The Thickety Full Series Review

Covers of all four books

Have you ever read a YA novel, like… Daughter of Smoke and Bone, for instance, that promised to be super dark and angsty with a badass, proactive protagonist, and then suddenly broke that promise like Link smashing an urn in somebody’s house? Well, I had that experience with the aforementioned novel and many others. Astonishingly enough, The Thickety, a children’s book series published by Harper Collins and written by J.A. White, is angstier than most YA authors could dream of writing. And here, I’ll detail why.

In the series’ opener, The Thickety: A Path Begins, Kara Westfall’s mother gets burnt alive for allegedly being a witch. Good ol’ Disney formula. However, village chief Fen’de Stone made a good call, for Kara’s mom actually WAS a witch. And one day, Kara finds her mom’s old grimoire, and it enables her to manipulate creatures from the forbidden forest known as the Thickety, which is the home of Sordyr, who is some tree demon man. The catch is that not only does she have to keep it a secret from everyone, but it also eats away at her soul for every spell she uses. Lovely.

While this sounds like a generic YA power fantasy, The Thickety is executed exceptionally well. The big thing is how the premise of the grimoire system is handled. Throughout the first book, you see firsthand what happens when you cast a grimoire’s Last Spell (which, spoilers, is something you don’t want to do). To compare The Thickety to Amulet, a similarly angsty book series which I didn’t like, that graphic novel- at least the portion that I read- never showed any visible consequences of Emily’s using the Amulet besides one other guy turning into a big monster thing. However, the scene was very unceremonious and the Amulet itself was never contextualized well enough to define any prerequisites for when it “takes you over” or whatever. Furthermore, Emily- like the Mary Sue that she was- seemed able to fend off the temptations ridiculously easily. Even if Emily might get taken over by the Amulet further down the road, Kara really struggles against the grimoire right out of the gate, and White’s writing talent shows that in full force. 

The start of A Path Begins is rather slow, as is with most book series. Fortunately, once things escalate with the grimoire, it gets really intense and really scary. I was impressed by how disturbing some of the imagery is given the target demographic. And it only gets crazier in book two, The Whispering Trees, which is spent inside the titular Thickety itself.

The cast of The Thickety is its weakest aspect, but it’s by no means bad. Kara is a pretty generic YA protagonist, but fortunately, she’s not quite a Mary Sue. She actually has to deal with the consequences of the grimoire and her decisions. She’s an intentionally flawed heroine, but done right. And unlike most YA protags, she is actually able to kill in cold blood (gore warning, kids).

Taff, her younger brother, is my least favorite character by far. He’s the generic, rash and reckless adolescent male who goes through an underdog phase throughout the story. However, the aspect of him that I love- and probably the most important writing decision in the entire series- is simply him being Kara’s brother. With the male and female leads as siblings, there’s no romance! Her sisterly love for him feels more real than what most YA protagonists feel for their significant others, and without the cringey dialogues of those protagonists. There is Lucas, the designated childhood friend,  but White seems to have gone out of his way so that he and Kara never get to spend much time together. Depending on your tastes, that’s either a godlike breath of fresh air or the worst news ever.

The biggest problem with The Thickety is that it kind of falls apart at the end. No… that’s too harsh. It really kind of fractures a bit. As much as I praised Kara’s struggle with the grimoire, that issue ends up being resolved rather conveniently at the halfway point. And after that point, Kara ends up devolving into a more YA-like, Mary Sue brat, while Taff- of all people- ends up becoming the voice of reason (wow, after saying how much better than Amulet this is, it suddenly BECOMES Amulet). Also, due to the pacing of the books, a lot of the setpieces in the latter half of the story kind of get glossed over. It also falls for the typical modern fantasy trap of “Yeah, I can put in this thing that hadn’t been contextualized before because magic!” in the fourth and final book (including a decently inventive but nonetheless existent use of time travel).

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Final Verdict: 9/10

The Thickety, overall, is freaking incredible. Horrifying scenarios, tight pacing, and powerful prose bring an otherwise cardboard cutout fantasy series to life in full throttle. Although the author arguably cops out at the end, it’s nowhere near long enough for that portion to feel like a drag. At the very least, all plot threads get resolved in some way, which is something. I highly recommend it for someone who’s looking for fun, suspenseful, gritty fantasies.

