Book Report: Innocent Bird by Hirotaka Kisaragi

December 31, 2008 at 7:43 am (Animanga) ()

It is a short, three-volume manga about a faithful demon and a faithless angel. Shirasagi is a demon determined to keep his faith in God and one day be redeemed; Karasu is the angel who has begun to doubt and is sent to send him back to hell. Things get more complicated when it’s revealed that Shirasagi is actually Andrealphus, Beelzebub’s uh…pet. Things just get more complicated from there as Karasu and Shirasagi struggle to realize their greatest wish: to be together forever.

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Book Report: The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba

December 31, 2008 at 1:14 am (Comics Issue #427) (, , )

The Umbrella Academy is about a group of superheroes who have disbanded. They are brought back together by the death of the man who gathered and raised them, their “father” the Monocle. It becomes clear that there is much history between the members of the group, most of it unpleasant. During their awkward reunion, one of the Umbrella Academy’s missing members, number 00.05 or the Boy, returns from having run away from home — to the future. The Boy brings back news from the future: three days after the Monocle’s death, the apocalypse will come.

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Book Report: Havemercy by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett

December 28, 2008 at 8:37 am (Books Galore) (, )

I didn’t originally intend to buy this at all, but when I came across it in Barnes & Noble I was helpless, helpless I say, to stop myself. So I didn’t. Now, I know Jaida Jones from The Shoebox Project, which is a long and possibly terminally incomplete and rather good piece of Harry Potter fanfic, Sirius/Remus set during the Marauder Era. Jaida Jones is one of the authors. Havemercy is also co-authored, but not with the same person as The Shoebox Project.

The plot more or less runs in tandem until it doesn’t, and it’s about two different pairs of men. The setting is vaguely and generically European, until I realized that one side is based loosely off Russia (the Esar sounds like the Tsar; an important building is covered in, uh, colorful onions) while the other one is based off of…I don’t know, Mongolians? Something vaguely Oriental (there is a reference to smoking opium and having twelve wives). As for the plot…Royston, a court magician, is exiled to the countryside for nearly causing an international incident, and there he meets Hal, who is to be the tutor of his nephews but in whom Roy finds a surprising thirst for knowledge and learning. Rook is a member of the Dragon Corps, which are basically Volstov’s air force, and they fly atop giant metal dragons, and they are basically winning the war against the Ke-Han for them. Rook has nearly caused a diplomatic incident by slapping the ass of a diplomat’s wife and calling her a whore in front of the entire court; as a result, Thom is given the task of trying to educate the Dragon Corps in etiquette and proper manners. A mysterious illness arises, which starts targeting Volstov’s air force. Meanwhile, the giant metal dragons of the Dragon Corps seem to breaking down. These two events are what ultimately bring Roy and Hal, Rook and Thom, together.

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Book Report: The Virtu & The Mirador by Sarah Monette

December 26, 2008 at 1:34 pm (Books Galore) (, )

Both are the second and third books in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series. The first book, Melusine, is one I read a while back and apparently never reviewed, wtf, but rest assured I enjoyed it and would have recommended it highly if I’d just remembered to do it. At any rate, I didn’t get a chance to get at the next two books until now. My reviews tend to be SPOILERY OUT THE WINDOW so here’s FAIR WARNING.

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Book Report: A Companion To Wolves by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

December 26, 2008 at 1:24 pm (Books Galore) (, )

Spoilers under the cut; this novel contains m/m sex.

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Oh, mainstream m/m original fiction. How I love thee. As a brief synopsis of this book, the wolfcarls are men bonded to giant fighting wolves, and they keep the villagers safe from the trolls in exchange for a tithe. This tithe includes new young men who may in their turn become wolfcarls. Njall Gunnarson (who later becomes Isolfr) is a nobleman who chooses to be tithed because there are no other available boys, despite his father’s displeasure. The book is a bildungsroman in that it details Njall’s passage from boy to man to leader as one of the wolfcarls, but it also deals with the sexual and moral implications of a man being bonded to a bitch and of forming telepathic bonds with animals period.

