The Patchwork Girl of Oz: The Best—I mean—Least Bad Installment Yet

Oz has had ups and downs. In fact, the previous two books, The Road to Oz and The Emerald City of Oz, were absolutely awful in my opinion. At the end of my rope, I turned toward The Patchwork Girl of Oz with next to no expectations. How much worse could it get?

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, a munchkin boy named Ojo and his uncle(?), Unc Nunkie, head off to find food. On the way, they meet this magician, Dr. Pipt, who tries to bring a patchwork girl of his wife’s creation to life. He succeeds, but petrification juice gets splashed all over said wife and Unc Nunkie. With the help of the Patchwork Girl, named Scraps, and an incredibly sassy Glass Cat, Ojo sets out to find the ingredients for an antidote. 

When I asked “How much worse can it get?” in the intro, I was fortunate that that question would not be answered today. For you see, Patchwork Girl is actually pretty damn good. First off, CONTINUITY. The chemical that brings Scraps to life is, indeed, the same Powder of Life from book two, and Pipt is the very magician who created it. Finally!

There is also a drastic improvement in new characters. Ojo is unremarkable at first, but ends up being the first morally ambiguous character in the series (even if his arc is rather lackluster compared to more modern protagonists). By comparison, Scraps and the Glass Cat are on another level, at least for Baum. 

Scraps is bright, jovial, and very optimistic, like an innocent child. Unfortunately, she’s kind of a dichotomy. She’s created with the intention of being a servant, which is as sexist as you’d expect for the time. However, because Baum can never be consistent, she actually manages to become a strong, independent woman. The 19th Amendment wouldn’t come to pass for seven more years, but the movements in favor of women’s right to vote were probably present at the time. Was Baum the first author to be worried about political correctness?

In stark contrast to Scraps’ peppiness, the Glass Cat is very egotistical, always eager to remind you about her ruby heart and pink brains (you can see ’em work). Unfortunately, the Glass Cat ends up being annoying very quickly, and this is coming from someone who likes Senku from Dr. Stone. The Glass Cat’s entire personality is its catchphrase. Imagine a character with a catchphrase, then imagine that phrase being the ONLY THING THEY SAY. While I love it when Senku says “ten billion percent”, I only love it because it’s just one part of a very charismatic guy. The Glass Cat is fun at first, and then stops being fun.

Other than that, it’s the usual Oz antics. Like in many installments, there are random, self-contained encounters that have absolutely no significance to the plot and are not entertaining. This far in, it feels very clear that Baum has been pulling Oz out of nowhere since the very beginning.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 6.8/10

Geez, I’m awful. Halfway through one of the most beloved literature franchises of all time, and I still haven’t scored a single one higher than a 7/10! Hopefully, it’ll get better from here.

The Owl House (Season 1): A Distinctly American Isekai

I had actually started watching The Owl House on a whim around the time the first season came out on Disney+. I was so certain it would be two seasons that I didn’t think I needed to do a season-by-season review. But according to Wikipedia and IMDB, it’s actually going to be two and a half seasons? Well, regardless, the second season has been turning different enough to where I should review The Owl House season-by-season. So yeah, here’s my review of season one!

In The Owl House, a girl named Luz is very eccentric and creatively expresses herself all the time. Of course, we can’t have any of that in America, so her mom decided to ship her off to summer camp to make her more mainstream. Luz instead chases an owl into a suitcase portal, where she ends up in a fantasy realm called the Boiling Isles. With pretty much no hesitation, she decides to live here with a witch named Eda the Owl Lady and a chuunibyou demon named King in the titular Owl House. 

The Owl House is modern, childish, and very one-dimensional. But it’s not just those things; it’s mind-numbingly straightforward. They don’t even try to hide that it’s a pure escapist fantasy, what with the aforementioned summer camp literally being called “Reality Check Summer Camp”, and the first episode showing a prison called the Conformatorium. 

“Well, at least it’s not another Harry Potter clone,” you comment. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. The initial interest of having someone learn magic through a wanted criminal like Eda gets brushed aside about two-thirds into the first season. Luz discovers a long lost method to do magic, entirely by happenstance, and ends up enrolled in the local school, Hexside.