WDW 2019 Highlights

Walt Disney World is my favorite place in the world. I’ve been going there with my family every year since 2013, and I’m still not tired of it. By this point, I’m pretty darn confident in knowing what’s what in the World. So, I figured that I’d have an annual blog series- off-schedule from the animu crap- where I post ten highlights, including pro-tips, on different aspects of each trip. All pictures in this blog were taken by me.

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1: Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour

First on the list is an unforgettable guided tour of the Magic Kingdom. I always ignored tours because at this point, we we’re pretty darn good at knowing our way around the parks. However, this tour is all about Walt Disney and some of the OG Imagineers, plus tidbits and trivia about various attractions.

On this tour, we got a free ride on the Haunted Mansion (my first time on it. It was scary, but freaking lit), Small World, and the Carousel of Progress (which your group gets its own room). We also got to see the secret backside of the former (will not disclose contents, obviously). Marceline to Magic Kingdom is a fantastic tour that I highly recommend to Disney buffs. Just make sure it’s not your first time ever doing the Carousel, for it is almost impossible to pay attention to the show and the tour guide’s dialogue at the same time. Also, getting to go on rides with Cast Members is a great bonus.

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2: Fantasmic Dinner Package

This actually looked a lot better in person.

Fantasmic is a popular show at Walt Disney World, and one of the few reasons I go to my least favorite of the four parks, Hollywood Studios. While I don’t think the show is the greatest that they have to offer, the dinner package is an essential deal.

You get to eat at one of three restaurants in Studios, and obtain VIP tickets to the best seats in the stadium for Fantasmic. We went to Mama Melrose, one of my favorite restaurants on property. The spaghetti and meatballs is godlike, and honestly something I look forward to more than the show.

Every year I keep forgetting about these secret back-back-back row seats, right near the bathrooms and- most notably- the exit. I will probably elect to sit there in the future, even with the package. Hopefully, it actually is allowed, since they want to fill all 6,000 seats in the theater, and a package person sitting outside of the package area would screw things up….

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3: Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue

Walt Disney World is constantly evolving. With the new stuff coming to EPCOT, I’m willing to bet that most of next year’s entry will cover that area. However, some Disney experiences are timeless, and Fort Wilderness’ Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue (which ended up inspiring my username) has, according to my dad, not changed much since 1981.

I already saw it last year, but it was so awesome that I had to see it again. The show is an hour of unrelenting chaos and comedy that you will never forget. The waiters slam buckets of delicious chicken and ribs onto your table like American footballs, and even get to dance onstage. 

The performers are some of the best on property, especially the crazy blonde girl. Be forewarned, though; there is a lot of audience interaction, especially the front. Fortunately, they know how to deal with shy guests, but I thankfully wasn’t chosen for anything all the same. 

Overall, Hoop-Dee-Doo is a dining experience that surpasses some of the best that the parks have to offer. I personally prefer dinner at Ohana, which is more low-key and has BEEF SKEWERS, but Hoop-Dee-Doo is still a must-see at least once in your lifetime (if you got the cash).

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4: The Edison

This is a restaurant in Disney Springs that I didn’t know about until planning for this trip (in my defense, that place opens like fifty new restaurants a day). We had basically reserved it because the actor who plays as our boy Eric in the Frozen Sing-Along at Hollywood Studios is sometimes works at the Edison. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there that day, but with food so damn good, I didn’t give a crap!

The Edison is a steampunk-styled restaurant on the West Side of Disney Springs. The interior is full of rotating gears and televisions playing clips of old Disney shorts and flat-out strange silent-era films from days of Yore.

Of course, a restaurant isn’t worth anything if it’s food is crap, and fortunately, the food at the Edison is on a higher plane of existence. I had an Edison Burger with most of the toppings on the side, and it immediately became my new favorite burger of all time. The meat in the burger is a fine blend of several meats, and it’s normally supposed to be rare, sought out, and expensive. However, our meal here was one of the cheapest on property (relatively speaking), once again proving that Disney’s stuff is NOT overpriced. The Edison is a must-eat for those who want fantastic food at a modest price.

