Blood Like Magic: A Family Drama With a Cyberpunk Twist

I don’t consciously try to read books about racism. But when I began Liselle Sambury’s new series opener, Blood Like Magic, I was greeted with a disclaimer that basically said: “This book is about racism.” Well, let’s see how soul-grinding this one is.

In Blood Like Magic, families of witches get magic by having their periods (and Westerners think anime should be banned?). A young’un named Voya Thomas just had her period, and the next step after that is to have her nigh-impossible-to-fail Calling. Assuming you’ve had experience with urban fantasy before, what do you think happens when it comes to the main protagonist attempting some sort of magic test that everyone else in the world could do just fine? If you think Voya fails, you’d only be half-right. She calls Mama Jova, who—of course—happens to be the Dark Souls of the Thomas family.

So, the disclaimer at the beginning implies that Blood Like Magic is even more heart-rending and brutal than any other urban fantasy out there. It’s not. There is one scene (arguably two?) where racism is referenced at all. The scene in question is brutal, but it’s extremely out of left field. The reason for it is because Blood Like Magic is set twenty-eight years in the future, and in this future, racism isn’t that prevalent. Voya says that she has never been called a racist slur, nor conditioned to feel ashamed of being Black.

However, the book is still—to some extent—about racism, or at the very least, the fancy term known as “systemic racism.” Despite it not being in-your-face like in Legendborn, it still abounds in society itself. An example is showcased by NuGene, a big genetics company with a lot of weight in society. Apparently, if your genetic code implies that you might have a violent personality, you’ll be treated like a serial killer without even committing any crimes (or something), and this just so happens to be more punishing when it comes up in a Black person. The company’s employees insist on doing the whole “use gender identity at the end of their names” thing, but it turns out they’re hypocritical homophobes, which is shown when Voya’s transgender cousin is given the wrong set of chromosomes in their official record. 

The cherry on top is that Voya, as narrator, still uses those same race labels, despite the fact that they should be archaic given the context. In a way, Blood Like Magic more cynical than any other books of its kind. No matter how much progress we make, those in power won’t change. In that way, Blood Like Magic has left me emotionally distraught not in the moments of reading it, but when reflecting on it afterwards.

ANYWAY, let’s discuss the actual story! If you’ve read a YA novel, Mama Jova’s task will seem straight out of the edgiest urban fantasy ever: Voya must kill her first love. Fortunately for her, she joined a gene-matching program by the aforementioned NuGene, and was paired with Luc Rodriguez, the sponsor son of NuGene’s CEO. Of course, they hate each other as soon as they first meet. Key word: “first”.

After being given her task, Blood Like Magic becomes part-romcom, part sci-fi mystery as she juggles a classic tsundere relationship with Luc, and this weird stuff her family’s been hiding from her. It’s balanced surprisingly well, especially since YA novels this thick (just under five hundred pages) tend to drag. I read it with my butt clenched waiting for that inevitable conspiracy to be revealed.

Normally, I’d criticize the characters, but this time… I don’t actually hate them even though I should. By themselves, pretty much everyone is either unremarkable and/or very snarky. But together, their chemistry made them among the more tolerable YA casts I’ve seen. I loved Voya and her cousin, Keis, bouncing witty remarks at each other, or Granny—who basically runs the Thomases—asserting her absolute authority. Even what would be a cringe-inducing, formulaic tsundere relationship between Voya and Luc ends up seeming more legitimate and believable than “I hate you! I hate you too! *Proceeds to viciously make out*”.

Despite all its novelty, Blood Like Magic still has a lot of those annoying YA tropes. If you guessed that Voya falls in love with Luc and can’t kill him, then congratulations! You’ve read at least one YA novel! At the very least, the story manages to play out in a way that’s quite unexpected for the genre.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

I’m probably wrong and off-base about a lot of what Blood Like Magic is trying to say. But regardless, the thing to be invested in is without a doubt the families’ relationships. And I use a plural possessive noun because I don’t just mean the Thomases; I’m referring to their relationships with each other, as well as with the other witch families. Overall, I’d recommend Blood Like Magic just for the emotional story of Voya’s family.

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.

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.

