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Julia's Reviews on Various Media

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.
Well, that's more or less what happens to me. I actually like Eiffel 65 and Limp Bizkit due to how stupid their songs are, although "Build a Bridge" and "Re-Arranged" managed to cross over to "so okay, it's average" and Gold Cobra is automatically good due to including a bass solo (I have a weakness for those).

Also, @Juliko, thank you for reminding me of the three months I spent reading the Odyssey (I only read it during school recess) only to discover it ended on a cliff hanger and the rest of the story is lost. I was about to cry that day.
 
Odyssey ended on a cliffhanger? Huh. I wouldn't know, since I haven't touched it since early high school.

Anyway, this new review was written on December 18th, 2018, though not finished until today. Here's my...critical review of I Want To Eat Your Pancreas.

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I give this trite romance involving an uninteresting boy and a sick girl...a 52/100.

Random question: Who here has seen this old movie called Love Story? The one starring Ryan O'Neill and Ali MacGraw? The one that seemingly started the trend of romance media involving guys/girls falling in love with a terminally ill love interest who winds up dying in some capacity. There have been hundreds, if not thousands of movies, books, and other things involving those tropes, and it's practically become a cliche at this point. Some of them manage to do it well, others...not so much. Movies like that and The Fault In Our Stars tend to glamorize and glorify stuff like cancer and portray anyone who has it as some sort of saintly, beautiful, tragic figure who only exists to be sick and have no personality other than teaching people moral lessons about life and death and love and all that saccharine crap before they die beautifully, which we all know is absolutely not true in real life. This isn't limited to just cancer, either. This has happened with media portrayals of people with physical or mental disabilities, like a missing limb, diabetes, autism, ADHD, and so on. This is commonly referred to as inspiration porn. When I first heard about this novel, even after having gotten past the weird as hell title--I Want To Eat Your Pancreas--given it's premise and nature, I somehow knew it was going to go into those tired, cliche tropes involving someone falling in love with a terminally ill love interest. Needless to say, I'm not surprised. I didn't like it at all, and I honestly don't see what all the hype is all about. This review is mostly about the novel, though it does apply to both the manga and the anime movie.

Tell me you've heard this story premise before. A quiet guy (who doesn't get named until the end of the movie) finds himself reluctantly befriending a classmate of his named Sakura Yamauchi after discovering her secret diary, where he learns she has pancreatic cancer and is going to die in a few months. After this, and a series of events, Sakura forces her way into his life and the two find themselves spending time together. Along the way, the guy learns more about the beauty of being with friends and life in general as he opens up to her and learns more about her and why she's trying to live out her final days the best way she can. Yeah, not gonna lie, the premise is really cliche and unoriginal, having been used and abused many, many times in lots of other stories before this. There's literally nothing about it that tries to stand out or do something new with the premise. The whole novel is just the guy and Sakura spending time together, that's it.

Not helping matters is the characters themselves aren't really...characters. Just stereotypes. Sakura is the happy-go-lucky, energetic, life-loving sick girl who teaches the main guy about life, death, and spends time with him and is loved by everybody. She doesn't really have any real flaws except playing pranks and being a bit reckless, but even that's treated as endearing and sweet instead of really humanizing her and making her into...well, just a girl, instead of some beautiful cancerous being who manages to find some degree of philosophical profundity in her death. There is one moment where she is genuinely scared and sad about her short life, but nothing really comes of it. Her illness doesn't make her deep or special or anything, and using it to make a character special is not only insulting, it's also bad writing. The main guy is especially bad. I found him really annoying and bland. Unlike Sakura, the main guy basically has zero personality other than being gloomy, snarky, and reading books, and his only "hobby" is imagining how other people see him and avoiding people. Dude, that's not a hobby. Also, I find his backstory absolutely implausible. I cannot imagine anyone not going through life without having made ONE single friend AND not knowing anything about interacting with and loving people all their lives. Shouldn't he have developed some social skills or people skills with his parents? Or even having emotions or expressing some interest in anything? I find it really hard to believe that meeting this one random girl taught him absolutely everything about the value of life, love, emotions, caring about others, and all that stuff, because that's something you learn from people around you and your environment, not from one person. Because they're both cliche and don't really feel like people, it's really hard to get invested in their relationship, especially when the unnamed main guy is little more than a wooden plank who doesn't change until the very end of the book, and in a really forced, unsubtle way. Even the side characters are little more than one-note personas, like the overprotective best friend and the greedy ex-boyfriend who hates the main guy just because he commits the crime of being around the popular girl. The best friend character, Kyoko, doesn't really do much except act needlessly hostile towards the main guy just for being around Sakura, like she hates the idea of Sakura being around anyone who's not her.