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5: The Wonderful World of Animation

This is the new projection show that serves as a pre-show to Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular in Hollywood Studios. Unpopular opinion: I think it’s better than the Star Wars one. I only watched Star Wars because we got the VIP passes for the show.

The Wonderful World of Animation begins with the intro to the classic Mickey Short, Mickey’s Gala Premiere, and goes on a massive montage of EVERY Disney animated film. That includes the cult classics, like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, and- a whole section dedicated to- The Emperor’s Motherf***ing New Groove. Yep. You’re already booking your trip right now, aren’t you? 

This show has clips all over the Chinese theater and the two walls on either side, so multiple viewings are a must. I at least managed to snag a number of photos so I can actually see what was actually shown at the time.

Overall, it’s a phenomenal new show that I recommend going to Studios for the sole purpose of seeing. I suggest buying a Park Hopper for that day at least.

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6: The EPCOT Experience

This entry is not really a highlight, however I still want to write about it because the EPCOT Experience is a circle-vision showcase of attractions coming to EPCOT within the next two years. So, I want to speculate about each one of them here.

The first section I walked into was for an attraction called the Journey of Water. This one- be it a ride or a whole new section of the park- looks like it will use assets from Moana to educate guests on the history and importance of water in human civilization. I almost cried listening to the voice of Best Mom Gramma Tala narrating the whole thing, so I can only imagine what the actual attraction will be like.

Next was Digital City. Based on the design, it seems to be based off of the setting of Wreck-It Ralph Breaks the Internet, but it wasn’t explicit. Almost no information about this area is actually presented, other than it being a city of play areas. Hopefully it’ll have more than that (but if it doesn’t, adults better be allowed to play, too).

The new Marvel attraction has been known for a while now. This section at the exhibit starts with a message from some Romulon ambassador before getting hijacked by someone’s Sonic the Hedgehog OC (sorry if I offended you, but as stated I my 5 Worlds review, I have no knowledge nor interest in the MCU). No other information about the Marvel thing is given, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a thrill ride of some sort. Regardless of how good it ends up being, I will probably ignore it entirely. I feel like it’s something that will be good to the diehard fans of Marvel, but will alienate casual visitors, similar to how Galaxy’s Edge does IMO. But you know what, it’s too soon to know for sure.

Next was the new version of the golf ball ride, called Spaceship Earth: Our Shared Story. This one merely shows photos of various people from different ethnicities before ending with the title dropping onto the screen. I have no idea if it’s going to completely remove the original story of human civilization or not, but I’ll have faith in this attraction.

Three new additions care coming to World Showcase, the first of which is Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in France. This one has also been known for a while, and it looks really fun but scary. It seems that riders will be in rat-themed cars that will make numerous sharp turns as they dodge obstacles and attacks from Chef Mini-Me in the kitchen of Jacques Cousteau. In the UK will be a Mary Poppins ride. I have no idea which Mary Poppins will be used, but it should be pretty lit. Also known for a while is a new, circle-vision China show. For all intents and purposes, it’ll probably be better than its predecessor. But due to my jealousy of C-pop and K-pop getting so easily accepted by Western culture over J-pop, I will be abstaining from this one out of spite.

The EPCOT Experience ends with a bang by showing a preview of the new night show to replace Illuminations (the EPCOT Forever event is merely a temporary show, similar to the Jungle Book show for Rivers of Light). All that this part of the exhibit does is simply full blast iconic tracks from several Disney animated features, somehow perfectly mixed so that it doesn’t sound jarring, before ending with a simple title drop of EPCOT’s name in a nebulous void of outer space. Immediately, this worried me, as the new Rivers of Light: We Are One was the first outright disappointment I felt in Disney, and actually preferred an older show over the new one, specifically for adding assets from Disney animated features to it. The timing and order of each section destroyed Joe Rohde’s simple and profound message, and hopefully they’ll update it to better incorporate the Lion King and Brother Bear stuff in the future. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that this new show in EPCOT will be made completely from scratch, and actually be designed to incorporate the Disney movie elements from the outset.

EPCOT has become arguably my favorite of the four parks, and if the new coming attractions are all up to snuff, then EPCOT will be my absolute favorite. The guys at Disney have been evolving Walt Disney World for almost fifty years, so they got a pretty good track record for this kind of stuff.