Disney’s Frog Isekai: Amphibia Season 1 Review

If you’re reading this, then that means I’ve decided to get a bit experimental with my blog. While I would normally review a TV show in its entirety, I decided to review Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) season by season. Having already caught up to season two (which was still airing while writing this), I realized how different the show was after season one. So, yeah, let’s hope season three ends up being a drastic tone shift or this idea will end up sucking hardcore.

Amphibia doesn’t beat around the bush, as it starts with its main protagonist, Anne Boonchuy, already in the titular other world, specifically in the town of Wartwood. She runs into a little frog boy named Sprig, and they hit it off pretty quickly. Anne wants to go back home, but instead of trying to haul ass out of there, she kinda just hangs out in Wartwood (hey, another isekai tradition!).

What immediately jumps out (no pun intended) about this isekai is its setting. For starters, almost every animal, from cows to birds, is either a bug or a worm of some kind. Amphibia uses a crap-ton of yellow, blue, and green in its aesthetic that is very appealing. Although the opening sequence shows a massive, lilypad-shaped world, this season is mostly confined to Wartwood. It would be a nice town, except that it’s intentionally not a nice town. The motto is, literally, “Slow to accept, even slower to respect.”

In terms of story, Amphibia operates like most modern cartoons. It starts off with a series of episodic stories, the conflicts of which have absolutely no prior context or foreshadowing, and teaches us an assortment of valuable, American life lessons. As with most shows of its kind, this first season gets us acquainted with the main cast through these Saturday morning cartoon antics. Many of these episodes are extremely predictable if you have experience with this kind of show, and having to see these needless conflicts unfold is about as truly cringe-worthy as any other cartoon.

The biggest hurdle in this season is the cast of the show. I know that no character should be flawless, but the level of smooth-brain in modern cartoon characters makes Patrick Star look like a genius (without the need for brain coral). Anne is perhaps one of my least favorite cartoon protagonists ever. Not only does she continuously make poor judgements regardless of how many lessons she learns, she also loves trashy TV shows, reads clickbaity headlines, and even dabs! DABS! Oh, and a small trigger warning for some people: she hates pineapple pizza. Sprig, on the other hand, is just about as bad (minus the pineapple pizza thing), except he’s a frog. 

At the very least, Polly and Hop Pop end up being the best of the main group. The former is just a tadpole, but she’s a fierce and furious young’un who somehow ends up being the voice of reason. And when Polly’s not the voice of reason, Hop Pop is. He’s your typical “old fart”, but he very much cares for his family. And similar to a certain Grunkle in another show, he’s got some plot-twisting secrets stuffed up his booty. Despite being more tolerable, Hop Pop and Polly end up having their smooth-brain moments because EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEARN THEM ‘MERICAN VALUES!

Similar to Gravity Falls, the locals of Wartwood are quite likeable (even if the town’s slogan says otherwise). From Wally the village weirdo, to the guy who grows tulips, the little stinkhole is full of colorful characters. Even the lousy mayor, Toadstool, ends up being pretty entertaining in a weird way.

As you can expect, the plot decides to kick in for the season finale. It’s not THAT amazing, but it is a good precedent for the stuff that’s to follow. The only weird part about it is what feels like a very out-of-place use of ‘Lean on Me’. But hey, maybe it was meant to be unfitting on purpose.

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Verdict: 7.65/10

Like many-a cartoon, the first season of Amphibia lays the groundwork, and gets you ready for next season with a tone-changing finale. You have to get through a lot of episodic hijinks that you have probably seen before, and since it does the “two short episodes” formula, it’ll feel twice as long even though the season is forgivingly short. From what I’ve seen in the next season, I think it’s worth it… provided you actually enjoy childrens’ cartoons as an adult.

Weeb Reads Monthly January and February 2021

I didn’t think I’d have to lump multiple months together AGAIN. Geez! Only two volumes (excluding debuts) piqued my interest in January; nowhere near enough to put it in a Weeb Reads Monthly. So, here we are. Hooray for being relevant.