And it gets more cliché than that simply by being a children’s show. It goes through a lot of the motions, where a protagonist does something blatantly stupid and learns a lesson at the end. It’s just about as clear-cut as any kids’ show, and as a result, The Owl House ends up reinventing the wheel quite often. There is also zero subtlety, as it practically beats you over the head with teasers of things that will happen.

Fortunately, it more than makes up for spoon-feeding you “American values” with sheer entertainment. The show is whimsical, colorful, and builds on itself just about as organically as any good modern cartoon. And speaking of building, the show does have some decent worldbuilding. The Boiling Isles has a lot of creativity going into it, from some guy’s house being held up by a giant hand to school bells that scream bloody murder. It’s meant to look grotesque and terrifying to try and subvert the idea of it being an escapist fantasy realm, but that ends up falling to the wayside because of how charming the Boiling Isles end up becoming. The vibrant and appealing visuals help tie it all together. 

And speaking of charming, the cast—despite being very cliché—ends up being just that. Let’s start with the worst of the bunch first: the main protagonist, Luz (oh, everyone’s going to hate me for saying that, aren’t they?). She’s your typical isekai protagonist through and through. Luz is reckless, tomboyish, and overly easy to relate to. The show tries to make her not seem like a special snowflake, but based on what I discussed earlier, that doesn’t exactly happen.

Fortunately, everyone else is better. Imagine Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls but ridiculously sexy and you get Best Mom Eda. She’s just about as snarky as Stan, plus she seriously embodies the American spirit. Her tragic backstory is the driving force of the narrative throughout season one, which involves her sister, Lilith (who is also quite sexy but not as fun). King is an adorable little sociopath who tries every angle to assert dominance over others, and it’s fun to see him have melodramatic speeches just from things like climbing to the top of the local playground.

Luz ends up making a few friends in Hexside. Willow starts off as the “my parents want me to do this even though I’m a lot better at something else” character, but that ends up being resolved in the first episode she’s introduced in, and seems like a relatable conflict created just to hook audiences into liking her (which ends up being such a non-issue to the point where we don’t even get to see her parents). But hey, she’s lovable enough on her own. There’s also Best Boy Augustus, who offers a lot of comic mischief without falling into a rut of the same joke over and over again. My least favorite of the Hexside kids is Amity Blight. She’s basically the tsundere, and that’s about it (and now the entire fandom REALLY hates me). On another note, Hexside’s principle is actually pretty great, but he doesn’t show up often enough.