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7: Boardwalk Resort

This is where we stayed on this trip. We had actually visited it once, on our first trip in 2013, because we went to the minigolf at the Swan and traveled through it to reach EPCOT. I was so enchanted by the resort’s quaintness, and convenient access to TWO of the parks, that I had to convince my family to book it for a future trip.

It took six years. By some miracle, we got to stay in a DVC room this year, and it was heavenly. I got a futon. But regardless, the resort itself is why the Boardwalk is on the list.

The Boardwalk is a quaint waterside town by day, and a bustling circus of funnel cakes and entertainment at night. It was at a night spent watching Coco at this resort that they were convinced to book it for this year. The performers are also great. There are at least three: a juggler, a hoop girl, and a sassy jester who has kids volunteer in fun parlor tricks (at his expense).

The Boardwalk also has- along with the usual resort gift shop- the Wyland Art Gallery. This gallery contains gorgeous (and expensive) acrylic glass sculptures of ocean creatures, plus breathtaking paintings of ocean scenes, and Disney stuff.

The place has tons of restaurants. For quick service, there are two food stands, a little window that serves great pizzas, and the convenient Boardwalk Bakery and Ample Hills Creamery. Out of the table services there, I’ve only eaten at Trattoria Al Forno, specifically the Bon Voyage Character Breakfast, and that was one of my favorite parts of last year’s trip. 

I highly recommend staying at the Boardwalk- or the nearby Yacht Club, Beach Club, Swan, or Dolphin resorts for easy access to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT. Be forewarned, however, that they are all Deluxe tier, and will more or less fire a shotgun, point-blank, into your wallet. 

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8: Toledo

This restaurant opened along with the new Gran Torin- I mean- Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs. With it’s massive menu, and scenic view of TWO parks, we had to get a reservation. Unfortunately, it had rained leading up to the meal, leaving the balcony unusable for us, causing us to miss the exclusive views of the fireworks from Hollywood Studios and EPCOT. 

However, that didn’t matter as the food was fantastic as usual. I split the amazing, 28 ounce Chuleton ribeye steak with a friend. The menu has a LOT of variety, so there’s no excuse to not give it a whirl (except money of course).

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9: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

I had attended one other Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party before this year’s. And it sucked. While the shows at the castle courtyard were truly beyond top tier, the crowds were so bad that it almost offset the greatness of those shows. But despite that, my party decided to attend the event again.

And it rocked. For some reason, the crowds were substantially lower. I don’t know if it’s because more people wanted to meet characters and trick-or-treat, or the fact that I didn’t attend the one on Halloween Day, but I’m not complaining.

The Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular is still great. I hadn’t seen the movie the previous time, so this year I took the time to see it at our resort’s Movie Under the Stars. Big mistake. Hocus Pocus itself sucks. While Bette Midler was pretty great, she didn’t have enough screentime to offset the nineties cringe. Fortunately, that didn’t change how I felt about the stage show.

The Boo-to-You Parade hasn’t changed as far as I remember. The parade isn’t really about massive and elaborate floats, like with the Festival of Fantasy Parade, but about all the absurdly rare characters that you didn’t know existed within Disney Parks. This parade includes but is not limited to: Pain and Panic, Opera Chicken, and Bowler Hat Guy.

The real reason I came to this party was for the new Not-So-Spooky Spectacular Fireworks. And boy, were they lit. As expected of Disney, they were a lot better than their predecessor, Hallowishes. This one had more of a core narrative, as it focused on Mickey and Co. wandering through a haunted house. This show also has a really well-built animatronic Jack Skellington that I did not expect to appear at all. While I’d normally see fireworks from the train station, I highly recommend getting a spot pretty close to the castle just for that Skellington goodness.

With this new show, the Christmas Party Fireworks are now in a major need of an update. Hopefully, it’ll happen soon, maybe in time for the 50th anniversary! 

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10: JAPAAAAAAAAN

The Walt Disney Company is perhaps the only team that is actually able to celebrate diversity without being… well, you know… the Internet, and I applaud them for it (it’s also pretty ironic given THAT scene in Peter Pan). EPCOT World Showcase, like the rest of Walt Disney World, is full to the brim with people from all walks of life, and those people aren’t at each other’s throats.