WATARU!! Volume 2

Holy crap!!! Another volume of the masterpiece, WATARU!!! …said no one except for me. MyAnimeList doesn’t exactly have a page for this series, and I haven’t read any reviews on WordPress, if there are any. But honestly, I can say with full confidence that I’m in the minority in loving WATARU!!! I mean, it’s so simple and superficial with no story; all violations of the arbitrary rules of good literature!!!

But if you are one of my fellow uncultured swine and love the first volume of WATARU!!!, then the second volume is just as good. There’s more insane hijinks and meta-humor than ever. They also introduce a new character named Elphabell. It seems like she could become a yandere in the future, but she’s not even remotely as insane as Best Girl Aria. According to the afterword, WATARU!!! isn’t too successful, which kinda sucks. Light novels can get axed just as easily as manga, so there’s a chance that this could be the end.

Verdict: 9.65.10


The Bloodline Volume 2

“Wait, why’d you use the first volume’s cover as the thumbnail?” you ask. Well, for whatever reason—be it the licensing or the artist being lazy—the cover of the second volume is just a zoom-in of the first cover!

In any case, my feelings for the volume are mixed. The first half is slow and boring, with a lot of uninteresting dialogue. There’s a really contrived development, thanks to Nagi being smooth-brained, and a ridiculously predictable Top Ten Anime Betrayal. The ending of the volume has a clever twist, but… there’s a chance that this is the end of the whole series. BookWalker doesn’t say “Completed” or anything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the series is ongoing. I admit I’m curious about what could happen moving forward, but it’s just as likely that it’s over. If it is, then I’ll just say that The Bloodline had some good ideas marred by boring writing.

Verdict: 7.25/10


Konosuba Volume 13

I was concerned about Konosuba slowly falling apart, and honestly, I might be correct. The first half of this volume is almost the same as the first half of volume twelve: more shipping war stuff. As much as I love these characters, their interactions are getting incredibly redundant, and this is coming from someone who loves One Piece. The second half of the volume concerns Wiz, and this guy stalking her. The way it turns out is as silly as you can expect. But at this point, it’s obvious that the endgame plot is looming and it’s just a matter how long the author can beat around the bush leading up to it.

Verdict: 8.25.10


Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?! Volume 8

The first thing you see when you open up this volume is a group of idol moms. Despite how silly that first impression is, this is actually the most emotional volume yet! If you recall from last time, we learned that Porta is the Fourth Heavenly King of the Libere Rebellion. To be honest, it should’ve been obvious, since we’ve strangely never seen her mother.

Fortunately, that gets rectified in this volume! The mastermind behind the whole thing is actually Porta’s mom, who is also one of the key devs behind the game world. Porta feels obligated to join the Libere Rebellion, despite the fact that her mom seems to be a real b****. Ahhhhh, familial bonds!

The theme explored today is independence. In fact, that’s the whole reason behind the Libere Rebellion itself. Porta’s mom hardcore believes in the philosophy of letting the child grow entirely on their own. And as such, we learn of the point that every mom has to deal with: when to let their kids go. Overall, it’s a perfect storm of emotion and humor, making this my favorite volume up to this point. One concern I have, however, is that this is pretty much the end of the Libere Rebellion plot thread, yet the series is confirmed to have three remaining volumes. After the cliffhanger ending, I can’t imagine how it would go beyond a ninth volume.

Verdict: 9.25/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 2

This volume immediately begins with a discussion between several high-ranking demons, where we get more context for the series’ lore and the purpose of those crazy Uzumaki things. After that, Flum stumbles upon some strange child named Ink, who raises even more intrigue. 

The main conflict of this volume revolves around Dein Phineas being an ass, as well as the church’s latest monstrosity attacking the town. I’m not even going to describe this calamity, but it follows in the last volume’s footsteps by being incredibly effed up and gruesome. The ridiculous part of the scenario is that the church’s evilness is so well known that even the nuns acknowledge it. This series is really ham-fisted on dissing Catholicism, which I’m okay with as an agnostic, but some subtlety would be nice.

Verdict: 9.75/10

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Conclusion

When it comes to light novels, this is definitely a great start to 2021 (*insert pretentious and not-at-all overstated comment about how it’s better than last year even though nothing’s changed here*). Since I’m going to take a month’s hiatus in early March in order to avoid Attack on Titan finale spoilers, I’ll be lumping March and April’s posts into one. Hooray for that!