Of course, I must dedicate an entire paragraph to the best character in the entire show: Hooty. He’s a literal door, and is basically a perfect person. 

~~~~~

Verdict: 8/10

The Owl House is nothing new, but it’s fun, and at least tries harder to be interesting than Amphibia. And from what I’ve seen of season two at this point… yeah, it’s WAY more interesting than Amphibia. I recommend it if you want some Disney magic with a bit of edge.

When Disney Decided to Dig a Little Deeper: Princess and the Frog Retrospective

Well, I kind of cheated with this one. Basically, I got to rewatch Princess and the Frog during a movie under the stars event in Disney and decided to write a retrospective on it, in advance of its twentieth anniversary. However, I got impatient and instead decided to post it now. In any case, this review was written after watching the movie for the first time in over two years, so I should be able to break it down pretty impartially.

In Princess and the Frog, a girl named Tiana dreams of opening a restaurant in New Orleans. But since it’s Disney, her father dies early on and she gets screwed out of a vacant property right when she saves up enough money. What’s worse is that she runs into Prince Naveen (*smack* of Maldonia), a strapping prince who happened to be visiting the States, and the two of them turn into frogs.

Princess and the Frog was the start of a new trope for Disney’s female leads. They would no longer be damsels in distress who were swept away by some hunk. In fact, a lot of these Disney women would start off on bad terms with their husbando-to-be. Princess and the Frog also starts a trend of Disney lessons that are practical to real life, unlike previous ones which were like “If you cry hard enough some magic grandma will come save you.” The movie shows you the line between wants and needs, as well as work and play. I hate saying that something is good solely from being relatable, but Princess and the Frog is really easy to relate to, whether you’re some greedy hoarder, a workaholic, or anything in between. Heck, it’s something I still need to learn while juggling this blog and a full-time I.R.L. job.

But as far as the story itself, Princess and the Frog is about as straightforward as any mainstream Disney flick. The bulk of the movie is Tiana and Naveen goin’ down the bayou to reach Mama Odie, who supposedly has the ability to turn them human again. And of course, when they get to her, she’s all like “stuff Mufasa said probably” and sends them back to New Orleans so Naveen can make out with Tiana’s BFF. As you can expect, she gets the best of both worlds in the end. 

Fortunately, if you like classic Disney, then you’ll find Princess and the Frog to be one of their best. All the personality and Disney magic is still present, even though the behind the scenes for this movie has one of the producers saying “the world had grown too cynical for fairy tales” (which is more true now than ever thanks to social media and, well… last year). It’s lighthearted, funny, emotional, and bursting with color and heart.

The characters are among the most likeable in Disney’s repertoire. Tiana and Naveen aren’t that interesting by themselves, but it’s their relationship that brings out the best of them. They are two extremes; with Tiana being extreme work and Naveen being extreme play. To my knowledge, this is the second time in Disney history with a tsundere Disney Princess (the first being Belle). But unlike Beast, who saves Belle’s life and gives her Stockholm Syndrome as a result, Tiana and Naveen’s values clash in some bizarro way that results in the true wuv that we all care about (and them learning how to properly manage their lives).

Like I said in my Disney rant, people don’t care about the leads as much as the other characters. Louie the crocodile is your typical comic relief character. However, as lovable as he is, he’s not that funny. The most hilarious part about him is the sheer concept of a crocodile who wants to play jazz with the big boys, and the only funny bit is him not knowing “the geography and the topography” of the bayou. Of course, people (and myself) love Raymone to bits and pieces. The interesting part is that he’s one of the few Disney protagonists to die towards the end of the movie, as opposed to the parents who don’t even live for half an hour (such as Tiana’s dad). As desentized to Disney deaths as I am, I admit that seeing him be reincarnated as a star right next to his waifu in the sky is pretty moving.

A sadly unutilized character ends up being Best Girl Lottie. She’s loaded thanks to her father, John Goodman. Being a rich girl, her deep friendship with a low-income girl like Tiana could arguably inspire hope for  kids to this day. Regardless, she’s hilarious in every scene she’s in, even if those are low in number.

The antagonist, Facilier, is—to my knowledge—the last true Disney villain. After him, they would get less and less presence in the movies, and now, they pretty much don’t exist. With that in mind, what a banger to end on! He’s become a modern fan-favorite for a reason, and it’s because he’s constantly oozing charisma. He’s really intimidating for such a skinny guy, and his death is perhaps one of the scariest out of the Disney villains.

Being a Disney Princess movie, Princess and the Frog has a phenomenal soundtrack. I don’t like jazz at all, but I’m always surprised by how many different atmospheres and moods that they can convey with the genre in this movie. Also, Facilier’s number is probably one of the best villain songs in Disney history.

Princess and the Frog hasn’t aged a day, despite its use of traditional hand-drawn graphics. It’s a visually stunning film, with both nostalgia and modern flair. They make New Orleans look just about as fantastical as any Magic Kingdom, that’s for sure. The behind-the-scenes said that they’d occasionally like to return to hand-drawn graphics every now and then, but they still have yet to do it. WHY?!

~~~~~

After All These Years: 9/10

Princess and the Frog is really damn good! There’s nothing else to say besides that. If you like Disney, then you should have no problem with this one.

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!” 

~~~~~

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.

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.

~~~~~

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.

Shades of Magic: More Londons, More Fun. Four Londons!

I’ve never had an interest in adult Western fiction, and I still don’t, mainly because a lot of it looks the same. I don’t know why people bother taking out books that all have the same back of a car, front porch of a house, or topless man enveloping a busty woman on the cover. But if one set of grown-up books stands out, it would have to be V.E. Schwab’s fantasy trilogy: Shades of Magic. I’ve actually known about its existence for a while, but it took me until the production of the movie for me to actually read through it. Go figure.