(On a random note: I was reading an interview about the anime movie version, and Erica Mendez, who happened to adapt the movie's English script, said that she intentionally changed some of Kyoko's dialogue to make her come off less clingy and possessive. I think that was a pretty good move on her part.)

The prose and writing is rather blah. It's all told from the guy's point of view, and we do get a look into his mind, but there isn't much other than snarking about stuff, complaining about Sakura dragging him everywhere, and blathering on about stupid stuff. That's really it. The writing isn't in engaging in any way whatsoever, and since the main character is about as interesting as drying paint, the dull writing style makes the audience even less inclined to care about him. Now, if this was all that was wrong with the book, and the overall story as a whole, I'd have considered it rather boring, but still cute and serviceable. But the twist ending absolutely killed it for me. I won't spoil anything, but the reveal at the end is absolutely one of the worst end of story twists I have ever seen in that it comes right the heck out of nowhere. Worst of all, it further adds to the terrible portrayal of pancreatic cancer by the fact that the author used it as little more than drama window dressing, which isn't a good way to write about a terminally ill person at all. It also felt like the author did this so they could avoid having to address all of the nuances that come with having cancer or a terminal illness, like treatment or debilitating side effects or things of that nature.

So yeah, the novel's just yet another cloying, condescending, saccharine piece of inspiration porn. I read the manga and watched the anime version, and while they're both relatively faithful to the story, barring a few changes, they still keep a lot of the problems that plague the light novel so badly, and none of them are really better or worse than each other. The anime movie adds this really long, unnecessarily drawn out scene near the end where Sakura waxes poetic wisdom about her upcoming death while framed with beautiful flowery imagery, further painting her as a saintly figure whose sole purpose is to die beautifully while inspiring everyone else. It doesn't add anything to the story otherwise, so why bother?

If you're looking for a cute, serviceable romance with a bittersweet twist to it, feel free to read it. But if you're looking for a realistic romance and a nuanced portrayal of someone dealing with cancer, steer clear. This isn't worth it, and the hype over it is pretty overblown. That said, if you want to watch the anime, watch the English dub. It's really good.
 
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I’ve been hearing about this movie since it was the hot new thing last year. I’m always kinda skeptical of what the really insular anime fanatics are hyping up, and it sounds like my skepticism was on the money this time, considering the type of anime that I’m into. Plus the title makes me want to vomit. Thanks for taking the plunge so I didn’t have to!
 
This review was originally written on April 13th, 2018.

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I give this short anime...a 60/100.

Some anime get hyped up hard, so much so that you get tired of hearing about it and seeing ads for them. Others, like this anime here, barely make so much as a blip on the internet. Some anime that get this treatment do wind up being good, and you wonder why they're so underrated. Others don't fare as well, and sometimes they're better off not being that popular. Clione no Akari is one of those titles.

The story's about as cliche as it can get. A poor little sick orphan girl is always bullied by her classmates for...her very existence, apparently. Two of her classmates, a girl named Kyoko and a guy named Takashi, want to stand up for her, but are scared of getting bullied themselves. One day, they run into her outside of school, and they finally decide to get to know her better, eventually being friends with her for real. One day, she winds up getting so sick she has to stay in the hospital for two months, not being able to attend school. During that time, Takashi and Kyoko get a strange text from someone, telling them about a summer festival coming up.

