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Julia's Reviews on Various Media

Another book review! This one was originally posted on my LJ account on November 15th, 2017, though I only recently wrote the review and finished it in its entirety.

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I give this simple but cute book about a girl and her dog...a 76/100.

Growing up, I never really liked reading. Actually, scratch that, I did like reading to an extent, but I hated having to analyze books for school assignments. Questions like "How does this chapter told in X's POV show about her character?" or "How will Y react to Z?" or "What does A and B say about C?" really stumped me, mostly because I didn't know what the word react meant, and partly because I just wanted to read without thinking too hard about them. I especially had trouble with it in middle school and high school, with stories such as Black Beauty, Lord of the Flies, and the one that especially traumatized me, Homer's Odyssey, giving me a lot of grief. I did recently decide to revisit one book I was made to read in middle school, Because of Winn-Dixie, and found that I like it. I remember seeing the movie in class once, and now that I've reread the book, I think it's time I give it a proper review, now that I'm actually able to comprehend and analyze books from a more critical eye as opposed to having so much trouble with it as a kid.

Since this is obviously a children's book, the premise is very simple and by the numbers: A young girl named Opal and her father, a preacher, recently moved to a new town. One day, when Opal is out running errands, she finds that a feral dog has decimated part of the grocery store she's in. She takes a liking to the dog, naming it Winn-Dixie, and decides to take him home. Winn-Dixie is quite a character, as he's always getting into trouble, from catching mice in the church to completely losing his mind when thunderstorms come around. But Opal and her new community love him anyway, flaws and all. The book is really about Opal, her father, and her new friends and acquaintances coming to appreciate Winn-Dixie and how he brings everyone together. Not a very original premise, but it can be done well, and for what it's worth, I do think it's serviceable enough here. If you're looking for something that'll blow you away or get your adrenaline pumping, you're in the wrong place. This book is a pure slice-of-life story, with many chapters focusing on mundane things, from Opal befriending a recovering alcoholic to Opal getting a job at the local pet store.

Much like The Wizard of Oz and Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, the prose is also very simple as well. It does make sense, as this is a book aimed at children, and is told from a ten year old's point of view, so while the prose is nothing to write home about, it's fairly realistic and doesn't go overboard nor does it feel so beige that it talks down to its audience or feel dull. Every chapter is short, only three or four pages long save for one near the end, so it's a fairly easy read. Plus, it gently touches on relatable issues such as loss, loneliness, missing parents, one's past wrongdoings, and reaching out to your community. They're only grazed at the surface level, but it doesn't sugarcoat the issues, but makes them relatable and easily understandable for kids, which is a rare feat to pull off. I think Winn-Dixie pulled it off here nicely.

The characters are serviceable, but nothing too note-worthy. Opal's a realistic lead: she's nice when she wants to be, but like a normal kid, she can lose her temper at times and get on someone's bad side. She gets into mischief, but she's still a sweet-natured, relatable kid who just wants friends and her family to be whole again. The other characters, while also decent in their own right, are pretty one dimensional. Several of them, such as a female classmate named Amanda Wilkinson or the mother of the rowdy boys in the neighborhood--who's only mentioned but never shows up on the page, don't get to do anything in the book other than say a few lines here and there. I would have liked to know more about Amanda, as I feel she was REALLY underutilized. We learn some things about some characters' backstories, but nothing that really dives deep into them. They're not unlikeable or anything, but at the same time, I can't help but feel that the characters had a lot of wasted potential that never got used.

But do I think it's a bad book? Not at all. Despite its mundane premise and slice-of-life take on said premise, it's still a very sweet, heartwarming, charming little book that I feel deserves the popularity that it gets. It's no masterpiece, but it wasn't trying to be one. It's just a cute little book about a girl and her dog, and sometimes, we need to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good book that makes people feel good, especially in these current trying times. I guess my main issues with it are that it's so short and that the characters, other than Opal, either don't develop or don't get to do anything. Plus, people who don't have a whole lot of patience might not gell with the book being purely slice-of-life, with nothing of note happening save for Opal and her father thinking Winn-Dixie got lost in a storm. That's literally it. I personally liked it well enough and I reread it from time to time, so who says sweet, pure slice-of-life books are bad?

Overall, if you want a quiet, charming, sweet little book that'll make you feel good or that you want to read to your kid, pick this one.
 
I like your takes on stuff. Good to know that I’m not the only long-winded person here. You’re going at a faster pace than me as well, keep it up!
 
Update on my Liz and the Blue Bird Review in regards to the English dub:

So my copy of Liz and the Blue Bird's Blu-Ray came in the mail today and I just finished watching it in English. Yeah, still love this movie. But I'm really impressed with the English dub, which isn't a surprise, since NYAV Post dubbed it, with Stephanie Sheh working on the directing and all. A good majority of their dubs have been great over the past few years. The cast nails all of their roles perfectly, though I did think Xanthe Huynh tried a bit too hard to make Ririka seem airheaded, though she does great in everything else. My only other gripe with the dub is that it sprinkles Japanese honoriffics in, such as "senpai" and "chan," which were kind of jarring. That's really it.

But I have to say, when I first read that Laurie Hymes of all people was going to voice Mizore, I was REALLY skeptical, because Pokemon fans will know her as the English voice of Lillie in the Sun and Moon anime. Not gonna lie, Hymes is just NOT good as Lillie. She sounds like a muppet trying to imitate Minnie Mouse, and that kind of voice absolutely does NOT suit Lillie at all. I was really scared that her unfitting voice for Lillie would be used for Mizore's voice, which I know wouldn't work at all. Thankfully, my worries were alleviated, as not only does she manage to sound convincingly shy and similar to Mizore's Japanese voice, her overall acting and performance are a MASSIVE improvement over her work in the Pokemon Sun and Moon anime, as she is absolutely fantastic as Mizore. Of course, you know NYAV Post wouldn't give any of their movies bad dubs. A good or bad voice and acting director can really make a difference in how a dub's quality turns out, so as far as Laurie Hymes' Lillie voice goes, I can attribute that to bad voice direction. It goes without saying that voice actors don't choose the quality of their work, as whatever they work on is just a paycheck to them. But if the dub has a passionate staff that really care about what they're working on and go out of their way to make a great dub, it can show. Big time, and I think Hymes' performance as Mizore is a shining testament of that.
 
A muppet trying to imitate Minnie Mouse? Savage burn. Also for some reason I got this mental image of Miss Piggy snorting helium and trying to act cutesy, making it even better. :D

Good to hear the dub of that movie was good, though! As for sprinkling honorifics about...does it have good reason to? If they're important to the overall narrative or tone, I can see it, like in some of the Persona games. Otherwise, yeah, kinda strange to keep things like that.
 
This review was originally written on June 10th, 2018.

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I'll be honest here, I've never read any of Jennifer Weiner's works. At all. My mom owns some of her books, but I've never been a fan of romance novels or adult novels. I always thought they were kind of boring. So when I found a copy of The Littlest Bigfoot in Barnes and Noble one day, and its sequel, I was curious and rented it from my library. The premise sounded interesting, a misfit girl befriending a misfit bigfoot child, and those kinds of stories are usually my cup of tea, but I didn't want to buy it and then find out I don't like it and not be able to give it back. Now that I've read it...unfortunately, for someone who's billed as a big bestselling authoress, I can't say this is a very good book at all. It's actually kind of bad, and since I haven't read any of her other books, I can only imagine that her other novels aren't like this one.

The story is about a young girl named Alice Mayfair. She's pretty much a klutzy misfit who's an outcast in school and neglected by her rich family, constantly being sent from school to school because her klutziness gets her into big trouble. As a last resort, her emotionally detached parents send her off to yet another school, hoping it'll rectify her many problems. On the other hand, a bigfoot named Millie is interested in humans and believes they're not all bad, but her tribe won't let her anywhere near them for fear of exposure and persecution. There's also a subplot about a boy named Jeremy wanting to study bigfoots and meet one in real life. The three of them meet and set off a chain of events that threaten to destroy all they've tried so hard to attain.