In Shades of Magic, a young magician named Kell is an errand boy who delivers mail to different versions of London in parallel universes. One day, he ends up with a very powerful and illegal magic stone. His fate then becomes intertwined with the tomboyish thief, Lila Bard, who goes on adventures with him to stop whatever inevitable mass conspiracy theory is threatening to tear the multiple Londons apart.

The big appeal in Shades of Magic is the worldbuilding. The four Londons are color-coded, based on various properties: Magicless Grey London, Relatively Okay Red London, Dystopian White London, and the source of all the trouble, Black London. The drawback with these worlds is that none of them is particularly interesting by themselves. Grey is just our world, Red is the Harry Potter world, and White is the Game of Thrones world. Black is by far the coolest, but it’s explored the least. In fact, the potential of the multiple Londons schtick is undermined by the fact that more than half of the story is set in Red London. I hate assuming the author’s intentions, but the worldbuilding feels like they just combined two inherently appealing things—parallel universes and the United Kingdom—just because those things are inherently appealing.

Fortunately, the writing is very elegant and makes the books addicting to read. If you’re intimidated by their length, they’re broken up into pretty short chapters, with many shorter subchapters in each. The action scenes are, for the most part, pretty darn good too.

But even with great prose, the characters leave something to be desired. They don’t really have much personality beyond their established archetypes. Kell is just… a dude, and Lila is just… a dudette. Sure, Kell has some kind of battle of temptation with the MacGuffin in book one, but it’s not particularly interesting. Lila has that YA protagonist trope of being a special snowflake for no reason, AND IT’S ANNOYING. Many reviews on Goodreads have riffed on her enough, so I’d only be repeating them if I elaborated on Lila in detail. Just know that she’s a pretentious, obnoxious brat. Of all the characters, Kell’s rival, Holland, is by far the most fleshed out, but he’s not quite enough to offset everyone else. If it wasn’t for the great writing of the actual story, these people would’ve made reading Shades of Magic very tedious.

Also be wary that Shades of Magic follows the tradition of “the second book being awful” very faithfully. A Gathering of Shadows was an absolute slog to get through. The whole thing revolved around some tournament that wasn’t even plot relevant in the first place, and was chock full of rushed and unexciting fights. Only the last sixty pages or so are important, as they lead into the events of the final book.

While the final book, A Conjuring of Light, is definitely an improvement, it isn’t that much better. Despite the urgency of the situation established at the beginning of the novel, a lot of it is spent wasting time with inconsequential characters that I didn’t even remember. One thing that blows my mind is how some authors are able to write entire chapters that serve no purpose to the main story. Fortunately, Shades of Magic is nowhere near as bad as Keeper of the Lost Cities, whose seventh book spends FOUR HUNDRED PAGES IN THE INFIRMARY, but it’s noticeable.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7/10

I really wanted to like this series. But as the old saying goes: Quality over quantity. What’s the point of having four Londons, when they each have such empty design and worldbuilding? I’d rather read Lockwood and Co., which is set in one, fleshed-out London. Shades of Magic is an example of the sheer idea behind it being what sells, rather than the execution of that idea. It’s not the worst fantasy out there, but it’s VERY overrated and outclassed. You know what, the movie might end up being a better alternative, since it’ll probably only adapt the first book; the only one that matters.

I Risked My Life to Watch Earwig and the Witch! Was It Worth It?

As someone who suffers from anxiety and an inherent fear of physical contact, and as someone who follows a number of public figures who think COVID is the threat that the media says it is, I was—and am—a nervous wreck. Even at this point where people are just tired of it, I’m still scared for my life. I was forced to see Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch in theatres (since my family doesn’t have HBOMax) as a way for me to face my fears, and I truly did feel afraid for my life. Was I able to enjoy the movie despite all that was going through my head? Also, is the movie itself enjoyable? That’s the more important question! Oh, and of course, I never read the source novel for it!

In Earwig and the Witch, the titular Earwig (a.k.a. Ayatsuru if you like subbed) is left at an orphanage. After living most of her young life there, she is adopted by the titular witch, Bella Yaga. Since she’s empowered and all that, Earwig is determined to own her new home.