Yeah, the story's pretty cliche, and the anime doesn't even try to do anything to make it interesting or intriguing in any way whatsoever. It's been done before a million times, others have done better, others not so much, and Clione no Akari doesn't really make much of an attempt to try anything new with it, other than Minori's interest in sea creatures, namely clione, which barely appear much. The series is very short, only having twelve episodes, all of which are under ten minutes long, so it does have that going for it. The voice acting is relatively good as well, though I admit that at times, Takashi's voice could be kinda grating. The music, while unremarkable, is nice as well, and I did like the ending song.

Unfortunately, those are the only positives for this show that I can think of. The rest of it is, quite frankly, uninteresting and unremarkable. The animation isn't too special, and other times some of the character's faces looked really wonky and messed up, like an eye wasn't aligned properly or someone's limbs looked dislocated in a few scenes. The characters are all plain, bland, and one-dimensional, with very little depth to them. Minori, the sick girl in question, is hit especially hard with this, as she's pretty much a Mary Sue: a pure, sweet, naive, lovely little girl with no faults other than being shy and meek, who's always sick and getting bullied by other kids just because she's the perfect victim. She's portrayed as being a perfect, misunderstood little angel, and that's not good character writing. The rest of the characters fare little better, with only having one personality trait and not much else, completely lacking in substance. I did appreciate that the anime tried to redeem Yukine, one girl with dark pink hair, and make her see the error of her ways. If anything, she's actually the most interesting character in the show. But it's still not much compared to everyone else. The bullies were just as stupid and one-dimensional, hating on Minori for no reason at all, even straight up blaming her for things that it's obvious she'd never do. I've seen better, much more three-dimensional bullies elsewhere. Also, one guy claims Minori is prostituting herself. Seriously?! What in the world gave them that idea?!

I also felt that Takashi and Kyoko's reasons for being friends with Minori came off as extremely shallow and superficial. It was basically, "Oh, she's always getting bullied. We feel bad for her, so let's be friends with her so she'll feel good and so we can make ourselves feel better!" They instantly befriend her just like that. No chemistry, no build-up, no genuinely good intentions, nothing. This is a trope that I see a lot in most anime, characters being instant friends just because they're in the same class or they just happen to make eye contact, etc. I find it really stupid because as someone who's always had trouble making friends all throughout my school years, friendship isn't like that at all. You have to make connections with people, find things you have in common with them, build on them, make the effort to get to know them better, and NOT just hang around them out of pity or to make yourself look good. I always made friends by looking for people who share the same hobbies and interests as me (anime and manga), and if they do share that interest, I try to build on it from there. You don't just randomly decide you're friends with someone just because you're in the same school. That's not how real friendships work! That's my biggest beef with this anime, personally, and the main reason why I dropped this one anime called Wakaba Girl, because it pulled the same stunt, and it was so stupid and poorly executed that it made me want to barf.

Okay, that's enough of that elephant in the room. Furthermore, the anime's ending episodes were pretty poorly written, and the final twist was just mind-boggling if you even try to apply any kind of logic to it. So...yeah, while I do like this anime and did find things to like about it, unfortunately, it's a bland, mediocre, poorly made and written anime that was far too shallow and superficial for its own good. Seriously, I can write a better story than this, with the exact same premise and themes. If you're looking for a good anime, or other piece of media, that handles friendship and bullying better, give this one a miss. It's not worth it.
 
This review was originally written on May 15th, 2017.

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I give this geeky book about fandoms and conventions...an 67/100!

Just from looking at the premise of the book, I knew it was my kind of book. I mean, geeky girls with problems going to a convention, having fun, and experiencing all the pros and cons of being at a convention? With one of the girls being autistic, too? There was no way I could resist! As soon as I heard that this book existed, I wanted to read it. Badly. I knew I'd like it, and after reading it, I find that I do!...but not as much as I wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I do really like this book. It has many things that I not only like, but absolutely LOVE. One would think that this would end up being my number one favorite book of all time. However, as much as I like Queens of Geek, it unfortunately isn't a masterpiece. Like any form of media, it has plenty of flaws that prevent it from truly being great, which is a shame, because with a little tweaking and added polishing, it would be an absolutely amazing book. But it's mostly just sugary sweet wish fulfillment.