Honestly, nothing about this book stood out to me, other than Alice's plight, and not in a good way. On one hand, I always liked stories about outcasts who are shunned by other kids for whatever reason, because I was in that situation myself. On the other hand, Alice's life is pretty much full of bad stuff: Her parents are emotionally neglectful and don't give two shits about her, she's so klutzy and clumsy that apparently she causes catastrophies everywhere she goes, all of which result in her getting kicked out of several schools, and said neglectful parents are always shipping her off to boarding schools so they don't have to deal with her. Now, I'm sure this has happened to various kids in real life, because let's face it, life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. However, with the way Weiner writes it, it felt like the story was just trying to crap on Alice every chance it got, rather than letting these things happen naturally, in a more organic, seamless fashion. It just got tiring to slog through after a while.

Which leads me to the book's absolute biggest problem ever: It completely violates "show, don't tell," by telling literally EVERYTHING. EVERY SINGLE PAGE IN THIS ENTIRE BOOK is absolutely nothing but telling, telling, telling, with zero showing anything at all. We never see Alice's clumsiness actually cause problems for her. We never actually see her parents neglecting her. We never see the things that happened to Millie's family in the past. We never see the other kids make an effort to make friends with her. The writing style is so dull, bland, and feels so much like a shopping list that it made me wonder if this whole thing was written by a high schooler. Every sentence and paragraph was so simple and condescending, it felt like the writer didn't trust her audience and felt she had to explain every single little thing to the readers in order to tell the story. And this is supposedly written by a famous best selling authoress? Also, no, the fact that it's a children's book is not an excuse for such poor writing and prose. Kids don't like being talked down to, and I've read plenty of kids books that had much more lyrical, imaginative, immersive, engaging prose that never went out of its way to insult its audience's intelligence. The only thing I have to say about this is that I hope to God the rest of her books aren't written this way, especially considering Weiner is supposedly a famous, best selling author.

The characters were equally bland and uninteresting as well. There was just nothing to them. Alice is a typical misfit who whines about everything, Millie is a Yare (bigfoot) who wants to learn more about humans, and Jeremy is a kid who wants to study bigfoots. There's also the typical ineffectual friends, the snooty mean girl who uses and bullies Alice for her own amusement, the hip teachers who try to meet the kids at their level, everyone was just so cookie cutter and bog standard that I couldn't find myself to care for any of them. I especially don't care for Jeremy and his subplot, because I barely remember anything about him or his part of the story. If you can't remember a character or their subplot, you know you've done a terrible job at writing them. Every single character was cliche, bland, one-dimensional, and were basically cardboard cut-outs of every character archetype known to man. Also, there's this one character that Weiner shoved in who is apparently a super hip, agender social justice warrior who specifically says uses ze/xir pronouns. This one was especially obnoxious, as not only did they not contribute to the story at all, I felt like Weiner just created this character solely for the purpose of telling social justice warriors who might pick up the book, "Hey, SJWs! Look at me! I made this character who uses ze/xir pronouns and is super hip and edgy and trendy and woke just for you! See how woke and trendy and PC I am? Notice me and my awesomeness!!!" I hate it when book writers feel the need to shove in things that obviously cater and pander to rabid social justice warriors. If you want to write a character who's uber unique and special and does appeal to them, fine, but don't make it so obvious that it feels like you're flashing a big neon sign that can be seen from space in doing so! Honestly, you could cut this character out and nothing would be lost.

I'm not gonna lie, the story itself was just dumb as well. Misfit girl meets bigfoot, they go on adventures, get in trouble, the day is saved, and everyone is happy. I especially hated the ending. It was basically everyone in Alice's entire school gathering together and confronting some mean press about Millie and screaming at the top of their lungs that freaks are people and outcasts deserve to be accepted and loved and that appearances don't matter. Normally, I like this kind of moral, as it is important even in today's era, but Weiner writes it in a way that completely hammers it into our brains to the point of being obnoxiously preachy and self-righteous, so much so that it felt like an after school special. Seriously, Weiner. TRUST YOUR AUDIENCE. Don't just spell things out for them and hammer the ham-fisted moral into our heads! It was completely unsubtle, uninteresting, and downright annoying. I can recommend so many other books that manage to tell this message in a much more balanced, nuanced, subtle way without being preachy or obnoxious in the process.

I'm giving this a 51/100. All in all, if you're looking for a genuinely good book for kids, stay away from this one, and don't let the fact that Weiner wrote this fool you. Just because she makes money and writes books doesn't mean her bibliography is full of masterpieces.
 
Just finished this review today, so here's my review of Voltron: Legendary Defender, one of my new favorite shows of all time.

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I give this stylish, action-packed reboot of an old 80s anime...an 82/100!

If someone were to tell me a few years ago that I'd wind up loving a show called Voltron, I would have said they were insane. I'm not normally into mecha shows, mostly because they either have too much technobabble and complicated stuff that makes it hard to follow, but most of the ones I've seen tend to be really melodramatic and annoying. So mecha shows aren't really to my taste. There are a couple exceptions, such as Gundam X, Gundam: War In The Pocket, and Magic Knight Rayearth. I literally don't know ANYTHING about Voltron, other than the fact that it was adapted from an anime called Beast King GoLion. My college anime club did show an episode of the latter, but that was all that I had ever seen of it. One of my favorite internet reviewers touched on Voltron Force, but it was pretty bad so I avoided it, not that I knew anything about it to begin with. Then I started hearing a bunch of my friends and others on the internet talking about Voltron over and over again. Apparently a new series had started, and from what I had heard, it was supposedly really good, with a lot of people from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra working on it. Out of boredom and curiosity, I decided to sit down and watch it myself. Eight seasons later, here I am reviewing it, and...yeah, I'm Voltron trash now. You're welcome. Since I don't know much about GoLion or the 80s Voltron, this review will only talk about Legendary Defender and its merits and flaws, with a few references to the 80s anime here and there. Now on with the review!

For millennia, the evil Galra Empire has destroyed civilizations, enslaved many races, and oppressed the universe with their tyranny. It's said that the only thing capable of defeating the Galra Empire is a gigantic robot called Voltron, made from five robot lions (Personally, they all look more like panthers to me). Presently, five people on Earth find themselves wrapped up in the Galran War when they come across a blue robot lion that transports them to the Castle of Lions, where the last remaining survivors of the decimated planet Altea, Princess Allura and her royal advisor, Coran. Together, they must make use of Voltron, defeat the evil Zarkon, and put an end to the Galra Empire's reign of tyranny once and for all. Not the most original story in the world, but Voltron manages to put its own spin on it and make everything interesting with the lore, exploring other worlds, showing how the Galra affects everyone, and things of that nature.

You might recognize the name Studio Mir attached to this production, which isn't that much of a surprise. This is the company that worked on shows like The Legend of Korra, season 4 of The Boondocks, and even the Chinese film Big Fish and Begonia. Their animation is commonly characterized as having a great anime-esque style, with smooth movement, great battle choreography, distinct character designs, lush background art, and relatively decent CGI. The same is true for Voltron, and it makes great use of any animation techniques it can utilize to create a visually interesting, captivating world--or worlds, since most of the show takes place in space. It helps that the majority of the character designs are true to their original 80s counterparts, though with enough new additions to make them fresh and not feel like flat-out ripoffs. The music is pretty cool, though not particularly memorable. The theme songs don't have any vocals, which I think was a good choice here, as some cartoon opening themes try a bit too hard to seem cool and appealing to kids, and often failing in some way, whether through questionable lyrics or pandering dialogue. The lack of vocals does work here, so the music gets a decent pass on this one.