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is Ghibli’s first CG movie, and I wanna talk about the CG. It’s not Pixar to where they individually rig every single hair follicle, but everything else checks out. The lighting is good, the style is faithful to 2D animation while still being 3D, and the characters are very emotive. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least better than some of the horrid TV anime CG.

Sadly, that’s really all that makes this stand out from Ghibli’s filmography. Well, I say “sadly” as if it’s a bad thing. Ghibli sets a high standard for Japanese animation for a reason, after all. Earwig is full of the same charm and homeliness you’d expect out of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. It’s simple, to the point, and has a lot of wholesome charm.

Unfortunately, this also means Earwig has the same problems as most Ghibli flicks. The pacing is abysmally slow, despite its short length. It’s also structured like most Ghibli movies, to where more than half of the core narrative isn’t tackled until the last ten percent of the runtime. A lot is also left up to interpretation, assuming Ghibli even bothered to leave subtle clues in the first place.

The cast consists of four main characters, and literally no one else. Earwig is an unusual subversion of characters of her ilk; she enjoyed her life at the orphanage, and is incredibly headstrong and feisty when at the receiving end of Bella Yaga’s… er… parenting. As someone who tends to like control freak types, I was initially drawn to Earwig’s character arc. But with this being a family-friendly coming-of-age story, I’d thought they’d try to give her a redemption arc, which ends up not happening. Her adoptive mother, Bella Yaga, has a fetish with worms, but other than that, she’s your typical lousy foster parent character. 

Also living in the same house is Thomas, a black cat who tries to be comic mischief (key word: “tries”). The movie’s tragic hero is the owner of the house, known only as the Mandrake. He comes off as super sketchy, but different elements about him are organically divulged over the course of the movie, making him the most complete-feeling of the cast.

In a completely spoiler-free manner, I warn you about the ending. Honestly, we [the anime community] have seen this often enough to know that it’s just Ghibli being Ghibli.  Even the ones that aren’t as, well, Earwig-ish, have left me with a sense of… lack of accomplishment. I dunno, maybe it’s the uncultured swine in me talking. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.15/10

To be brutally honest, the fact that Earwig and the Witch is CG is the only incentive to watch it. It is bog standard Ghibli in every other sense, and it’s still outclassed by stuff like Spirited Away and Kaguya. I’d only recommend it to diehard fans of Ghibli and the art of animation itself.

Unnamed Memory is as Shoujo as it Gets (Volume 1 Review)

I feel like the light novel game hasn’t been strong lately, at least from the English-publication perspective. To be honest, WATARU!!! is the only new series that got me excited. And while I don’t mind having less titles to worry about, I still enjoy having new ones to look forward to. There are two new titles left on my list this month that seem promising, and today’s post covers the first: Unnamed Memory, published in English by Yen Press.

In Unnamed Memory, a Prince named Oscar Farsas has been cursed to where his boys can no longer swim without drowning. Since he’s an only child, he has to alleviate the curse or his family line ends. To do this, he visits Tinasha, the Witch of Azure. She says that she can’t undo the curse, but a woman with a uterus immune to the curse (apparently?) can birth his kid just fine. Oscar immediately proposes to Tinasha, and is rejected. But since he climbed her tower, she has to do something, and that something is to live with him while pretending to be an apprentice.

Does this light novel seem shoujo to you? Well, it is. This is one of those where the strapping young man sweeps the tsundere girl off her feet. However, this one takes its sweet ol’ time. That sounds all well and good, but there’s still a lot of the dumb shoujo clichés that make me want to rip my hair out.

This volume is all over the place, as it tries to set up multiple things at once with no rhyme or reason. For example, the second chapter is a literal murder case, and there are these very blatantly suspicious people at the scene of the crime (who, of course, knew that the crime was going to be committed before it even happened). The case itself is resolved very lackadaisically, as if it was just a Saturday morning visit to the park.

Because of this, I have no idea where the priority lies with the story. The murder case isn’t all that’s resolved super fast. They build up to this big ancient demon from a war that suspiciously happened at the same time that the Farsas family got cursed, and they just do away with it like it’s no big deal. It almost reminds me of Sailor Moon, which is actually a bad thing because I wholeheartedly dislike that series. 