And obviously, Japan is my favorite pavilion. Since this was the first year I dedicated myself to studying Japanese culture, I actually bought merch outside the anime section. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much merch that was symbolic of their culture itself as there was just general Japanese motifs on various apparels. 

We had lunch at Teppan Edo one day. I had eaten there once before, but I handled it poorly because I only knew about saying “Itadakimasu” before eating the meal, but not “Gouchisou-sama deshita” at the end. OOPS. I now look back on that day, thinking that those cute girls working there felt miffed that the shy American boy knew only the first step. 

I was prepared to say both phrases this time. However, our chef was so cute and talented that I clammed up. I was at least able to eat my whole meal with chopsticks in my own special way (although the Miso Soup was so rich that I made the same face that Asirpa did in Golden Kamuy), as well as discover a new favorite flavor of ice cream: green tea! I was also the only one who spoke an order in the Japanese name (which, honestly, anyone could’ve done since it’s written in romanji on the freaking menu). I’m definitely going to need to go back and do everything right this time.

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So that’s that for this blog entry. As far as Disney stuff goes, I’ll try to post a review of The Little Mermaid Live, The Imagineering Story, and Frozen 2 in the near future (no promises, though!). But of course, I’ll still be mainly focusing on light novels and stuff!

Archenemies Review

Cover of the book

Last time, on Renegades, Nova Artino (a.k.a. Nightmare) squanders a wonderful opportunity to kill Hugh Everhart, the most powerful Renegade in the world, because she’s your typical “Mary-Sue-can’t-kill-even-if-it’s-the-guy-I-hate-more-than-anyone” YA protagonist. She also has a run in with some tokusatsu guy who calls himself the Sentinel. Incidentally, she literally meets him on the street in his true form- Adrian Everhart (yes, he is the aforementioned Hugh Everhart’s son). In order to investigate the Sentinel, she attends Renegade School-or-Whatever under the fake name of Nova McLain. She gets recruited to Adrian’s squad, which was formed to investigate Nightmare. See where this is going? What’s worse is that Nova’s Anarchist friend, Ingrid, ruins everything because she’s afraid that Nova will side with the Renegades (which actually happens). But there’s good news: Nova meets Max, a strange kid who basically has All For One’s Quirk (which aren’t officially called Quirks in the book, but they aren’t called anything so I’m with the My Hero Academia reference)- to steal other Quirks, including the Quirk of Nova’s late uncle and Anarchist leader, Ace Anarchy. Meanwhile, Nova and Adrian go on a “date” to an amusement park that Nightmare/Nova frequents. They have a run-in with Ingrid at an old fun house, but two good things happen: Ingrid dies (of course you can kill your FRIEND just fine), and Nightmare’s death is staged. Nova catches wind of some kind of the secret drug that Hugh and the Council are developing. Oh, and Ace Anarchy is still alive. *rolls eyes*

WOW, what a long recap! Should I bother with them for Western novels? Tell me your thoughts in the comments! Anyways… spoilers for the new season of My Hero Academia up ahead. Proceed with caution!

Positives first. We do establish what the mysterious Agent N thing is in this book, and within the first one hundred pages! And guess what, it removes Quirks, just like Overhaul’s drug in My Hero Academia! AND DOUBLE GUESS WHAT, it all revolves around a human child’s unique Quirk, and in Archenemies‘ case, it’s Max’s Quirk-stealing Quirk! Ain’t that a coinkidink…

The main conflict of this book revolves around Nova and Adrian’s response to Agent N. They are given training to start using it in battle to neutralize criminals immediately. However, it gets pretty ham-fisted, IMO. The existence of Agent N makes Nova and Adrian question if its use is just. They start thinking about human rights and go into a moral crisis. It’s so freakin’ preachy. It was preachy in the last book, but now it feels like those kids are reading off of a set of cue cards, and once again you don’t really see any SHOWCASES of Renegades being unjust except for an isolated incident with those same high school bullies from before.