Again, I'm not familiar with their eighties counterparts, so I'll only be talking about the characters based solely on their depictions here...and honestly, I don't have any complaints. The main cast are an absolute delight to watch. At first, they do seem like anime stereotypes: the calm, collected leader, the cocky, overconfident comic relief, the big cowardly guy, the smart kid, the princess, but over the course of the series, they evolve and are extremely complex, nuanced, fantastically likeable, and interesting. They all have their quirks, their flaws, their weaknesses, their strengths, their hopes, dreams, personalities, and they all get their individual moments to shine. I personally love Pidge and Shiro, with Pidge taking the number one spot. She's best girl. No question. Even some minor characters are given a lot of personality and charm, even if they don't appear much. I love this cast of characters and watching them all change made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Now, the show isn't without its flaws, and for all the things it gets right, there are still a few things that it messes up on. Throughout the seasons, the characterization isn't always the most consistent. It's not bad like in Mana Khemia, where good characters are written to act needlessly mean-spirited for no reason, but it is pretty noticeable sometimes. For example, one character leaves the Paladins in order to join another organization to infiltrate the Galra, though we never see him during this time, and when he gets back, barely anything has changed. One character gets flanderized into loving only food and not much else, though that got rectified in later seasons, and I've seen worse examples, so I'm willing to forgive it here. Several minor characters are given big roles and are implied to do even more, but then they get reduced to cameos without any lines. Plus, several plot threads and hooks that were established in previous seasons randomly get dropped and never explored again, or given rushed resolutions that don't necessarily do much in the grand scheme of things. So the show does tend to establish things but not really follow through with them, or try to do so in a rushed, noncohesive manner.

Overall, Voltron: Legendary Defender, while not without its flaws, is still a fun, action-packed, emotional, enjoyable experience that any fan of good animation can enjoy. Do I feel some aspects of the show could have been handled better? Of course. But I'd rather watch a flawed but still genuinely good show over a straight up crappy cartoon any day (Breadwinners, anyone?). The fact that it was even on Netflix gives it a lot of freedom that TV Networks just don't give their shows nowadays, letting it take a lot of risks. Some paid off, some didn't, but the final product is still a great, intriguing show with well-rounded characters we care about and a story that doesn't talk down to its audience, resonating with people of all ages all over. I'm glad I got to watch this show, and it's definitely something I'll show my kids someday to show them what a GOOD cartoon is.

Before I finish, I'm going to get VERY serious here, as there's something I've been wanting to talk about and address for a while: Certain fan reactions to the showrunners' decisions. From what I've seen, there are a LOT of people who weren't happy with seasons 7 and 8 and some of the decisions made for those seasons. The creators did explain some of how things went down, but for some fans, it wasn't enough. Some of them have even gone as far as to not only harass the cast and crew, but send them death threats and even try to stage a protest in front of Studio Mir's offices. Why? Because they either hated that some members of the cast didn't get together romantically and didn't like the direction the show took with certain characters. It's one thing to dislike certain aspects of the show and voice your frustrations with it. That's fine. But it's another thing to harass the cast and crew about it, to the point of sending death threats to them on a near regular basis. This is NOT how a fan, let alone a person, should act. THIS BEHAVIOR IS ABSOLUTELY DEPLORABLE AND UNACCEPTABLE! Nobody should ever do things like that, for ANY reason. Even if you do genuinely dislike how the show treated certain things, harassing the cast and crew this way isn't going to help your case! I disliked certain episodes like "The Feud," but do you see me harassing the cast and crew over it because I didn't like it? No! Doing something like that is stupid, petty, cruel, and immature. Sending death threats to the showrunners and voice actors doesn't make you a critic. It doesn't make you a hero or show how you're standing up for yourself or fighting an oppressive regime. It makes you an asshole, plain and simple. No show is perfect. Nothing ever is. Whether it was due to botched planning on the creators' part or genuine meddling from the executives at DreamWorks themselves, regardless of how the show treated those issues, that is STILL no excuse to treat them the way some people have been doing! If you want to criticize the show, do so in a mature, calm, rational, professional manner. Don't harass the cast and crew and send them death threats. I cannot stress this enough.

Okay, now that I addressed the elephant in the room, let's wrap this up. While not a perfect show by any means, Voltron: Legendary Defender is still a great show that absolutely deserves the love and popularity that it gets.
 
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I'm in season 6 episode 5 and I agree with what you said. It's very engaging and takes great twists, which makes it a very unpredictable show, and most season finales are great with very good action and lots of creativity. It's laid-back moments are great too. Its flaws have been that some things feel very improvised, and that the members of the main cast should have been more defined in their background and motivations.
 
I liked the premise of that Bigfoot book from what you said, shame that it talks down to the audience. I should read it and learn what not to do, maybe!

And you’re not the type I’d expect to like the Netflix Voltron, so that’s a good sign to me. I have this unexplainable attraction to giant robots (maybe it’s the 13-year-old boy in me), so I’m more than down for a giant robot show with a twist.
 
I liked the premise of that Bigfoot book from what you said, shame that it talks down to the audience. I should read it and learn what not to do, maybe!

And you’re not the type I’d expect to like the Netflix Voltron, so that’s a good sign to me. I have this unexplainable attraction to giant robots (maybe it’s the 13-year-old boy in me), so I’m more than down for a giant robot show with a twist.

Yeah, the bigfoot book was...condescending and cliche, at best. And yeah, I also didn't expect to like Voltron of any kind. I'm glad I gave it a chance though, because it really is genuinely good, a few flaws notwithstanding.
 
So instead of a review, I'm going to post a top 10 list of my personal favorite video games ever.

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10. Tales of Zestiria
I have a LOT to say about this one, which I already did in my review, so I don't feel the need to elaborate on it here. It's not the first Tales game I've ever played (That honor goes to Abyss), it IS the first Tales game I ever completed and invested myself in. While it's not as good as other games I've played, namely due to having an annoying battle system, a cliche story, gigantic plot holes the size of China, unanswered questions, wasted potential, and huge storytelling/character development opportunities being completely thrown to the wayside, I still really enjoyed this one. The characters are all very charming, quirky, and subtle, the graphics are fantastic, the world design is beautiful (though from what I heard, Berseria's tops it), the English dub is amazing, I love the morally gray tone it develops near the end, and it honestly felt very satisfying to me. It's not the best game ever, but I wouldn't call it bad simply because of its flaws. I'd play this game a thousand times over just to replay my favorite scenes...and in general, I love it that much.

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9. A Little Lily Princess
Nobody, I mean NOBODY, expected such a thing like this to exist, but it does! One would think this would turn out to be a terrible disaster, but as it turns out, it's actually a really good game! Sure, it's super easy to play and there's very little challenge involved, but the story and well developed characters more than make up for it. The game really adds to the characters, fleshing them out and giving them full arcs (Jesse being the most prominent example) and adding so many layers to them. Plus, it's very faithful to the original novel all the same, no matter which route you go down. My only real gripes with it is that Miss Minchin is still a cliche villain character with zero redeeming qualities, and that the costumes are VERY out of place in Victorian era London. But if you're looking for a good visual novel that's a breeze to get through, then A Little Lily Princess is sure to be a nice little time killer.