The setting is very Norse and feels authentic (despite the, you know, giant telepathic wolves). The language is spot on, especially if you keep mentally pronouncing all the j’s as y’s, as I did. The characters are interesting and well-rounded; Isolfr in particular I was rooting for the whole time and had no quibbles with. His friends and opponents were interesting as well, though it’s very much Isolfr’s story. The wolves are distinct as well, all of them characters in their own right.

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Hetalia and Softening the Impact

December 2, 2008 at 2:14 pm (Animanga) ()

Axis Powers Hetalia is an online manga mostly set around World War II. The premise is that all countries have been anthropomorphized; the manga plays out their historical interactions as if they were interactions between people. Most of the characters are male; as you might imagine, there is a strong BL overtone to the whole thing, though there are several relationships put in terms of brotherhood (which either makes the BL overtone thing better or worse, I don’t know; the characters don’t seem to have any parents, they just…pop into being.).

Anyway. So you have countries around the WWII era personified into painfully adorable near-chibis; their interactions as persons reflect their interactions as nations.

What the anthropomorphization does is soften the impact of national interactions, which of course include war. This is slightly inaccurate; rarely do the Hetalia characters engage in battle onscreen; their conflicts tend to be funnier, more buffoonish, rather than cruel and violent. The manga seems to focus more on what happens OUTSIDE of the battles; how nations ally themselves with each other and act and react to each other, how they help and hinder one another on the world stage. Battles are left mostly out of it, now that I think on it. The closest Hetalia comes to depicting a battle “onscreen” as it were is the strip about America declaring independence from England–and even that was more after the fact than the actual battle; more about its aftermath and the change in their relations, than the actual fighting.

Of course, battles help shift national interactions, so it might be kind of strange that this component of their relationships is left out. But as I said, Hetalia helps soften the impact of reality, codifies alliances and treaties into simpler analogies that are easier to grasp. With war, with actual battle…it’s hard to do that softening thing, because softening the impact of war quickly reaches the point where softening becomes disrespect. Easier to gloss over the battles themselves and work around them; but working around them misses how each battle, each fight between characters, can also affect and alter national relationships. Fighting is itself a human interaction, after all.

But at the same time…it’s hard, to portray a battle with the adorable little characters. Harder still to portray battles as interactions between people because then the violence perpetrated by one upon the other throws the nature of their relationship–both in the context of battle and outside of it–into sharper relief. Empires putting colonies in line becomes one character beating another, over and over; their relationship is clearly codified as an abusive one.

I was thinking about recent Chinese history and how it might be thrown into Hetalia terms, when my mind settled on the Rape of Nanking. The Rape of Nanking falls into that category of awful to contemplate, and impossible to soften without disrespect. How do you translate that into Hetalia terms? For all its content, Hetalia is not very serious business. The fanfic is, though. If you were to write the Rape of Nanking into a fanfic, you could conceivably soften it–Japan trashing China’s house for no good reason, for example. But why would you want to? Here is an interaction between nations that has been codified into terms of human interaction; that is the essence of Hetalia. How could you justify writing it as anything other than Japan raping China? It would be awful to write, it would be awful to read, but then again, the reality was awful too. Would softening it Hetalia style be disrespectful? I say yes, partly because there’s no real reason for it to be softened, when history has already translated it into personal interaction for writers. To soften the incident would be to obscure the reality; it was a violent, violating crime by Japan against China. Any fanfic–any writing–about it shouldn’t be lighthearted and funny and buffoonish. The same could be said of any other similar incidents in any war; the use of Napalm in the Vietnam War, the Holocaust, slavery…

Those things will never appear in Hetalia, because how could you even begin to approach them from a Hetalia point of view and be comfortable and not feel like doing it was somehow deeply wrong? Hetalia itself is not serious busness, but the topics it deals with are.

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