Surprise, surprise, guess who didn’t like the characters whatsoever? Me! Oscar felt like a weird combination of genuinely caring for Tinasha while also being sexist? Based on the premise, you’d think she’d be the dominant member of the relationship, but nope, he still has to think he needs to swoop in and save her ass (but it doesn’t matter because their both overpowered protagonists). And to top it all off, he proposes to her on a daily basis and it’s ridiculously annoying. 

Tinasha is, so far, a cookie-cutter tsundere. Her identity gets revealed super early, which I can at least appreciate, but the fact that she’s accepted by everyone quite easily makes the whole thing seem pointless. The other characters are as “kinda just there” as any peanut gallery, and a lot of them are introduced quite suddenly.

~~~~~

Verdict: 6.75/10

Unnamed Memory is a decent shoujo series I guess, but as someone who really doesn’t like shoujo, I can’t say I enjoyed even a lick of it. I’m not likely to commit to this series, but maybe you’ll like it if you’re a romance junkie.

Two Muscular, Magical Reviews in One Post!

I had every intention of reading Mashle: Magic and Muscles since its debut in Weekly Shounen Jump. But then, Seven Seas came out of nowhere and licensed a light novel with an extremely similar title: Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Since they seemed so identical, I decided to review them both in this post. Although Mashle came out in the U.S. before Muscles, the latter actually predates the former by three years. So naturally, I’ll go over it first!


Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Volume 1

In Muscles Are Better Than Magic!, a boy named Yuri lives in the forest alone. He has managed to train himself to the point where he’s super ripped, and can take on anything. When he finds an elven girl named Filia Windia, he decides to go on adventures with her, for no reason whatsoever.

If Muscles appears to be a run-of-the-mill, typical shounen fantasy light novel to you, that’s because it is! The whole darn thing is the two of them hanging out. A lot of the interactions are just him using his muscles and freaking people out. And like I said in the premise, there’s no purpose to anything that happens. They just go on adventures that are no different from your typical slice-of-life fantasy with no real spice beyond Yuri’s muscles.

The mostly boring cast doesn’t help either. While Yuri and Filia have some legitimately cute and funny interactions, they are surrounded by idiots. All the other characters are inconsequential NPCs who have no personality other than being shocked by Yuri’s muscles. That’s literally it! But even then, Yuri is also incredibly bland, with Filia being the only remotely likeable character.

The biggest issue is the writing. Muscles is one of those light novels that feels like a rough draft and not a publication. Although the action scenes are pretty good, descriptions of locations are as bare minimum as they typically are in these series. I get that writing is really hard but that doesn’t excuse when it’s bad in a published work!

Verdict: 5.75/10

Muscles Are Better Than Magic! is no better than your typical blazé fantasy. Similar to Buck Naked in Another World, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, and others, it uses some defining character design trait to pretend that it’s subversive. My chances of reading more are pretty low. But let’s see whether or not it’s the lesser of two evils when I review Mashle!


Mashle: Magic and Muscles First Impressions (Chapters 1-15)

In Mashle: Magic and Muscles, a boy named Mash Burnedead lives in the forest with an old wizard guy. He was born in a world of magic, but has no magic himself, making him an easy target of the police. When he bests the police with his bare hands, he is given a deal: enroll in Magic School and graduate at the top of his class or be pursued by the law forever. He accepts the deal, and attends the school with no magic power whatsoever.

I made a big deal about how Muscles and Mashle are the same, but… it turns out that Mashle resembles Black Clover more than anything else (oops). In any case, Mashle already shows greater personality than Muscles. Not only is the humor (and its delivery) much more substantial than in Muscles, but there’s also a purpose to the shenanigans that ensue.

So far, Mashle’s biggest issue is its simplicity. While I love a good, clear-cut Jump manga, a lot of [very vocal] people don’t. Because of this, there’s no rhyme or reason to the magic that gets used; they don’t even bother to explain the rules. And of course, let’s not forget the magic word, “unrealistic”, because of how impossibly strong Mash is for a teenager.