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8. Kirby Triple Deluxe
Like Pokemon, I've been playing Kirby games since I was a kid, though lately I kind of drifted away from Kirby because of real life obligations. That being said, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror and Nightmare In Dreamland are still very close to my heart. But I bought Kirby: Triple Deluxe recently, and I was extremely impressed, namely because the character designs for the villains are absolutely beautiful, especially the final one. This game has the best villain designs in all of the games I've played, and not only that, they manage to improve on previous villains such as Wispy Woods by giving them different forms and new sets of attacks that put the old villains to shame, and said villains can be pretty durn hard to beat. Trust me. Do you know how long it took me to battle the final villain in Arena Mode?! I also like the storyline, even if it is cliche, and that they actually give the main villain a backstory. Plus, the soundtrack is very nice, the setting and designs are also beautiful, and Kirby gets new powers and abilities such as Beetle and Bell, both of which are pretty kick butt. I hear that Kirby: Planet Robobot is a better sequel to this game, and I haven't played it yet, though plan to. Still, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a game you don't want to miss out on if you want a fun, entertaining, and challenging Kirby adventure that'll keep you on your toes.

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7. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers
A Pokemon game where you can become a Pokemon, explore dungeons, and defeat bad guys?! Sign me up! Pokemon Mystery Dungeon in general was a huge step-up for Pokemon games that weren't the main games. But while the first PMD games were relatively good, Explorers improved on them in every single way, giving the partner and player characters more personality and depth, something that had never been attempted for Pokemon before, implementing a darker storyline that raised the stakes, better animation, a more expansive world and setting, and far more stuff to do, such as find rare items. My personal favorite has to be Sky, and let's face it, everyone loves Sky, and for good reasons: Shaymin isn't an annoying brat as he is in the Giratina and the Sky Warrior movie, and it actually provides character development for other characters that were previously given the shaft before! What's more? You can play through said flashbacks! People love the Explorers PMD games, and I do, too. In fact, Sky was the very first Pokemon game to ever make me cry! That has to say something!

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6. Harvest Moon: Mineral Town series
This entry applies to both Friends of Mineral Town and More Friends of Mineral Town. This game, along with Back To Nature and Harvest Moon 64 are widely considered to be the best Harvest Moon games ever. I haven't played BTN, and I tried to play 64 but couldn't figure it out, and it was way too clunky for me. Thankfully, Friends of Mineral Town was very easy to get into. It's very simple (Though cooking is a pain if you don't look up the recipes online), winning over your desired bachelor/ette is decently challenging, there's a lot to do, the characters are all very quirky and interesting, while still vague enough to be open to interpretation, the graphics are great for its time, and it's just a sweet, relaxing, fun little romp that you can sit back and enjoy without feeling like you have to finish it all in one year or something. Definitely recommend FoMT if you want a nice little time killer and are bored of action games.

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5. Earthbound
Everyone I know loves this game. I hadn't even heard of this game series if it wasn't for one of my favorite game reviewers. Once I finally managed to get my hands on it, I found it to be fantastic. It's no surprise why people love this game. The cartoony graphics and designs are very reminiscent of old 80s slice-of-life cartoons, the monster designs are very creative (Where in any other RPGs can you find sentient mushrooms that can poison you and mess up your controls?), the characters, while a bit one-dimensional, are decently likeable, the dialogue and script can be down right hilarious at times, and it can get pretty serious and creepy when it wants to. Plus, you get to travel all over the place, to lush beaches, to an underground world full of dinosaurs, a vast desert, creepy swamps, etc. If you're looking for something that'll really keep you on your toes, Earthbound is the way to go.

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4. Tales of Symphonia
No surprise there. Tales of Symphonia is universally considered one of the best Tales games of all time, and with good reason. Now that I've played through a huge portion of it, I can wholeheartedly agree. Now, I've only played the GameCube version, not the Chronicles version on the PS3, which is based on the PS2 version. But I love the characters (except Zelos. He can suck it), the character designs are great, the English voice cast is awesome, the story is very rich, deep, and multilayered, the setting is very well developed, and some of the twists are downright shocking in a great way. It does suffer a few drawbacks in the form of some annoying characters, some idiotic decisions, the occasional tedious puzzle, and limiting your ability to make your characters learn certain attacks, but everything else totally makes up for it. It's no wonder Symphonia is considered great, and now I've jumped on the bandwagon. Also, stop hating on Colette!

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3. Story of Seasons
Farming games aren't what I expected to play. I was more into Pokemon and adventure games with a linear, easy to play storyline. Ever. But I bought this off the eShop completely blind, and it was for sale. And wow, did I get treated to a wonderful experience! There's so much to do and unlock here, you can customize your character and marry a particular bachelor/ette, make clothes, raise animals, grow food, and so much more! While I admit that older Harvest Moon games have their charm, Story of Seasons happened to be one of the first HM games I ever played, and it kind of set the standard for future Harvest Moon games for me. Plus, the art style and character designs are beautiful, adopting an anime style and giving the setting a sort of Western sensibility about it. This game really made me feel at home.

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2. Pokemon Games
Pokemon has been a huge part of my life ever since I was a little kid. Even now, it still holds a special place in my heart, and I still play the games. Pokemon as a franchise is all about catching monsters, fighting trainers, and defeating evil organizations. But even as it adheres to strict formulas, Pokemon always finds new ways to spice it up some without changing the things that make Pokemon so beloved by its fans. Even the remakes have been getting better and better as the years pass, with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire being the best remakes yet. But in my opinion, Pokemon Black and White were not only the darkest games, but the ones that took the most risks with the franchise. Honestly, I think its better off for it, because sometimes even Pokemon can be afraid to go outside its comfort zone. The gameplay is still the same, competitive players can exalt the new features that X and Y introduced along with IV/EV training, and with Sun and Moon coming out soon and introducing even more drastic changes, there's nothing Pokemon can do to make me let go of it.

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1. Mother 3
I never even HEARD of the Mother series until one of my favorite internet critics did video reviews on the trilogy. I had originally thought they'd just be terrible games that happened to be super popular. But The Cartoon Hero's reviews spurred me to check it out. The hype for these games are 110% justified, especially the last game, Mother 3. No game I know of can even come close to matching Mother 3 in quality. Everything has a purpose. The characters evolve. The fighting style and gameplay are very polished and well done. The story is absolutely amazing and is constantly getting deeper and richer. The stakes are always high. It's funny, it's sad, it's cute, it's interesting. The battles are always challenging and really make you think and strategize if you really want to win. Also, it made me cry at the end. More so than Explorers of Sky. If a game can do that, you know it's going to be good. Seriously, this game is a masterpiece in my book. Getting it was so worth it. Mother 3 is an experience I'll never forget, and I wish more people would play it. It needs more love!
 
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1. Mother 3
I never even HEARD of the Mother series until one of my favorite internet critics did video reviews on the trilogy. I had originally thought they'd just be terrible games that happened to be super popular. But The Cartoon Hero's reviews spurred me to check it out. The hype for these games are 110% justified, especially the last game, Mother 3. No game I know of can even come close to matching Mother 3 in quality. Everything has a purpose. The characters evolve. The fighting style and gameplay are very polished and well done. The story is absolutely amazing and is constantly getting deeper and richer. The stakes are always high. It's funny, it's sad, it's cute, it's interesting. The battles are always challenging and really make you think and strategize if you really want to win. Also, it made me cry at the end. More so than Explorers of Sky. If a game can do that, you know it's going to be good. Seriously, this game is a masterpiece in my book. Getting it was so worth it. Mother 3 is an experience I'll never forget, and I wish more people would play it. It needs more love!
Well, I guess this was the reason the slogan for the first game is "No crying until the end". Well, that, and how a lot of people cried when the 64 version got cancelled. The funny thing is, it was also shown on Spaceworld '97, the same one that showed Pokémon GS, which gives hope to the fandom that the demo will be found someday.

Another thing that I find curious is that 90% of the game got thrown out (including the famous minecart scene and four chapters) once it made the transition from 64 to GBA. The only concrete thing we know for sure is that it was going to be darker, which makes me wonder what the hell was supposed to happen in the ending (which is confirmed to be different from the final version).

