She starts off as a pretty typical “nakama”-type, but ends up going in an interesting direction later. Unfortunately, she ends up having a fair number of smooth-brain moments, even if they aren’t as bad as other cartoon characters. Plus, the unspecified limit to her magic is a plot detriment that becomes redundant until a certain point.

The other friend is the only male lead: an archer—an archer—named Bow. Yes, an archer named Bow. I checked IMDB and, indeed, that’s how his name is spelt. Not Bo, Boh, nor Boe; but Bow. His favorite band is probably Unleash the Archers (*laughs while slow-clapping*). Like Sokka from Avatar, he offers most of the comic relief, but he’s also very physically and technologically capable.

Of course, the show isn’t called She-Ra and the Princesses of Power for nothing; i.e. there are other princesses. From the valleygirl Mermista, to the nerdy-ass Entrapta (the names of whom I’m probably spelling wrong), each princess is good at one thing, and they do that thing to the Nth degree. Also supporting the main heroes are the chuunibyou pirate Sea Hawk, and the sassy horse Swiftwind. 

In order to make the show good, however, you need antagonists that are equally as likeable as the protagonists. But despite how big the army is, there aren’t that many people important enough to have names. Fortunately, quality supersedes quantity here. Take Best Girl Scorpia, for example. She’s basically a ten-year-old trapped in a ridiculously swole body, and is almost always enjoyable to see. A bit higher up the ladder is Shadow Weaver, who is—sadly—your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain, who’s all like “I’m bad and stuff”. She does get character development, but it’s quite literally something you’ve seen before. At the TOP of that ladder is the aforementioned Hordak. He seems unremarkable at first, but it turns out that there are a lot of other sides to him.

Last and yes, definitely, absolutely not least is who I can only assume is everyone’s favorite character: Kitty-witty Catra. She’s like Zuko and Azula in one, busty cat body. As Adora’s childhood friend, she becomes very livid very fast when Adora is all “Hey, I like these other people instead”. But for Catra, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… uh, wait, that phrase doesn’t work here. Basically, she uses that anger as fuel to become the biggest bi—wait, she’s a cat. She becomes the biggest, er… *asks Google what a female cat is* Molly (apparently) in the Horde. 

However, her character arc is way more complicated than that. In fact, I was legitimately impressed by Catra. As the series goes on, she battles very clashing emotions and insecurities. I’m willing to bet that she would’ve just been some twinkie who said brilliant one-liners such as “Hey Adora, cat got your tongue?” in the old show. But on the other side of the coin, she can just be written off as “an angsty emo kid” like Sasuke from Naruto. She-Ra 2018 needs a re-watch just so you can really take in exactly what causes Catra to go awry and when; you’ll need to understand how people work REALLY well in order to get why (and if it makes any sense).

If you couldn’t tell, the whole show revolves around a single love triangle: Adora, Glimmer, and Catra. Since the show’s done, there is at least an answer to that now, but I imagine that the fandom was very toxic while She-Ra 2018 was still airing. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Throughout the show, I felt like there was a massive multitude of potential ships, made evident through various context clues, such as Glimmer being jealous when Bow goes to a party with another girl. So no matter what happens, there will be at least five different reasons for you to unconditionally hate this show. Fortunately, they don’t drop the ball and have every ship either sunk or unaccounted for; there ARE clear winners, you just have to do the unthinkable and deal with it.

And for the record, this show is really good at not feeling like a reboot at all (which is a compliment). In DuckTales, I had a pretty good hunch of who was carried over. But in She-Ra 2018, everyone felt so modern that I have no idea if anyone was carried over at all. It could’ve been everyone, or even no one. I can only assume that everyone is carried over because of how uncreative their names are. 

If there is any real, substantial flaw with the show—minus its god-awful opening sequence, nakama-powered Deus ex Machinas, and abundance of fake deaths—I felt like Etheria itself was faulty. The setpieces are very pleasing to look at, but there’s no real sense of space in this show. As far as I’m concerned, the different kingdoms feel like they’re within a hop, skip, and a jump from each other. There’s also one character whose existence is implied early on but they never actually appear in the show. Furthermore, there’s no reason to care about anyplace. They make you give so many f***s about Bright Moon, but there is literally nothing there but the castle and its whopping six occupants. But you know what, it beats filler episodes where the cast stops at nondescript villages that never show up again to solve self-contained Saturday morning cartoon antics!

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Final Verdict: 8.7/10

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power ended up being a much better cartoon than I expected, even though I prefer The Dragon Prince (assuming its remaining seasons are just as good as the early ones). I’m especially glad that it wasn’t just ham-fisted P.C. Feminist propaganda; they actually put in the effort necessary to convey it through context. I can’t remotely imagine how the old She-Ra would’ve fared by comparison, let alone imagine what the plot would’ve been. I recommend She-Ra 2018 if you like magical girl shows but want a bit more class than what Sailor Moon offers.


P.S. with Spoilers

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, but I feel mixed about the ending. Sure, it’s good that they resolve everything cleanly and cohesively. However, the fact that the Adora and Catra ship actually got to sail felt like pandering. Their love is definitely not shoehorned in at the end; it’s readily apparent since the very first episode as long as you know how writing works. Look, I’m saying this without looking up other reviews of the show, but I feel like they ended Catra’s character arc that way just to pander to a fandom that would’ve otherwise berated them. If they planned it to be that way from the start, then cool. But man, though, it just so happens that the biggest ship actually sails? Since when does that ever happen?