So three friends Charlie (a girl, not a boy), Taylor, and Jamie all travel from Australia to America to attend their first ever convention, SupaCon. Charlie is a famous internet sensation whose vlogging and game reviews have catapulted her to being a movie star, and she's been invited as a guest to promote a sequel to a film she starred in. But she's having trouble getting past a rather nasty breakup with her ex-boyfriend, Reese. Taylor, her best friend, is an autistic woman who is often plagued with anxiety and easily overstimulated, but she is intent to have fun and meet her idol, Skyler Atkins, the writer of the Queen Firestone book series, of which Taylor is a huge fan. But when certain things don't go as planned, and some unexpected curveballs are thrown at them, Charlie, Taylor, and Jamie have to find ways to not only make the most of their short time at SupaCon, but try to deal with the things that are intent to bring their spirits down. Also, there's some good ol' romance thrown in for good measure. Because what's a contemporary YA novel without some romance, right?

If you're looking for Stephen King or John Steinbeck-quality writing, you're not gonna find it here. Being a modern day novel, the prose isn't particularly strong. It's descriptive enough for teenagers to be able to read without much trouble, but it's pretty typical teen novel prose, so it's nothing masterful or Pulitzer worthy. It does do its job pretty well, and I was easily able to picture everything happening in my head just fine. Plus, the story itself is very predictable and cliche: characters fall in love right away, main character deals with a nasty break up with an ex-boyfriend who had an affair behind her back, etc. It's been done a million times in a million different forms of media before, and the authoress doesn't do anything new with this, so if you're tired of romance tropes like these, this isn't gonna be the book for you.

The characters also suffer from being woefully cliche and under-developed as well. Charlie Liang is a popular Chinese-Australian YouTuber who's outgoing and likes to stand out, Taylor is the shy, anxious heavyset girl who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, Reese is Charlie's jerk jock ex-boyfriend, Jamie is the cool guy who doesn't do much, etc. Jamie in particular suffered, as all we know about him is that he likes anime/manga, used to live in the US, and likes Taylor. That's really it. He's just there to be wish fulfillment. Out of all the characters, Charlie is the one who goes through the most development in the book, and while it is nice, it's still rather cliche in that she tries to rise up from her rocky relationship with her ex-boyfriend and shoving feminist messages down the readers' throats in an unsubtle manner. We don't even know much of anything about Taylor, who doesn't even get a last name, other than that she loves this book series called Queen Firestone, is autistic/anxious, and worries a lot. Granted, she's one of the best portrayals of an autistic woman I've seen in a book in years, but I feel like the authoress focused too much on trying to make her not a stereotype that she forgot to...y'know, show us what Taylor's life is like beyond being autistic and a fangirl for a book series. The same goes for everyone else. Reese is just a generic villain character who's only there to be a bigoted jerk and someone the characters can shout feminist messages at. It doesn't help that since the book takes place in just one place, we don't know much about their lives outside the convention or what they do in their free time. I think more stuff related to this would really help the characters and their development a lot.

And this leads to the book's biggest problem: The book doesn't feel so much like a story, and more like a Tumblr post spouting non-stop messages about acceptance and feminism, and it's all shoved down the readers' throats in a completely unsubtle manner. It tries to tackle literally every single problem in the world (Autism acceptance, slut-shaming, body image, relationship problems, feminism, accepting change, being yourself in a world that's very judgmental, etc.) but it does so without much grace, making everything come off really ham-fisted. Because the book is so focused on trying to spread messages, it often times forgets that it needs to tell a story with characters and conflict. I feel like all of its attempts at addressing every first-world problem ever make it feel bloated. Had the authoress cut a bunch out and focused on just one or two of these themes, the book would be able to flow much better and be more streamlined. Sometimes less is more, after all. This is what I mean when I say the book doesn't feel like it has a lot of substance, because it's bogged down by its feminist soapboxing and not even making one attempt at telling a story, developing the characters and creating a substantial conflict that can make us care about them. Believe me, I don't want to rag on this book, as it has everything that I want in a book, but sometimes having everything you want can be too much of a good thing and wind up overstaying its welcome.