Most of the rest of the book is more Nova and Adrian wuv. In fact, the wuv in more abundance than the actual plot, which has always been one of my least favorite aspects of YA novels and something I was glad to see wasn’t the case in Lunar Chronicles… but it IS the case here. Look, I’m not some action-savvy guy or anything, but there’s a time and place for stuff. You know how most longer series have more chill scenes after a really intense arc, like One Piece‘s Davy Back Fight Arc, or the episode of My Hero Academia where they move into their dorm rooms? Archenemies feels like that 90% of the time.

Romance aside, we are introduced to the artifact storage room, which is the location of the major MacGuffin- Ace Anarchy’s helmet. I really didn’t like that place because the security there was super lax and it was written off as, “Oh us Renegades are too morally uptight to wanna steal from in there” (while you laugh at the fact that Nova wants to steal from in there), and it really makes things convenient for Nova, because stakes are overrated. Even more baffling, Renegades are allowed to rent some of the crap stored in there like a freakin’ library, and it made me facepalm hardcore. What’s worse is that there’s apparently a random object in there that ends up being vital to the plot, and nobody knew about it until Adrian stumbled upon it. *shakes fists in the air*

Adrian is the only likable character remaining. Nova starts becoming aware of her wuv (which she writes off as “flirting with Adrian to use him”), turning her into another badass female lead who loses the “bad” and becomes just “ass.” Adrian is at least not entirely convinced that Nightmare died, so he tries his damnedest to keep that case open. But of course, even HE has to get goo-goo eyes for Novie-wovie…

Fortunately, things do pick up after page 340, like in good ol’ delayed gratification fashion. I’ll admit that the climax of this novel felt pretty darn good, all things considered.

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Verdict: 6.5/10

It’s middle-book syndrome. My expectations for the final installment, Supernova, are not too high as this series continues to be a teen drama “but with superpowers!” I’m at least enjoying picturing All Might and Saitama as Adrian’s fathers, and trying to read Adrian’s name as “YO, ADRIAN!” as many times as possible while having it still fit into the context.

To be honest, I’m only being this harsh because it’s Marissa Meyer, an author who wrote something I enjoyed. If a YA author I didn’t like wrote this, I wouldn’t be so salty. A similar case is Ice Wolves, by Amie Kaufman, one of the authors of the amazing Illuminae Files. Ice Wolves is kind of just mediocre, but since it’s by someone who’s written something really good, it feels extra really bad. It’s the same feeling with Renegades so far. But hey, if you’re a fan of that cringey “forbidden-romance-between-enemies-who-don’t-even-know-that-they’re-enemies” stuff, then Archenemies follows through on its predecessor.

5 Worlds First Impressions (Volumes 1 -2)

Covers of books 1 and 2.

I did not expect the first comic I covered would be a Western graphic novel instead of a manga, considering the fact that I’ve been reading manga for over seven years. Since this is a Weeb Revues first, let me explain how I’m thinking of approaching comics. Most individual volumes don’t have enough material for me to write a good blog about them one at a time. Plus, there’s the fact that I have read ahead to the more recent chapter releases, thanks to things like Viz’s Jump subscription. So what I’m thinking of doing is to do a first impression of comics I haven’t read before, then a full review when I finish them. The problem is that you won’t get to know my general thoughts on the 100-odd manga I’ve already read prior to starting this blog… I’ll figure something out.

Before we get started, I need to give my background on Western comics. I grew up not reading a single comic book- with my only exposure to the culture being the Christopher Reeve Superman movie. I only just got into comics earlier this year- 2019. My first graphic novel was Amulet. I read the first three volumes, and I hated it. I don’t use that word all the time, but Amulet pushed me over the edge. I could have an entirely separate blog detailing exactly why I hate it so much, but I won’t, because there would be a LOT of salt. Later on, I read Cleopatra in Space. I found that one to be much better, but it seemed to be too fast-paced for its own good. I had planned to tackle 5 Worlds, published by Random House, third because it looked the best out of all the graphic novels I’d seen, and boy did I make a good call!