Ozma of Oz: Literature’s First LGBT Protagonist?

The Oz series has been an absolute acid trip thus far. Book two, The Marvelous Land of Oz, had a startling number of ups and downs, along with all the usual controversies of the time period. However, despite me insulting L. Frank Baum’s intelligence numerous times in my previous two reviews, he wrote a gender-fluid character: Princess Ozma, a girl who had been identified as a boy until magically sex changing back into a girl. So yeah, considering what Baum did to Feminism with the Army of Revolt last time, I can’t wait to see how much he offends a people that he didn’t even know about in book three: Ozma of Oz!

In Ozma of Oz, we reunite with Dorothy, who’s sailing to Australia with her Uncle Henry. After yet another cyclone, she (and a yellow hen) end up in the Land of Ev. It’s like Oz, but… worse I guess? Anyway, she has adventures and eventually meets Ozma.

First, I must once again point out the author’s note in the beginning. Like the previous book, Ozma of Oz was written because of fan mail. However, he wasn’t just compelled to write this book, but actually followed suggestions from said fan mail. It’s almost like a precursor to the Drawfee Show on YouTube, but at the same time, it’s like that guy in Bakuman who tried to write a manga with fan suggestions (and if you read Bakuman, you know how well that turned out).

Fortunately, the novel starts with what I think is the most hilarious development yet. The first monsters Dorothy and the hen encounter are these humans with wheels in place of their hands and feet. And they’re called… the Wheelers. I don’t know anything about Yu-Gi-Oh outside of Drawfee (and other horror stories I heard about the actual card game’s system being BS), but I at least know a character was localized with the name Joey Wheeler, and had a New England accent in the dub. As such, I imagined Dorothy being chased by an army of Joey Wheelers with wheel appendages, and it was quite a laugh.

Baum also makes another unintended prophecy. Forget Orson Scott Card and Philip K. Dick; Baum was the first to predict social media, in the form of a robot named… Tiktok. Yes, spelled that exact same way. Tiktok. 

Baum once again had the opportunity to go further, with the potential to beat Isaac Asimov to the punch. But alas, he drops the ball pretty much the instant Tiktok is introduced. It is explicitly and repeatedly stated that Tiktok isn’t alive, despite the fact that he literally has a setting dedicated to thought. As someone who’s seen the Data episode of Star Trek Next Generation, I groaned at this cop-out. I mean c’mon! I’m pretty sure the phrase “I think, therefore I am” was at least established at the time! It seems someone hasn’t learned from Jack Pumpkinhead in the previous book.

But wait, there’s more! Baum screws up again thanks to the aforementioned pee-colored poultry. The Ozma reveal was brilliant, but the yellow hen ruins it. The hen is a female, and is named Bill. While that in itself is still cool, Dorothy is disgusted by the concept and insists on calling the hen Billina. Why does Baum do this?! If he was just as uncomfortable with breaking gender conventions as anyone else in the 1900’s, then why did he have the Ozma thing in the first place?! This also applies to the sexism issue from the previous book. After I made that post, I remembered that he also had Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch of the West herself in the first book; a real act of Feminism, yet he quashes it in the sequel! I know that most old books are sexist, racist, etc., but at the least they’re consistent.

At least Baum managed to predict one thing properly: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The main antagonist of the novel is the Nome King, who turned the royal family of Ev into antiques since the old king literally pawned them off to him. While the Nomes are arguably a precursor to the dwarves from a novel that wouldn’t be published until forty-three years later, they are most definitely a precursor to the Grinch. The illustrations show them as green fuzzy humanoids; just like the Grinch! I’ll also admit that the Nome Kingdom is the most creative setting yet… is what I would say if we got to see it for more than five minutes. OH! At the very least, Baum predicted Gundam with the giant robot guarding the entrance!

Here we go… the cast, who are about as awful as ever. If you couldn’t tell from the Billina thing earlier, I officially hate Dorothy now (not like I enjoyed her before). Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion come back, but they are pretty much unchanged. Tiktok is also a pile of crap. He’s not just unutilized potential, as discussed before, but he’s about as inconsistent as Baum’s policy towards Feminism. Tiktok says that he cannot harm anything, but ends up doing most of the fighting throughout the novel. YOU HAD ONE JOB, BAUM. 

Fortunately, we have a silver lining. Billina is a pretty decent character, despite caving in to Dorothy changing her name. She’s sarcastic, and lays eggs whenever she darn well feels like it. Additionally, the Nome King ends up being the most interesting antagonist yet, mainly because he’s NOT one-dimensionally evil like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He’s honest and reasonable, but is also a bit sadistic, given the challenge he gives Dorothy and Co. to save the Evs. Unfortunately, Baum drops the ball by making him 180 into a Saturday morning cartoon villain during the climax. At least he’s learning?

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Final Verdict: 6.95/10

Just a little more, and I’ll rate an Oz book at a seven or above (unless they start to degrade from here)! Ozma of Oz was a lot more creative than previous volumes, even if it still pales in comparison to some modern stuff (and Tolkien). It looks like I’m in it for the long haul for sure. Wish me luck (I’m gonna need it)!