But the book does have good qualities, and there is one thing I can say in its favor: It absolutely NAILS the feeling you get when you go to your first anime/nerd convention for the first time. The excitement, the giddiness, the feeling of finally being in a place where you can be yourself without judgment, the rush you get when you see so much that you like...the authoress absolutely nailed the convention experience here, especially the first time convention experience. I fondly remember my first anime convention way back in 2006, and that day was like heaven for me. I'll give Jen Wilde credit for writing a good depiction of the convention scene. But as it is, the book is extremely light on plot, with characters that don't do much except soapbox about feminism every chance they get, and the limited scope of the setting leaves everything with very little breathing room.

Honestly, at times, I felt like the whole book was more the middle of a story than the entire story overall. I think Queens of Geek would benefit from being a lot longer. Like, Harry Potter-length longer, that way the author could put in more time to show and develop the characters while they're outside a convention. Explore their family lives, show them facing adversity and actively changing and trying to overcome it, really going deep into the characters' lives and what makes them tick, and the convention stuff would be in the middle of it. So, is the book a masterpiece? No. Could it be better? Yes it can. It's not going to win any literary awards any time soon, but I'm okay with that. It may not be anything groundbreaking, but I still re-read this whenever I feel like it.

If you're looking for a light read that's also a love letter to fandom overall, Queens of Geek is definitely the book for you. But if you're looking for something more substantial and nuanced, give it a miss.
 
This review was just finished today, on May 4th, 2019.

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I give this cute anime about a boy and his fairy companion...a 71/100.

Merc Storia is one of those anime that at first sight doesn't seem to be anything special. It starts with a typical journey premise, then has a bunch of episodic adventures that involve the two leads helping people along the way and not really finding what they're looking for. There are a lot of series with this premise that unfortunately never really go anywhere. Merc Storia, on the other hand, knows what it is and doesn't try to be anything that it isn't: Just a sweet, fun romp that offers you respite in a difficult world. Let's jump in, shall we?

The story centers on Yuu, a young boy who lives with his parents in a village where people and monsters live side by side. Yuu is a healer, which in this case means he has the power to heal monster's angry hearts and calm them down. One day, his father brings him a present from one of his long journeys, a jar filled with water. At first, Yuu is angry with this...until the jar comes to life and a mysterious fairy named Merc appears, apparently the spirit of the jar. Over the years, Yuu and Merc become best friends, though they're as different as night and day. But Merc has no memories of her time before she met Yuu, so they decide to go on a journey to see if they can find Merc's lost memories. With the help of a traveling merchant, they travel all over the place, from fairy kingdoms to heavenly metropolises ruled by winged people.

In terms of production values, the character designs are very stylish, although some older characters look a little too cutesy looking for their own good, and the animation is fairly consistent. I will say though, the water effects on Merc's hair and the visuals for when Yuu is purifying the monsters are all just beautiful, perfectly matching the show's aesthetic. The music isn't much to write home about, but the soundtrack serves its purpose well. But the opening and ending themes are outright spectacular, both of them being soft, sweet songs that not only perfectly fit the show and its tone, but are just really relaxing. Merc's opening theme in particular is especially nice in that it shows you what you're in for and is unlike any other anime opening theme for a show based on a fantasy world. Oh, and did I mention that Merc's design is absolutely adorable? Look at her! Watery hair, sparkly eyes, and her house is a literal jar? Come on!