...Sorry, I just entered fanboy mode.
 
This review was originally written on March 24th, 2017.

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I give one of the strangest but well executed visual novels of recent times...an 90/100!

Now, I know what you're thinking: What?! Why would anyone adapt a classic Victorian era novel into a visual novel?! This is gonna suck soooooo bad! Yeah, adapting a Victorian novel into a video game is definitely not the norm. Was anyone really expecting this? And did anyone even want such a thing to happen? Well, Hanako Games thought it'd be a great idea, and they made A Little Lily Princess. Now, as of this review, I've finished this game, read the book, and I've seen three adaptations of A Little Princess so far: The 1993 movie, the 1986 British mini-series/movie starring Amelia Shankley(?), and the 1985 anime adaptation, the latter two I think are some of the best adaptations. I can definitely say for sure that A Little Lily Princess is up there with those two in that it's one of the most well executed, well thought out adaptations of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel, though I won't deny that it does have some flaws that prevent the game from being truly great.

Much like the novel, the story is very basic. Sara Crewe is sent to a boarding school and makes friends with all kinds of people there. But when her father dies and she loses everything, the evil headmistress of the school, Miss Minchin, makes Sara into a servant and treats her worse than dirt. Then, through a series of events, Sara's fortune is restored and she leaves the seminary. What makes A Little Lily Princess different is that, since it's in a visual novel format, you can have Sara become friends with one of six people: Becky, Ermengarde, Mariette, Lottie, Jesse, and Lavinia, and depending on the choices you make and the points you accummulate from doing certain activities such as playing with toys, dancing, having tea parties, etc., you can use the points you gather in order to access scenes where Sara interacts with the characters, some of which are important for progressing the story. If you get far enough, you go through the story with the character of your choice, and things happen differently depending on who you chose to befriend. Yeah, one of the selling points of this VN? Some of the characters are lesbians! Not even kidding. Don't worry, the girls don't do anything beyond hugging, hand holding, and the occasional passionate kiss, so you can let your kids play it.

For the most part, the characters are true to their counterparts in the novel. Sara is still a nice, sweet girl, Becky is the skittish, abused scullery maid, Lottie is a spoiled brat, Lavinia's an annoying rich girl, etc. But what makes A Little Lily Princess stand out from other adaptations is that it adds many more little tid-bits, layers, backstories, and extra personality to every one of the characters except for Miss Minchin, even characters who never got any screentime in the novel, Mariette and Jesse being two of the most prominent recipients of this treatment. In the book, Jesse was just Lavinia's sidekick and didn't do much of anything. Here, the game gives her a whole backstory and well-rounded personality from whole cloth, and an entire arc dedicated to her that gave her a lot of much needed depth and substance. I've read on many discussions on this game that Jesse's route is one of the most popular and well-liked, and I can certainly see why. Mariette also goes from just being Sara's maid to a worldly, kind-hearted but still firm and stern woman who, while she does love Sara dearly, is hardened from bad experiences from her past and hates that she can't do much to help Sara in her time of need. Even Ermengarde, Lottie, Becky, and Lavinia aren't exempt from character development, and the new tid-bits the game adds to them really make them shine like no other. They feel more like people rather than random character archetypes. It also helps that the game also adds in extra scenes devoted to showing the various characters interact that weren't present in the book, which I feel made ALLL feel much more enriched and enlivened. Even Sara, who could easily be mistaken for a perfect Mary Sue type of character, is given much more flaws, more so than the book, such as not always keeping herself composed, being a little bit of a snarker, trying too hard, prying too much into someone's past, and having her succumb to despair a bit more easily than other adaptations did. Any route you choose will expose a flaw of Sara's that plays a part in progressing the story, which is absolutely wonderful and a great way to utilize opportunities for character development.

Unfortunately, as much as I praise the decisions made for those characters in this game, the same cannot be said for Miss Minchin. She is the only one in the game who doesn't get any kind of development, nor does she ever get fleshed out. She remains the stereotypical evil teacher through and through. Having her stay this way can make the story's message feel a bit preachy and cliche. I guess this is because I was spoiled through the 1985 anime version, which went way out of its way to show Miss Minchin far more sympathetic and human than any other adaptation did, while keeping her purpose in the story and giving time to show why she became the way she is and why she resents Sara so much. Plus, here, Miss Minchin doesn't get much comeuppance in the end, and I think one reason why she doesn't get called out for her actions much in this game is the fact that for SOME reason, Hanako Games cut Amelia out entirely. Uhhh...why? Where the heck is Amelia? I can understand not showing Sara's father, but Amelia? What was the point of cutting her out?

As far as faithfulness to the novel, other than a few characters being cut out entirely, most of the changes are cosmetic in nature, such as not adapting the first chapter or the last one in its entirety, having certain famous scenes from the book restricted to certain routes (The scene where Sara, Ermengarde, and Becky pretend to have a banquet in the attic, in the chapter called The Magic, is restricted only to Ermengarde's route, and Lottie's learning of Sara's circumstances is also only accessible in her route), Carmichael's family not showing up, etc. Most of the changes don't really affect much in the long run, and the basic story is still the same. To the game's credit, they actually add more than they cut out, which works because video games aren't governed by certain restrictions unlike stuff like TV shows and movies, which gives the creators more freedom to adapt the story however they please. It also helps that the game pretty much uses whole lines and paragraphs taken straight from the book, but manage to integrate them into the story in ways that make sense. I said in my review of the book that the purple prose could be a bit pretentious at times, but a lot of the time in this game, the passages used are either tweaked some to make more sense in context, and various scenes are either long or short, making the prose a lot more digestible. It also helps that the producers added some of their own text passages into the story, not only managing to replicate Burnett's writing style, but also adding to them so the story progression makes more sense. The story itself is pretty linear, and never changes even if you chose a girl to befriend, even with additional scenes with Miss Minchin that lead to Ram Dass sprucing up Sara's attic, which are different in every route.

One other gripe I have with the game is the character designs. Now don't get me wrong, I like them, but the embellished, stylized, costume-y nature of the girls' outfits make them all feel gratuitiously out of place in a setting like Victorian era London. I mean, Sara, Ermengarde, and Mariette look fine, but Jesse looks less like a Victorian era everygirl and more like she could be Rose from Tales of Zestiria's long lost twin sister. Or Shirayuki from Snow White With The Red Hair if she didn't cut her hair. I mean, none of the characters would look out of place in a cutesy moe slice-of-life anime, but in Victorian era London? I don't think so. I also think the designers tried a bit too hard with Miss Minchin's design and made her look too much like an evil, sexy villain, giving her nature away right off. This is another thing the 1985 anime excels in, because there, the characters all had simple, sensible outfits fitting for the time period, and even when the characters dressed in grand, fancy outfits, they remained true to the time period. Even Miss Minchin looked like a shrewish but sensible old woman, one who you could easily see as just an old woman, nothing more, nothing less. In ALLL, Sara's pink princess outfit looks way too much like a cute magical girl outfit, and you definitely don't see super short poofy skirts, pink bloomers, dresses with wings on them, and thigh high stockings in Victorian era London. I'm not an expert on period fashion, but I know enough that some of the outfits the characters wear in ALLL would be considered scandalous and wicked, and that era definitely had strict, conservative views on fashion, and the outfits the characters wear in ALLL definitely wouldn't fly in that time period. Oh, and Ram Dass looks less like a realistic Indian man and more like he came straight out of Magi. The 1985 anime version's design made him more simple yet realistic and didn't try to embellish his clothes one bit.