Wings of Ebony: I Can’t Come up With a Clickbaity Headline because it’s SO DARN GOOD

It takes a lot for me to pick up a YA novel. What compelled me to pick up J. Elle’s Wings of Ebony was not because of the main character being Black, but because the cover looked badass as f***, and the title wasn’t just “Noun of Other Noun and Other Other Noun”. The irony in my saying that is because I JUST SO HAPPENED to have read it during Black History Month, which I swear is a coincidence!

In Wings of Ebony, a girl named Rue is forcibly removed from her family through two methods. 1) Her mother is brutally shot to death, and 2) her dead-beat dad whisks her away to some magic continent, and away from her little sister, Tasha. Rue is—you guessed it—a special snowflake, who has magic genes and is the only Black girl on campus. You can probably imagine how things will play out…

…But you wouldn’t be entirely correct. I don’t normally go over character first, but Rue is what makes Wings of Ebony stand out amongst its massive ilk. She’s more-or-less unbreakable. Now, normally, when you have these YA girls who make like Melissa Bonny and be all “I Am the Storm”, they tend to break out into tears the minute something goes awry; just in time for the love interest to get them back into shape! That’s not the case for Rue, however. Ain’t no mountain high enough, and no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough! She’s fierce, angry, driven, angry, steadfast, ANGRY… Oh, and she loves Tasha. More on Rue later.

Another plus is that Elle knows full-well that we’ve seen this song and dance hundreds of times. As a result, she cuts out all the middlemen. The book opens after Rue’s first year in magic-land, with her having broken out to contact Tasha. Normally, this sequence would just be the first chapter; get us all confused, and then spend the bulk of the first book showing us how she got to her current situation via flashback. But nope, that doesn’t happen either. We get a few flashbacks, they’re all short and exist to introduce specific story beats when necessary. By cutting out all the stupid “high school drama” crap, we get right to the good stuff.

Unfortunately, nothing’s perfect, especially not in a YA novel. There are a fair number of grammatical errors and typos. I know that happens to be best of us, but it felt like there were more than usual. I also noticed at least one instance of an inconsistent character description. The n-word ends up presenting itself a lot, but Rue ends up being the one who uses it the most often.

Minor flaws aside, the writing in Wings of Ebony is some of the best I’ve seen in a YA novel. It’s fast, it’s impactful, and it hurts. It has a lot of the same clichés that most YA novels have, but the prose greatly offsets it. Even the death of some random red shirt has genuine emotional impact.

The characters are also some of the better I’ve seen in YA… at least for the most part. Rue, as discussed earlier, is a legitimately headstrong YA protagonist. At first, I thought she’d be so empowered that it would be pushed to the Nth degree. But don’t worry; she has a couple of breakdowns to show that she’s just a teenage girl. And these are real, necessary breakdowns, not the stupid “Oh my God, this palace is so luxurious! Trash like me doesn’t deserve this crap! Look at me I’m definitely not a self-absorbed brat!” which permeates most YA novels. Rue’s dad, Aasim, is also more than just the “lousy dad who abandons his kid so that kids with divorced parents can relate to the main protagonist”; he ends up being a pretty chill guy once you get to know him.

Unfortunately, that’s about it for the good characters. Most of the others are plot devices. Tasha exists to motivate Rue, some old lady from Rue’s neighborhood exists to hide Tasha, Rue’s wizard friend Bri exists to supply helpful gadgets, etc. The main antagonists are more-or-less your textbook racist White guys, and they don’t get any real characterization nor substance because we all know we’ll automatically hate them because racism.

And speaking of racism, the worldbuilding is perhaps the biggest disappointment. The secret magical continent of the week is called Ghizon, and it’s… there. They’re super racist against regular humans, the reason of which I don’t even recall being addressed. Furthermore, the big “secret history” of the place is extremely predictable through various context clues. I get that a lot of this stuff is meant to be this way for the sake of social commentary, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been done about eight hundred times before.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Wings of Ebony was a pleasant surprise. Luckily for me, there’s at least one sequel coming up. While I would normally post single reviews of the whole kit and kaboodle for these kinds of series, I think I’m going to take a risk and post a review of Wings of Ebony by itself. I have a feeling that the sequel will be very different, for better or for worse (hopefully, it’s different enough for at least six paragraphs). I recommend this book if you’re a young person who needs empowerment, or to anyone who actually wants to experience a legitimately great YA novel.