The characters themselves...are kind of a mixed bag. Yuu in particular just isn't a very interesting lead character. I mean, he's not bad or anything, but he's kinda vanilla. His motivations are very basic, he doesn't change much other than having used to be afraid of monsters and no longer being so by the series' end, and he's not very three-dimensional either. Merc is a little more interesting in that she's much more proactive and is the one pushing him to do things in the first place, but I can imagine some viewers finding her annoying because of this, and her high pitched voice as well. I liked her okay, though. The side characters actually have more interesting personalities and backstories, from an angel boy who's hated by his whole race because he was inexplicably born without wings, or a young bird man who's trying to appease a dark being in order to save his beloved's singing voice. We meet all sorts of colorful characters on Yuu's journey, since the show is very episodic in nature and the characters never stay in one place for very long.

I really want to praise this show up the wazoo, as it has a lot that I like about it, and I wish it was better than it actually is. But a lot of problems tend to hold it back. Some episodes feel a little overstuffed, resulting in some rushed writing and pacing. One episode in particular about a girl who's ostracized by her family because she was supposedly born under an evil star wants to find a magical beast, and there's a subplot about the characters trying to save the kingdom from a stampede of monsters. That one in particular suffered a lot because, 1. It tries to cram too many storylines at once, 2. The focus characters were poorly written and developed, never really getting a chance to grow because of those many plotlines, 3. The girl's tutor is really annoying and unnecessarily mean to the girl, and he admits he only puts up with her so he can be promoted, and 4. Literally nothing about the main plot of that episode has been resolved in any way. And keep in mind, this is all in ONE whole episode. Merc Storia's arcs mostly take up two or three episodes, so its usually well paced in this manner, but that episode in particular could have benefitted from an extra one or two. The storyline of the series itself is basic, and the anime mostly has the characters going on adventures and helping people. If you like this sort of thing, this can definitely appeal to you, but for those looking for something less episodic, look elsewhere, as this kind of thing will get on your nerves. The end of the show is rather open ended, and the main story never gets much resolution.

But despite this drawbacks, I still like this show. It's not like any other fantasy-based anime out there, where the main character fights and kills monsters and instead heals them. How often do you find fantasy anime where the main character doesn't fight? This would be the perfect anime to show to kids if I wanted to introduce them to anime for the first time. It's got a relaxing aesthetic, beautiful animation, great opening and ending songs, and the characters, as undeveloped as they are, are still pretty nice to watch. Sometimes we just need to kick back and relax, and Merc Storia is that kind of anime. It doesn't try to be grand or ambitious. It just comes and goes, like you're on a stroll, and sometimes, we need anime like that. Merc Storia isn't perfect by any means, and some parts of it could have been done way better, but it's a nice, comfy, relaxing anime that'll heal your tired heart if you're willing to go along for the ride.
 
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This review was started on May 27th, 2017, but not finished until today, although it's not a review of the entire show, as it's not complete yet. This one just focuses on the seasons that are currently out.

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My history with Lucy Maud Montgomery's famous novel, Anne of Green Gables, is different from others. I first heard about it in 2009, via Before Green Gables, namely the anime version. I thought it was cute, so I read the book by Budge Wilson soon after and then the original Anne of Green Gables. Then I saw the 1979 anime version of Anne of Green Gables, which I consider to be the best adaptation--animated or otherwise--due to its faithfulness to the books and the effort it made to really develop the characters and make the story really come alive. I never saw the 1985 live-action mini series back then, and only just recently saw it. But then I heard from an online club that Netflix was making their own Anne of Green Gables adaptation, called Anne With an E, and I saw that it was getting a LOT of backlash, and it still is. Many of the comments on the trailer Netflix posted on YouTube were just stupid! People were complaining up the wazoo. "Oh, this isn't really Anne of Green Gables!" "Oh, this is gonna be so bad! The Megan Follows version is the best!" "Oh, it looks super angsty and grimdark and edgy and trying too hard to be relevant to 2017 and ewwwww!" "Oh, this isn't like the novel at all!" "Oh, it's probably another piece of PC feminist trash!" And all of these comments were posted BEFORE the series ever came out. I felt kinda bad, because I thought it genuinely looked good. Plus, I needed something to watch since everything else I was watching was either ending, were reruns, or getting really bad, so I thought this would be a nice change of pace, since I'm still in my anime rut.