Being a kids graphic novel, the premise of 5 Worlds is pretty simple. The titular five worlds, consisting of Mon Domani and its four moon-planets, are going through real tough crap, thanks to deteriorating ecosystems and some evil whatsit called the Mimic. Apparently, the only way to turn things back to normal is to light beacons built on each of the worlds. Fortunately, we have people called sand dancers, who do interpretive dance to manipulate, well, sand. However, the beacons can only be lit by a special dancer who has the Living Fire. It’s a good premise with a lot of wiggle room for a fantastic adventure.

The characters, however, are less than fantastic. Oona Lee, the main protagonist, is a marginally better version of Emily from Amulet, but she’s still kind of generic. She’s also just about as much of an overpowered protagonist as Emily was; the dialogue has this “the sand knows” line often that lets us know how she’s able to do some of the things, that according to the rules established, she shouldn’t be able to do because she’s supposed to suck at sand dancing. An Tzu is my least favorite character; he jumps to conclusions way too fast, plus he’s been the least useful in terms of abilities. Jax Amboy is the best character, relatively speaking. He’s got a decent lover-boy personality, plus he’s pretty nifty in battle. But overall, this cast just doesn’t wow me. It’s not the authors’ fault; I had the same issue with both Amulet and Cleopatra in Space. I just can’t help but compare these comics to manga. The pacing and structure is very different between the two mediums.

For some reason, Western graphic novels seem to have quicker plot progression than manga, and the panels in them seem to be incredibly large, which means that they need more pages in order to convey the same content. 5 Worlds seems to be the most efficient out of what I’ve read thus far. It helps that the books themselves have averaged at 240 pages a pop, but even then it still moves too fast. As a consequence, they’ve had to “pull a Disney” (you know, like how parents commonly get killed off in Disney movies) so we can sympathize with the characters immediately: Oona Lee’s sister having run away from home, An Tzu having some kind of Back to the Future disease, and Jax Amboy not having any real friends (well, that’s what the description says). To compare this to a manga with similarly fast pacing, Made in Abyss, that manga might’ve had two unremarkable main characters, but it also had a cast of phenomenal side characters that left a strong impression on me, despite how brief their screentime was.

Similarly, when a big character-based plot twist happens, the emotional impact of it didn’t resonate with me since it occurs just as I’m getting acquainted with the character. I can appreciate that the authors don’t beat around the bush, but in this case, they’re beating the exact location that the bush will be in before it’s even existed yet! But keep in mind that I love One Piece, where you don’t get most characters’ full backstory until over ten years worth of published material.

The art of 5 Worlds is the best out of the three graphic novels I’ve read. It’s a very cartoony and whimsical style with eye-catching colors. Western comics seem to stack similarly sized panels together in order to showcase motion in a sort of flipbook style. I do not find this as impactful as with manga that normally use gesture drawing lines and foreshortening. I did flip through some DC and Marvel comics at my local library, and the action seems to be done similarly, to my surprise. I would’ve expected more from the significantly more complex artwork. Is it a strictly Western thing? Regardless of if it is or not, I can’t get used to it, as opposed to my first manga, where I could understand the medium almost right away.

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Current Verdict: 7.85/10

Despite all my nitpicks, 5 Worlds is shaping up to be one of the better Western comics out there. It’s just a real shame that the story moves too fast to really let it grow on me. It’s entertaining and appealing. I’ve read two volumes thus far, and I’ll try to finish this series and put out a full review. But with new volumes only coming out annually, it’s going to be a long process!

Renegades Review

The cover of the book.

Hello and welcome to the first Western media covered on this blog! Since this is also the first YA novel on the blog, allow me to give a quick background on my experience with the genre. Over ten years ago, in my teen years, I loved that novel- The Hunger Games– just as much as the next guy. Then I read its sequels, Catching Fire… and Mockingjay… and let’s just say that third book was a real letdown. It was so disappointing that I abandoned all YA novels and instead used old Hollywood movies, like Citizen Kane, and challenging science fiction novels for adults, such as those by Isaac Asimov and Greg Bear, as vessels for my teen angst. Fast forward to last year, I started getting curious about YA again. Since it seemed that most YA novels are popular among adults as well, I decided to give the genre another try. In the past year, YA has consistently disappointed me, with my top 3 least favorite novels off all time ALL being YA novels. There are only a handful of them I flat-out enjoyed: The Chaos Walking trilogy, The Illuminae Files trilogy, and… The Lunar Chronicles quartet.