P.S. which has spoilers of the ending

Okay, I love this book, but screw Jehmal. Rue knows him for about ten minutes, and yet, she’s practically having sex with him at the end of the book. I hate it when they introduce a character who isn’t a love interest just to make them into a love interest at the last minute because “sex sells”. This is probably going to color my impressions of the sequel by quite a lot.

Kakushigoto First Impressions (Volumes 1-4)

When reading ecchi or hentai manga, sometimes it makes you wonder, “What would the mangaka’s relatives think? Do they even have kids?” Well, that topic is explored quite thoroughly in the manga about a mangaka, Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition, published in English by Kodansha Comics.

In Kakushigoto, a dad by the name of Kakushi Goto (wow, title drop), is a famous mangaka… of hardcore ecchi. The problem is his little daughter, Hime. Will he be able to protect his secret? Or will his princess (literally, because that’s what the word “Hime” means) be scarred for life?

Surprisingly enough, Kakushigoto proved to be a much more confusing read than I thought. For starters, the opening pages of each volume show Hime already having discovered her father’s secret. It took me a while to realize that these are flashforwards, which shows that he’s going to be fighting an uphill battle throughout the manga. Another issue, which is moreso a nitpick, is that the chapters are really short. I’m not someone who understands manga serialization… but according to MyAnimeList, Kakushigoto runs in a monthly magazine, which sounds really counterproductive for something with such short chapters. The third and final quirk with it is that the chapters… weren’t compiled correctly (at least not in the North American release)? At certain points, the chapter count will randomly reset midvolume. The first time this happens is towards the end of volume two, where it says “Volume 2 Issue 1”. The entirety of volume three is still considered volume two which seriously bugged me.

But as far as content is concerned, Kakushigoto certainly has a wild sense of humor. Unlike father-daughter manga such as Yotsuba&!, this one goes a bit more out of left field. In the first volume alone, Kakushi goes bananas over one of his editors wearing a lewd shirt in front of Hime, and he also ends up getting hunted down by Hime and her friends because he saved some cat with a life preserver. 

However, Kakushi’s secret isn’t the only sitcom situation going on in the manga. Kakushi builds a harem of sorts without even realizing it. Because he has a terrible way with words, a number of women think he’s hitting on them. He has no idea that this is happening, and it’s funny to see how they interact with him and each other. 

The manga can also be strangely depressing. The content of this narrative is supposedly based on the author’s real life experiences. It portrays a number of things, like the feeling of not being popular, or the state of the industry itself. Kakushigoto makes fun of this stuff just as often as it’s brutally honest about it. The mangaka also has a lot of rants throughout the volumes as well that go deeper into their psyche.

The characters prove to be surprisingly enjoyable. Kakushi is just a single dad who wants all the best for his little (*cough* marketable *cough*) daughter, and he goes to crazy lengths to be the best dad he can. His co-workers also have lovable personalities. They’re all quirky enough to have substance, but not to the point where they’re not “unrealistic like those battle shounen trash protags”. 

The art may be off-putting to some. Kakishigoto is drawn in a minimalistic, vector-like style. The shading appears to be entirely through a preset tool in Clip Studio, and the proportions are definitely odd. However, the girls are uniquely cute looking (even if they have same-face syndrome), and the characters are surprisingly expressive.

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Current Verdict: 8.25/10

Kakishigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition is definitely a different slice-of-life. It’s a weird combination of wholesome and cynical that’s definitely not seen too often. I recommend it if you want a father-daughter slice-of-life that isn’t just “Hey look at my moe blob and buy my stuff!”

Spy X Family First Impressions (Chapters 1-17)

It’s pretty typical for some niche manga to make MyAnimeList’s Top 100. But it’s wild that Spy x Family (published in English by Viz), placed around the halfway point of the manga list in less than a year after its launch. Time for me to board this hype train and see if it’s worth it!