But does all of this hurt my enjoyment of the game? Heck, no! Yeah, it's an unorthodox choice for a video game, but Hanako Games went through with their idea and made something good out of it, which is always fine with me! It's a pretty easy game to breeze through, and you're given the option to skip scenes you already went through, so you can view any that you haven't seen, which is good for those who lack patience. But in a way, this, along with the linear story, this may make the game a bit too easy for some. I had no problem with it. Sometimes it's just nice to play through something that just requires you to sit back and relax, without worrying about fighting boss battles (I'm looking at you, Armatized Heldalf!!!) or gathering items. A Little Lily Princess may not be the best game ever, I can name at least three that I like a lot more, but it's definitely a cute game that shouldn't be left by the wayside and has a lot to offer for both yuri fans and fans of the book. Out of all the adaptations I've seen, I think A Little Lily Princess is high up there in terms of faithfulness to the novel and for just being genuinely good. It cuts out only the excess fat, adds in more substance and meat to make it rich, and is still a rewarding experience without getting rid of what made the book so great.

Whether you're a hardcore gamer, casual gamer, or just want a little time killer, A Little Lily Princess to have something to offer for anyone willing to give it a chance. Also, don't worry. There's no explicit sexual content despite the genre and format (Visual novel, yuri genre), so you can let your kids play it.
 
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This review was just finished on April 3rd, 2019.

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I give this magical fantasy book aimed at kids...a 51/100.

Oh boy...I admit, I'm a kid at heart. I find myself reading more books aimed at kids than towards adults, mostly because I find most books written for adults to be either boring, melodramatic, or just don't appeal to me. I'm a sucker for a good fantasy adventure or a cute slice-of-life story about kids going through school problems or animals dealing with their own issues, so on and so forth. But just because I like certain books doesn't mean I'm not going to point out their flaws. When I first saw Marabel and the Book of Fate on Goodreads, it sounded like my kind of book. But I've heard other people write that it had a ton of problems. Wanting to judge it for myself, I rented it from my library and read it. Unfortunately, this book tries way too hard and it falls flat on its face. Hard. It's not as bad as The Hate U Give, IMO, but it's got a ton of problems.

The story focuses on Marabel, a young princess from the kingdom of Magikos. Her family openly favors her brother Marco over her because, according to this magical book her kingdom worships called the Book of Fate, he is destined to be a chosen one who will save the kingdom from disaster. But on the day of the twins' thirteenth birthday, Marco is kidnapped by a mysterious woman and her cohort, a wizard. Marabel is angry that nobody wants to do anything to save Marco, so against everyone's wishes, she decides to go save him herself. With her friend and maidservant Ellie and a snarky unicorn named Floriano by her side, Marabel is intent on saving her brother at any cost.

So the premise is cliche, but still serviceable, and some writers have managed to pull it off. But this is one part where the story fails. For one, the story has literally no stakes. Marco is kidnapped by someone, and Marabel fears that he's being tortured, starved, and imprisoned in a dingy dungeon. But much to her surprise, he's actually been treated fairly well, which renders Marabel's quest to save him ultimately pointless. We also don't get an explanation for why the people follow the Book of Fate and worship it like its a God or what will supposedly happen if they don't follow it to the letter, and it seems more like an excuse for the adults to act incompetent than an actual meaningful plot device. I don't really have much to say on the prose, other than that while it does get the job done, some parts of it are fairly weak and feel condescending to the audience at times.

The characters are rather bland with the exception of Marabel. She's a typical strong girl who feels emotionally neglected by her family and wants to do things her own way. She's brave but still shows weakness and vulnerability at times, so she's not entirely one-note, and I do appreciate that despite how her family openly favors Marco over her, she and Marco still get along just fine and she doesn't hold it against him. The other characters, unfortunately, don't fare as well. The only things we know about her friend Ellie is that she's Marabel's maid and is afraid of enclosed spaces like caves or dungeons, and Floriano is just a sassy unicorn who causes trouble and doesn't do much else other than open doors with his magic horn. Everybody else is unfortunately very one note and don't get any development at all.

But the book's biggest problems are two fold: One, barely anything happens when Marabel actually leaves to go rescue her brother. 60% of the book is little more than pointless filler consisting of the characters just meandering around their world, whether it's being imprisoned and treated like pets by giants or having to rescue Floriano from some mischievous fairy. The second one is especially prominent because of how jarring it is. Basically, the book is set in a made up fantasy world, yet the characters continuously reference modern day social media and technology such as Siri, Twitter, Angry Birds, and airport security. I'm not even kidding. These two just don't mesh! Not only are those references to modern day stuff completely out of place in a book that takes place in a pure fantasy world, it felt like they were just shoved in there to pander to the modern audience, and it creates a weird anachronism that's so jarring that it feels like you jumped from a nice fantasy adventure to a bland high school setting in 2018. If you want to write a story and reference modern technology, keep it where it actually makes sense, like a story taking place in the real world! Stuff like that has no place in a magical fantasy adventure! Seriously!

Overall, the book's a pretty easy read, but it's otherwise vapid, predictable, pointless, and stupid. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
 
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My personal favorite has to be Sky, and let's face it, everyone loves Sky, and for good reasons: Shaymin isn't an annoying brat as he is in the Giratina and the Sky Warrior movie, and it actually provides character development for other characters that were previously given the shaft before!
I don't love Sky. Heretic, I know. Tried to play Darkness. Wasn't a fan of the early setting, and when I got destroyed in one of the earliest dungeons for seemingly no reason other than not grinding hard enough, put it down right there. I oddly made it through Gates to Infinity fine, and liked what I played of Super. Extra heretic, I know.

On Mother 3's note, someone I know started a casual yesterday. Missed a chunk of it due to watching other things, though. Need to watch that, and finish it myself sometime.
 
I don't love Sky. Heretic, I know. Tried to play Darkness. Wasn't a fan of the early setting, and when I got destroyed in one of the earliest dungeons for seemingly no reason other than not grinding hard enough, put it down right there. I oddly made it through Gates to Infinity fine, and liked what I played of Super. Extra heretic, I know.

Eh, it's okay. If the Explorers games aren't your thing, then they're not your thing. Don't worry your little head!
 
This review was written on February 25th, 2014.

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I give this book about an anime/manga/game loving geek girl...a 44/100.

I...I...I...I want to hate this book. I read about it on TVTropes...and everybody on there said it was really bad, predictable, riddled with stereotypes, with a cliche plot, a cliche Mary Sue main character, and how it looks more like a fan fiction than an actual book. But it was about a girl who liked anime and manga who occasionally finds friends, both in real life and virtual, and gets picked on. I've been waiting for someone to write something like this. Curious, I found it in the library yesterday and rented it to see if it was really as mind breakingly horrible as everybody said. I went in with no expectations at all. But...what I got was entirely different. I'll probably be lynched for saying this to anyone, especially people who really hate this book, but...I...I...I love it! Probably not in the way people expect, but I love it! I really do! Yes, I know it's cliche, it's predictable, the main character is whiny, self-centered, and a shallow brat, the other characters are undeveloped or bland stereotypes, some of it is cheesy, etc. but I still can't help but like it! Yes, I've found my ultimate guilty pleasure book.

The story is about Madeline Ann Starr, or Maddy as she prefers to be called, whose parents recently divorced, and she, her mother, and her sister have to live with their grandmother, far away from her friends and everything she knows in Boston. Her grandmother is stringy, controlling, and an obsessive glass unicorn collector who is so annoyingly weird that she literally embarrassed Maddy right on her first day of school and is unashamed of it. Maddy's self-fulfilling prophecy about being her new school's outcast comes true as she becomes a frequent target of bullying from a dumb idiot named Billy, who finds no shame in picking on her and getting away with it. But Maddy finds solace in her manga obsession, drawing, and a new online MMO called Fields of Fantasy, which her dad gets for her for her birthday. There, she comes across a player whose alias is Sir Leo, and they find themselves chatting and bonding and connecting on a new level. But Maddy soon realizes she can't always rely on virtual reality to get away from her problems, so she's going to have to solve problems herself.