Mashle has a similar issue to Muscles: everyone other than the main character exists just to react to how swole said main character is. Furthermore, the lead girl is less remarkable than Filia, to the point where I already forgot her name. But unlike Yuri, Mash is a significantly more likeable character. In fact, he’s the bread and butter of this whole manga. While he’s completely devoid of personality, the author somehow makes that lack of personality into its own personality quirk. Also, his inane obsession with cream puffs makes him even more hilarious.

The art doesn’t look like much, but it’s more than enough. The panel composition expertly sells the humor, while also delivering the appropriate amount of punch to Mash’s attacks. If there are any issues, it’s that the black wizard robes make a lot of the foreshortening shots look kind of weird.

Current Verdict: 9.35/10

Muscles might be better than magic, but Mashle is far better than Muscles. It’s a risk investing in a new series when you don’t know whether or not it’ll get axed, but here’s hoping that Mashle stays for a couple of years at least. I recommend it to people who like battle shounen and fun (i.e. not cynical).

I’m In Love with a Villainess Killed My Love for Yuri (Volume 1 Review)

One genre I did not expect to consistently blow me away was yuri; a genre that mainly focuses on a romantic relationship between two women. I just kept getting bombarded by these super entertaining and engaging stories. Murcielago, Otherside Picnic, Sexiled, and ROLL OVER AND DIE! have been real pleasures. So when Seven Seas published their edition of I’m in Love With the Villainess, and it became a #1 bestseller on Amazon and BookWalker, I was excited. However, like with virtually all media I’ve consumed other than One Piece

I CANNOT LIKE ANYTHING POPULAR.

In I’m in Love With the Villainess, a girl named Rae is transported into the setting of her favorite otome game, Revolution, with literally no explanation. She can date anyone she wants, but chooses the main antagonist, Claire Francois. Since Claire is a conceited noble girl, “tsundere” doesn’t even begin to describe her relationship with Rae.

From the first chapter, all the way to the end, I was flabbergasted. First off, the writing was abysmal. They don’t even go out of the way to describe the setting, not even in enough detail for you to get a sense of 3D space. Heck, I couldn’t even find a description of what Rae looked like; you literally have to take the part where it says Clair is blonde, and deduce that Rae has black hair by looking at the cover art and using the process of elimination! And despite being yuri, I felt no sexual tension between them, even when they’re naked.

And boy, the relationship between those girls was just lacking in… everything! Most of their interactions consist of Rae showering Claire with compliments, who responds by shouting witty comebacks. I understand that this comedic style is common in Japanese media, but it was so frequent that it literally felt like 19/20 of their interactions. Not even D-Frag!, which makes fun of it, was that bad.

The other bad thing was that the entirety of I’m in Love With the Villainess is Rae being in love with the villainess! “Well, duh,” you say, “it’s yuri.” No, you don’t understand. The other yuri I’ve read up to this point have something more. Murcielago had over-the-top gore and visual spectacle, Sexiled was crazy committed to Feminism, and both Otherside Picnic and ROLL OVER AND DIE! had high-tension suspense and action. Rae does kind of resort to tricks, like making up ghost stories just so Claire can cling to her, but compared to the sociopaths I’ve seen, that amounts to mere childish pranks. The only real scheme I could gather from I’m in Love With the Villainess was that Rae tries to build a ship between Clair and some guy. I’m anticipating that she’s doing this just to break them up, then swoop in and take Claire for herself while her guard is down. Even if that does happen down the road, it still leaves much to be desired compared to the other examples. 

Do I even need to discuss the characters? They’re all as flat as boards. Rae’s doting on Claire comes off as childish and annoying instead of seductive and sexy, plus she has no other personality quirks to speak of. Claire is just a boring tsundere; Rae even says that she never goes over-the-top. There’s also these three princely brothers, and why are they even in this LN at all?! This is yuri for crying out loud!

~~~~~

Verdict: 5/10

I’m in Love With the Villainess is an empty husk of ideas, none of which are executed well. I am absolutely astounded that something like this has been so commercially successful compared to the other yuri series I mentioned. At this point, I have come to question the genre’s sense of quality. Was this series the exception, or the rule? In any case, just save yourself the pain and read any yuri series other than this one!