In Spy x Family, a spy named Twilight is among the best in the business. But when his latest mission requires him to marry and have a child, he’s positively flummoxed. His solution is to establish a pretend family, with an orphaned telepathic girl named Anya, and an assassin named Yor Briar.

The thing about Spy x Family is that it’s not a rom-com with spies, but a sitcom with spies. Twilight and Yor don’t know of each other’s professions, nor do they know about Anya’s telepathy. However, Anya does know both of her “parents’” professions due to her mind-reading ability. Normally, I’d cringe at such a dynamic, but the fact that it’s done in a comedic way instead of a romantic way (like in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades) makes it more enjoyable.

And seriously, this manga is enjoyable. Spy x Family’s formula is simple, but it somehow works wonderfully. The comedy is done seriously well, with almost every page making me laugh out loud. But it’s not just a gag manga; there’s an actual overarching story as well.

The main goal of the series is for Twilight to get close to this really important politician named Donovan Desmond, whose son, Damian, is attending a prestigious school called Eden Academy. Twilight’s solution is to have his “daughter” enroll in the school and get close to Damian. But Anya’s kind of a ditz… and getting by in such an elite school is considerably easier said than done.

What makes Spy x Family so great is its cast. Twilight comes off as rugged, but slowly warms up to the fake family that he makes. Yor is, besides being gorgeous, someone who genuinely wants to be a good mom for Anya. She does NOT hesitate to use her skills in public to help her daughter. But the piece de resistance is Best Girl Anya. She looks like one of those typical moe blobs who exist just to be cute, but she’s got a real personality. Since she’s aware of her father’s mission, she actually tries to do a good job for his sake… but ends up getting carried away very often. When this happens, hilarity and genuine adorableness ensue.

There’s a curveball in Yor’s brother, Yuri Briar. He’s a secret service officer, whose mission is to find Twilight. He doesn’t know that his target is pretending to be married to his sister, nor does he know that she’s an assassin. Just more layers onto the cake of secrets.

The art in Spy x Family is very cute and appealing. The characters are very expressive, and their designs are quite memorable. The action scenes also look great for a slice-of-life manga. But most importantly, the panel flow is spot-on, which allows the comedy to fire on all cylinders.

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Current Verdict: 9.75/10

Spy x Family is already one of my favorite comedy manga of all time. In fact, it’s probably the funniest manga I’ve read, more than my previous favorite comedy, Grand Blue Dreaming. Grand Blue’s comedy relies entirely on super visceral, over-the-top facial expressions, but Spy x Family is much more clever than that. I’d recommend Spy x Family to pretty much anyone!

Welcome to the Space Show Movie Review

Hopefully G-Kids will add more anime movies to Kanopy, because the ones I’ve watched have been fifty-fifty. Patema Inverted ended up being an E.T. ripoff on the most superficial, empty level. But conversely, Welcome to the Space Show– today’s topic- ended up being an E.T. ripoff with just the right amount of whimsy to become something with its own identity.

In Welcome to the Space Show, five kids- Natsuki, Amane, Noriko, Kiyoshi, and Koji- go out to search for their missing rabbit when they find an injured dog instead. Of course, this dog is actually a space dog named Pochi. As a reward for saving him, Pochi takes the kids to a massive alien city on the moon. 

To briefly touch on the art style, Space Show has a lot of abstract and bizarre setpieces and scenes. This is where I would normally assume that there’s some pretentious pseudo-symbolism. However, based on the sheer off-the-deep-endness of the movie, that really isn’t the case. The basic theme of Space Show is just weird for the sake of weird, and it doesn’t care if you’re confused.

And it does get confusing. Although there is enough  foreshadowing to have continuity, the way everything all comes together results in a massive “WTF?!” at the end. As expected, the climax is about as absurd and over-the-top as it gets. Saying that they fight a giant cyborg dragon above an autonomous salaryman planet during a livestream being broadcast to the entire universe isn’t even a spoiler, just because describing the plot of Space Show is impossible no matter how hard you try. I could be a critic, and say, “Oh, visual spectacle is technically impressive, but it doesn’t justify the mindless [insert smart-sounding word here] BS”, but I won’t.