Now I won't lie, this book has a LOT of problems that really need to be addressed, so don't say I'm aiming to glorify it or hold it to be some gold mine of writing. Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first: the story. It's basically girl goes to new town, is miserable, gets bullied, meets boy, falls in love, overcomes hardships, finds friends, endures some drama, and comes out okay in the end, nothing else to it. The only twists being that the girl loves anime, manga, and games, and the main boy she comes to like also has to overcome his own set of flaws, which I found to be interesting, but it could have been a little better. The writing style is simple and slightly amateurish, but it is told from the perspective of a teenager, so I guess the authoress wanted to tell it from a teenager's POV a little too intensely. Many twists in the book, especially one near the end, were just way too convenient, even for a story like this, and somewhat unrealistic. Another major problem: the minor characters. They're all bland, underdeveloped, and completely one-sided, Billy and his female clique friends getting the worst of it, being bad to the bone with no good qualities to balance it out. They had basically no real personality, and felt more like straw men to move the plot forward than actual people, and I learned in fiction writing class that you can't make a character solely for the purpose of moving the plot forward, as that's not a good way to use a character. The minor characters are basically black and white, with no grey areas to them. I would have liked to know more about some other minor characters like Sarah, Matt, and Black Raven, who seemed like pretty cool people. The only character I truly hated was the grandmother. God, my grandmother doesn't act like that! Whose grandmother collects glass unicorns and treats them better than her own grandkids?! I do like her teacher Mrs. Reilly, though. She's awesome. Any teacher who likes anime is awesome in my book.

I've read some scathing reviews of this on Amazon, the bulk of them accusing Maddy of being a blatant Mary Sue who thinks the world is out to get her. My definition of a Mary Sue is a character who is completely perfect in every way and is able to do anything and everything, everyone worships her even when she does bad things that normal people would call her out on, and she has no realistic flaws. I don't think Maddy is a Mary Sue, as she does have some realistic character flaws. In the beginning she starts off rather whiny and miserable, and she thinks she'll become an outcast the minute she enters high school. With her grandmother's unexpected help, she ends up becoming so, but not for long. While I do agree she is a bit too whiny for her own good, and I can see how people would be annoyed by her, think about it for a moment: didn't we act the same way when we were young, impressionable teenagers? I do agree that her character could have been done a lot better (why does she worship Edward Cullen?! Twilight is horrible!), I saw a lot of myself in her. We both like anime, manga, games, and drawing (I can't draw too good), we both got picked on in high school (me to a much lesser extent), we both found awesome friends, we both had to move due to circumstances (Maddy because of a divorce, me because my parents got better paying jobs), we both have siblings who have it better than we do (Maddy has a little sister, I have an older sister), we both went to Anime Clubs (Maddy started one, I went to one at my previous college), and we both found teachers who actually like anime and manga (Maddy has Mrs. Reilly, I had a male study hall teacher in my senior year of high school. Yes, there ARE teachers who like anime, manga, and games in life! God, I really miss Mr. R! I wonder how he's doing now?). Seriously, I can relate to her on an insane level. It's kinda creepy. But I didn't discriminate against people because they happened to wear Abercrombie and Fitch or Aeropostle. Who does that? I only wear some of their clothes for comfort or ease of movement, not to deem myself superior to others. Plus, I am afraid that people who don't know about anime and read this book might get the notion that all anime fans are whiny, self-absorbed goths (heck, Maddy even outright says at one point she's not a goth), and I don't want them to think that, especially not of me. I'm not a goth, nor am I self-absorbed. Lots of my anime fan friends are some of the nicest people I know. So yeah, not gonna lie, Maddy's not the most likeable lead character. She's pretty poorly written, to be honest.

Yes, I will admit, it's not the best book in the world, but, as cheesy, predictable, convenient, and fan fiction-like this book is, I honestly like it for what it is. Sure, the characters could have been more fleshed out and developed, the story could have had a little less melodramatic conflict, and some twists could have been less forced and too convenient, and the ending could have been less cheesy, sappy, unrealistic, and cheap, but it's a nice little read if you want to get away from reality for a bit. Plus, to the book's credit, it definitely gets points for the anime it references, like .Hack//Sign, Vampire Knight, and others. God, I sure didn't expect Voltron to be referenced in there! Plus it doesn't paint anime and manga in a negative light either, and it manages to send a good message: as nice as it is to get away from reality, it still needs to be faced, so you have to balance out your time away from reality and face it when you absolutely need to. That's a good message, and to the book's credit, it isn't forced either, unlike how lots of other things are in the book. I could have also done without the Edward Cullen worshiping thing.

It's not the best book in the world. It really isn't. It's actually pretty bland and slightly cheesy and sappy. But it's one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Admittedly, though, I could write a better version.
 
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I’m glad someone else can embrace the stupid. I’m going through a phase now where I’m actually seeking out stuff that’s really stupid and finding the unpretentious joy in it. Pro wrestling and Fast & Furious are like me connecting with my inner redneck, it’s spiritual.
 
This review was originally written on December 8th, 2014.

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I give Isao Takahata's swansong...a 93/100!

Movies have been the main driving force in bringing entertainment to the world, ever since its infancy in the very late 1800s. Movies have evolved since its beginnings, and have now become a daily part of our life, but as a result of there being so many, there are now so few that truly stand out among the rest unless someone looks really hard. But there are people out there who still consider both movies and animation to be art forms in their own right, and combine them together to make a truly magnificent and ambitious viewing experience for a viewer. Studio Ghibli is one such example. They've been making movies since the 80s and are universally loved and praised by all who know them because they love and care for the art form and make movies that everyone of every country can enjoy, that are without equal. But in 2013, Isao Takahata, the director of the critically acclaimed Grave of the Fireflies, set out to make a very ambitious movie based on one of the oldest stories in the world, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

The story is about an old man who finds a very tiny girl growing from a magical bamboo stalk. In awe of her beauty, convinced that she is a blessing sent from Heaven, he takes her home to his wife. She then morphs into a baby, and the old couple decide to raise the girl as their own. But the girl the neighborhood kids call Little Bamboo is no ordinary girl. She is growing faster than any normal child. She is beautiful unlike any other girl in the world. Wanting to give their new daughter a happy life, the old man and woman go to the capital to live among the nobility, but Kaguya grows dissatisfied with her new rich life, as it's not like the free life she lived with her friends in the country. It doesn't help that men from all over want to marry her, seeing her as only a rare jewel or a prize to be won.

The original story has been around for a millennium and is considered one of the oldest Japanese stories in the entire world, probably one of the oldest stories in the entire world in general. It's been constantly referenced, homaged, adapted into media, etc., ever since its original conception. No one knows who made it, but I must say, whoever made it will be very pleased with Isao Takahata's film version. There's no denying it: the animation is absolutely luscious. It's intentionally made to look like a watercolor painting in every single scene, which in itself is a homage to how traditional Japanese scrolls looked back in those times. One would think something like this would be made in the 70s or 80s, but it's easy to miss the fact that it only came out two years ago. Every single character is animated in a fluid, life-like way, and their movements are definitely true to life, from their changing facial expressions to the swinging movements their arms make. It's just so full of life and heart!

The soundtrack is equally as beautiful. Every piece of music sets the atmosphere, mood, and tension of a scene absolutely perfectly, even the background music near the end that seemingly feels out of place but actually doesn't. I won't spoil anything because it's important to the story, but the music is a perfect blend of sadness and happiness for that scene, and it needs to be heard to be believed. In fact, my dad loved the music for that scene so much that the first thing he did upon returning home from the theater was listen to the OST on YouTube! He even bought a synthethizer so he could try and play a cover of the BGM for himself! You know a soundtrack is good if it makes people want to replicate it.