So, given my harshness towards YA, I wanted to start off on a good note, so I made sure I covered a novel from an author whose previous works I already enjoyed. As you can tell, it’s a review of Renegades, published by Square Fish, and written by the author of the aforementioned Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer. Does this new series give as strong of a first impression as Lunar Chronicles‘ first book, Cinder?

For starters, just exactly HOW similar to My Hero Academia is this premise? In the city of Gatlon, people born with Quir- I mean- superpowers, who are called prodigies, are oppressed by society because that’s what humans love to do when they’re scared. A group called the Anarchists, led by Ace Anarchy, caused an uprising, naturally. A ragtag group of heroes called the Renegades took care of it. Ace Anarchy is now dead, and the OG Renegades run Gatlon as the Council.

Not angsty enough? Well, get this. The main protagonist is Ace’s niece, Nova Artino, who fights Renegades under the alias of Nightmare. On the flipside, we have Adrian Everhart, the adopted son of the most powerful Renegade in the world, All Mi- I mean- Hugh Everhart. He lives secretly as a renegade Renegade named the Sentinel, and is the rival of Nightmare, but ends up fighting other Renegades just about as often. And here’s the icing on the cake: Nova goes to Renegade academy as a spy and… gets recruited to Adrian’s own squad. Because of course.

Naturally, you’d expect it to be a dystopia, where the “heroes” are a corrupt governing body and the “villains” are the heroes. And it is, at least according to the narrative, which conveys this by constantly telling us over and over again about how corrupt the Council is but never showing us. From the actions we do see, the only corruption comes from random Renegades being high school bullies, but that instance is implied to actually be AGAINST Council regulations. In fact, the Council itself is the reason why Nova and Co. aren’t rotting in jail just for being Anarchists themselves. It’s contextualized poorly, and because of that, I’m willing to bet that there’s inevitably going to be some kind of massive conspiracy that makes the Council the corrupt governing body that Nova actually says they are. It’s still better than Scythe, which had an interesting premise of hired, legalized murderers in a world of immortality, but copped out by having a cackling madman of an antagonist that didn’t blur the line of good and evil, but made everything very black and white.

In terms of the actual writing, Renegades still has that Meyer touch. Similar to the Lunar Chronicles, I’m able to visualize characters and settings easily, however, the action scenes are a bit hard to imagine in terms of telling where people are in 3D space. The story starts off slow, but picks up at around the halfway point.

The characters are pretty generic. Be forewarned, however, that I am much a harsher critic of Western fiction than Eastern for some reason, even on the novels that I find really good. Nova is not as much of an utter snob as most of her YA cousins, but there’s definitely enough time to develop Stockholm-Syndrome-love with Adrian, and turn her into one of said cousins. Speaking of Adrian, he’s alright. He’s got a strong sense of goodwill but he’s also a bit reckless. Nova’s friends are the snobby YA cast incarnated as side characters. Ingrid is a really annoying Bakugo-type (literally; her Quirk is the same as his) who often causes contrived conflicts, and Honey, Phobia, and Leroy are more inconsequential than My Hero‘s Class 1-B. Adrian’s friends, Oscar and Ruby, are very unremarkable and exist just for there to be a second couple. Speaking of couples, Nova and Adrian’s relationship is going to be my least favorite aspect of the whole Renegade series because they spend so much time with each other while not realizing that they’re the very enemies that they’re each trying to find dirt on. It’s a trope that I didn’t like in American Dragon, and I still don’t like it now.

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Verdict: 7.75/10

If you’ve enjoyed Red Queen, Shadow and Bone, or Divergent, then you’ll probably love Renegades. It doesn’t have the same chutzpah of The Lunar Chronicles, but it’s at least leagues better than most of what’s available on the YA market. The whole “teen-is-forced-to-be-something-that-they-are-not-for-some-reason” schtick carries a lot of inherent appeal.

The fact that the teaser at end of the book implies that the sequel, Archenemies, is going to be the “conclusion” to this story, when there’s a third installment on its way at the time of writing this blog, leaves me very concerned. But for now, Renegades is more than good enough if you want an angstier, Westernized My Hero Academia.