It’s because of the main characters that the mindless BS is justified. While these kids aren’t particularly interesting, they are definitely kids at heart. Normally, I’d dislike any “human” protagonists, because of my fierce antisocialness, but kids are an exception. Children, when not tainted by the many adults who seek to manipulate them, are the most pure, innocent, and lovable by far. The other characters aren’t that interesting outside of their designs, and the relationship between Pochi and certain other individuals isn’t entirely clear (i.e. it’s interpretive).

Of course, I can only justify so much. The movie does have some of those eye-roll-worthy tropes that tend to be in a lot of family friendly movies. First off, Kiyoshi has a whole plot line with his dead dad that means absolutely nothing. Plus, there’s the typical “let’s be dejected for fifteen minutes and abruptly bounce back after we say some sappy junk as if we weren’t even drowning in despair in the first place.” It’s kind of something you can’t avoid in these movies, so you’ll just have to deal with it.

Finally, the visuals. Space Show is stunning in every sense of the word. It’s abstract and colorful, with tons of beautiful landscape shots with a myriad of bizarre vistas. The aliens are all kinds of weird shapes (and there are a LOT of kissy lips attached to things). The animation is smooth like water, and all the characters are super expressive. It holds up really well for a decade old movie. Just be wary of anthropomorphic stuff if you’re against furries.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

Welcome to the Space Show is a great anime movie, and a great showcase of that childlike wonder that seven billion too many of us lose with age. Seeing it makes me wonder how A-1 Pictures became the mainstream-catering studio that they are generally known as today. I get that anime being by the same studio doesn’t really mean it’s the EXACT same team, but as far as I know, they haven’t made anything as bizarre as this at all in recent years. Well, regardless of the history of A-1 Pictures, Space Show is a fun film, and I recommend it to fans of E.T. and those who want something wiggety-whack.

Gravity Falls Full Series Review

The coronavirus of 2020 ended up giving me an opportunity to do something that I didn’t think possible: binge-watch an entire television show. I was going to settle for Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it turned out Netflix didn’t have it (thanks for sucking at having any animated programs as always (oh, and for the record, it wasn’t on Hulu either)). So instead, I chose Disney’s Gravity Falls. From what I know, Gravity Falls has become a modern cult classic; almost unanimous critical acclaim, but ultimately getting overshadowed by Phineas and Ferb and other, more “accessible” Disney IPs (the damn show doesn’t even have Disney Parks merch!). In this review, I see whether or not I made a mistake watching Phineas and Ferb while it aired instead of this.

In Gravity Falls, a pair of twin siblings by the name of Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to the titular town in scenic Oregon to live with their great uncle, Stanford (known otherwise as Grunkle Stan). They mainly laze around his gift shop of urban legend junk, until Dipper finds some weird book detailing all kinds of strange phenomena in the town. Of course, it’s inevitable that they get involved in said phenomena.

The show follows the typical, episodic formula of any American, Saturday morning cartoon, but with a sense of chronology more befitting of a TV anime. The plot of each episode tends to be stand-alone, but it also lays the groundwork for a bigger story in the process (like when Grunkle Stan enters some secret base at the end of episode 1). They also make nods to earlier episodes throughout the show, further giving it a sense of continuity. One example is a piece of graffiti on the water tower; it’s only brought up once, but its image remains throughout the entire series.

Despite them frequently getting attacked by monsters, ghosts, manly minotaurs, and an evil visual novel that predicted the existence of Doki Doki Literature Club, Gravity Falls maintains a sense of lightheartedness, and I’m thankful for that. Based on the praise I had heard of the show, I thought it was going to be an incredibly pretentious, pseudo-intellectual cartoon with weird symbolism placed just to evoke a sense of deepness when there isn’t any.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t weird voodoo at all. First off, there are secret codes that appear in the end credits of each episode that apparently either foreshadow later stuff or bark nonsense. There was also a real-life scavenger hunt while the show was airing (or so I was told), but I can’t exactly do that now. I’m glad that this was all the show does in terms of secret hidden lore, instead of rubbing its “genius” in your face like Monogatari. Of course, that will probably not stop series’ fans from calling you (or me) a filthy casual for not “appreciating the genius hidden meeting that makes Gravity Falls transcend modern media and human comprehension” or whatever, but that’s a given with any fandom.