The characters are all amazing in their own way. None of them feel incomplete, have subtle backgrounds, and they're all reasonably developed characters with their own well-defined roles. Even the side characters have a lot of personality, brought to life by the beautiful animation, and work so incredibly well with the main characters. Now, I have heard some complaints about Kaguya's behavior. Some even go as far as to call her a heartless jerk, or even evil, but that's not true. She's just simply a hormone addled teenager growing up in a harsh, strict, even misogynistic time period, deprived of the freedom she had when she was little. Haven't we all experienced the feelings she did at some point in our lives? Where we feel like the world and people on it are either against us or want to use us against our will for their own conveniences that we protest against but can't do anything about? Kaguya is a wonderfully flawed, realistic character whom I'm pretty sure many people can relate to. The story itself is relatively simple, and that works in the movie's benefit since with simpler stories you can flesh out the characters all the more, and the animators really did an amazing job with that.

Now as of this writing, I've seen both the English and Japanese versions of the movie, and there's a French version I haven't seen yet. While I do love both versions in their own right, I do have some minor problems with Kaguya's English voice actress, Chloe Grace Moretz. This is the first work I've heard her in, and for the most part she's a reasonably good actress. However, during the dramatic scenes where she needs to raise her voice and be sad, crushed, and heartbroken, she...unfortunately really misses the mark, especially during the final third of the movie. When she cries, she sounds more like she's singing in a very subdued manner rather than screaming her guts out and letting herself be consumed by her sadness, and considering she makes absolutely no attempt to raise her voice or put any emotion in her acting during that last third, it pretty much makes the scene fall flat on its face. Which is a shame, because she nails everything else. The Japanese actress definitely handled it better, and I'm curious if the French version did the same.

The story itself is very simple, and I read a copy of the story in college, so it's very short and sweet, so anyone can adapt it in any way they please. While this is the only version I've seen, I definitely feel its the best adaptation, and for me, nothing can top it. I'm not too familiar with Takahata's work, and I did see a majority of Grave of the Fireflies, but I never finished it, because it was too grim and sad. Many people consider Grave of the Fireflies to be his masterpiece, but I honestly feel Kaguya has not only a better story, but better animation, characters, and a stronger narrative that takes its time to develop itself and make its characters come to life. Seriously, Kaguya deserves so much more recognition than it gets, and it didn't exactly do so well in the box office, both in the US and Japan. Even so, it's a wonderful film on every level, and it deserves more recognition.

If you want a genuinely good story that'll take you away from reality, check out Kaguya. In my opinion, its one of the best movies ever made.
 
This review was written on March 26th, 2019.

9780399551239


I give this beloved classic novel about a boy and his two dogs...a 93/100!

I'm sure some of you know that I didn't find myself liking a lot of well beloved classics. Of Mice and Men angered me with how awful it was, Homer's Odyssey outright traumatized me in freshman year of high school because I couldn't make heads or tails of it, Shakespeare's works didn't gell with me, A Wrinkle In Time's ending...couldn't even be called an ending to me, and I don't want to go into more details because I don't want to sound like a hipster who thinks all classics are bad and modern novels are good. There are a bunch of classic books that I do like, such as Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Little Women, Black Beauty, Jane Eyre, Bambi: A Life In The Woods, The Wizard of Oz, and a few others. Flaws aside, I did enjoy reading them. But I will say, one book definitely resonated with me, and I wish I had read this when I was little. That book is Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, and as far as I'm concerned, its popularity and status as a classic is well deserved.

The story centers on a young boy named Billy Coleman, who lives in northeastern Oklahoma in the rugged Ozark Mountains. He really wants to have a dog, as other kids in his neighborhood have them, but his family can't afford them, as dogs are expensive. Not willing to give up, Billy decides to hunt raccoons (referred to as just coons), sell their fur, and do whatever odd jobs he can to save up enough money to get some dogs. After two years, he manages to save up enough to buy two red bloodhound puppies, whom he names Old Dan and Little Ann. Billy and his dogs forge a strong, unbreakable friendship, and the dogs come through for him when times get tough. Billy is determined to make Old Dan and Little Ann into the best hunting dogs in the entire Cherokee country.

Now, books are no stranger to stories about kids bonding with their dogs, or any kind of animal for that matter. It's practically a cliche at this point. Lassie and Old Yeller practically defined the entire genre (I could be wrong on this one, but I know those two are the most famous examples). Books like that are still being made, such as Marley & Me and A Dog's Way Home. They can be executed well, and sometimes they fall flat on their face. Thankfully, Where The Red Fern Grows succeeds on this level, in no small part thanks to its very strong, engaging prose. There's just enough detail in everything that can immerse you in Billy's world, but not so much of it that it's overwhelming or little more than dry exposition. Sometimes I felt like I was right there with Billy in the Ozarks, wading along the rivers or walking through the woods full of drooping sycamore trees, looking for raccoons. If a book is capable of doing that just with its writing alone, then you know you have a winner. Plus, the whole thing is told from Billy's point of view, so we're able to really go inside his head and experience the way he sees the world, why he does things, and how he goes about what he does.

But there are some things that do bear mentioning here, both in regards to the writing and the time period it was written. This book was written in 1961, so a lot of things that happen in this book that were once considered acceptable back in that time period--such as a ten year old boy going off into the woods at night by himself, with weapons such as axes, completely unsupervised--would absolutely not fly in today's society, even down to the language. Everyone in the book uses the word "coon," which in this context refers to raccoons, as evidenced when the characters describe their ringed tails. Nowadays, the word coon is a racial slur used against African-Americans, often associated with racist caricatures characterizing blacks as being lazy, useless, and annoying, so it's not commonly used anymore. It's not used that way in the book, as it only ever refers to raccoons, but its overall usage can raise some eyebrows. But if you're aware of the context of its usage here, you should be fine.

The characters are very strong as well. I loved the whole ensemble, save for the Pritchard boys who were just a bunch of stereotypically annoying brats who bullied Billy for kicks. Billy himself is a pretty good, well rounded character. He knows what he wants, he works hard, is caring, kind, a little reckless, but still intelligent and realistically boyish. He does have moments where he bites off more than he can chew and makes mistakes, but he never comes off as an idiot or a complete screw up, nor is he overly perfect and nice to the point of being saccharine. He gets annoyed by his many sisters, but he genuinely cares for them. He's just an ordinary kid, and considering the novel's slice-of-life nature, it really works here. His parents, grandparents, friends, and other acquaintances are relatively decent as well, though they don't get nearly as much development as Billy does. His sisters don't even have names! I kinda wish the sisters had more of a presence in the novel, but that's my only other complaint with the book, really.

If you do plan on reading this book, I should probably let you in on another important thing: Don't let the premise fool you into thinking this is going to be a nice, lighthearted romp. Despite it being advertised as being for kids, remember: This was written in 1961, and standards for kids books were very different compared to today. Let me tell you: this book can get dark. It doesn't happen right away, but when it does, those moments really hit you in the gut. Both people and animals die in this book, and their deaths are described in blunt, gruesome ways without any kind of sugarcoating or censoring. There's one scene where an animal's internal organs come spilling out of them due to being attacked by a lion. I won't spoil anything here, but the book is a pretty big emotional roller coaster, but the drama consistently stays away from emo or melodrama, stays genuine, and never drags on. I must say, I respect Rawls for not insulting his audience's intelligence and actually showing the consequences and dangers that come with letting a kid and his dogs go into woods where wild animals roam. This kind of thing isn't for everyone, and while I personally like the book for this reason, others won't, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart.

Other than a few minor nitpicks and caveats, I think I can proudly say that Where The Red Fern Grows definitely deserves to be called a classic, and more people should read it if they want a genuinely good story.
 
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