Gravity Falls also has a great sense of humor that’s just about on par with that of Phineas and Ferb. I actually found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout, which was a pleasant surprise. There are also some great humorous details, the most notable of which is the Mystery Shack that they live in. Grunkle Stan’s job is to scam people from within the rundown cottage. The S in “Shack” frequently falls off, which both gets across the fact that the building is old, as well as the fact that Stan is a “Mystery Hack”. I dunno, little things like that are just great to me. Just keep in mind that this show is early 2010s… and that some dialogue is not up to the standards of the new resurgence in feminism. Basically, there’s a lot of gender stereotyping in Gravity Falls. It’s just your usual “boys like punching sh**, girls like boys and shoes”, but hey, I don’t know what sets people off these days.

The characters are also surprisingly solid. Although Dipper only has his frequent sarcastic remarks to save him from being a generic adolescent male, Mabel is Best Girl for sure. Her ditziness and general weirdness make her incredibly entertaining. The issue with them is that they have some “eye-roll-worthy” flaws, such as Dipper’s love for Wendy, one of Stan’s employees, along with Mabel’s annoying ability to fall in love at first sight. There are also cases of sitcom-like melodrama that occur between them, and this is where Gravity Falls feels the most trope-ish (and for the record, such tween drama is the entire reason that the final arc of the series is even instigated in the first place).

Grunkle Stan is also a very entertaining fart with great character development late in the series (even if he single-handedly doubles the length of the final episode for similar drama reasons), along with his other employees, Soos and the aforementioned Wendy. They’re pretty typical “big brother” and “big sister” archetypes, but they’re still likeable and have a lot of memorable lines. 

But hey, Gravity Falls is a town, and that means it has townsfolk. There are a number of very memorable, minor characters who appear at a very consistent rate, and make the area feel more like an actual community instead of an implied community. All these characters have quirky personalities and very distinct character designs, making their company very enjoyable. It’s amazing how much they all, including Toby, warmed up to me.

Unfortunately, the weakest link is in the antagonists. Gravity Falls has two major antagonists, the first of which is lil’ ol’ Gideon. He’s a posh, pompadour-wearing boy who is the Plankton of Grunkle Stan’s Krabs (wait, I think I messed up that analogy… ah, you get what I mean). Underneath his cheruby face is a conniving little turd who seriously wants Stan wiped off the face of the Earth.

Introduced at the end of season 1 is Bill Cipher, an Illuminati symbol with arms and legs. He has some strange motives that don’t come into play until pretty late into the series, well after his introduction. Just by looking at him, I can tell that most of the series’ hidden lore lies within him. I bet that the symbols on his “Illuminati Wheel” can be found in specific frames throughout the entire series, and reveal some sort of secret that will change all of humankind (and not at all mean what it’s intended to mean in the actual story).

Overall, these two are pretty entertaining, but ultimately fall short of beating villains like Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb (wow, I just made every fan of Gravity Falls angry). Doof comes off as a mad scientist trope, but becomes the most lovable character in the whole series as you progress through the later seasons. Gideon and Bill are just one-dimensional villains that are basically there out of obligation. Sure, maybe the “hidden lore” gives us more context for Bill than what they tell us, but it also might not at the same time.

The last point to discuss, as always, is the visual presentation. As expected, even for a TV show, Gravity Falls looks incredible. The animation is fluid (even if there are glaring cases of CG), and the color palette makes everything in the show pop. It’s definitely a nice step up from the hyper-budgeted TV anime that I’m used to.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

It might not be quite as good as Phineas and Ferb (“Boo, you filthy casual!” you exclaim. Look, it’s only the musical numbers and the superior antagonist that makes Phineas and Ferb better, okay?), Gravity Falls is definitely a fantastic cartoon. I’m kind of glad I didn’t watch it while it was airing, or I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it from an adult standpoint. Regardless of if there’s some hidden metaphorical message in it, it’s still fun to enjoy at face value. I highly recommend it to anyone who has Disney Plus (as it’s probably not worth trying to catch it on reruns).