After seeing the series in its entirety (For now, at least), I can wholly say that I honestly don't feel Anne With an E deserves all the backlash it's gotten. It's actually a very genuinely good show in its own right! Sure, it's not a straight adaptation of the book and it does things differently from the book, both for better and for worse, but compared to all the crap I've been seeing on TV lately, Anne with an E is definitely one of the better shows to come out on Netflix.

The basic premise is still the same as the book: Anne Shirley, a red-headed, imaginative orphan, has spent her whole life being used as free labor for ladies who bore too many children. After she spends a stint in an orphanage, she is miraculously adopted by the Cuthbert family, and goes to live with them in Prince Edward Island...only to find that they requested a boy, not a girl. They wanted a boy so Matthew, one of the Cuthbert siblings, could receive help on the farm. But through trial and error, Anne manages to win both Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert over and become part of their family. One of the many things people are up in arms about is that Anne With an E takes a slightly darker and more realistic path in showing the unpleasant parts of Anne's unhappy childhood in detail and how her unstable upbringing affects her and those around her, like her classmates and other members of Avonlea.

Many people don't like the change in tone, but personally, I really like it, namely because unlike most Anne adaptations, Anne With an E manages to bring something very important to the table: conflict. Obviously, a story can't thrive without some kind of conflict, whether small scale or large scale. Stories without conflict are like food without flavor--bland, boring, and uninteresting. Don't get me wrong, Anne of Green Gables is very good, but it can't be denied that both the book, 1980s movies, and the 1979 anime series were very slow paced and had very little in the way of conflict, and were very episodic in nature. They were masterpieces when it came to characterization, but it lacked that extra ounce of drama and bittersweetness to really make them stand out even more. Before Green Gables, both the book and the anime, had much more conflict than the original did, and Anne With an E is throwing in its own dose of conflict, some of which works very well, and some don't, which I'll elaborate on. Of course, I do agree that if something goes TOO dark and gritty, it can be cumbersome to watch. For example: Magical Girl Site, this one anime I know of, relies so much on darkness and trauma and melodrama that it leaves no room for literally anything else, to the detriment of telling a decent story and developing its characters. For me, Anne With an E manages to avoid those pitfalls in that while it is darker than the book and the TV series, it still has its genuinely nice, heartwarming, and funny moments sprinkled throughout to keep things in balance. (Although Anne DOES tend to rely on melodrama, often too much, so I won't deny that it could benefit from holding back)

Furthermore, considering the material they have to work with, I think the actors all do a splendid job. R. H. Thomson and Geraldine James are definitely the standouts as Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and they practically own those characters. Matthew is still his quiet, bashful self, and Marilla is still the shrewd, old-fashioned, overly stern and sensible woman we all know and love. I admit that I do like the 1985 miniseries with Megan Follows, but...please don't shoot me when I say this: I think Amybeth McNulty plays a better Anne. I felt like sometimes, Follows wasn't trying hard enough to really play Anne, and that she came off as more cheesy and unnecessarily restrained, especially during moments where she has to apologize to Mrs. Rachel Lynde. I felt McNulty managed to do very well playing Anne Shirley, maybe even better than Follows. Yeah, I said that, and I don't feel one bit bad about it. Fight me.

However, now that I've seen both seasons, I will agree that some complaints against the show are valid and do need to be addressed. While I do like that Anne With an E is trying to go into more details about Anne's past, before coming to live with the Cuthberts, I felt like sometimes they were trying too hard in doing so. For example, there's a scene where Mr. Hammond is shown whipping Anne, then immediately dying of a heart attack right afterward. I mean, really? Having those things put together just seemed way too melodramatic, and I thought the Hammonds' portrayal as a whole was just too stereotypically evil. Personally, I thought Before Green Gables, both the book and the anime, portrayed them much better and in a more nuanced way: They still used Anne as help around the house, but the Hammonds were genuinely nice people a lot of the time, if a bit distant, and they did appreciate her efforts and hard work, far more so than the Thomas family did. Plus, in regards to trying a bit too hard, I do feel like the messages of prejudice and open-mindedness towards things and people that are different do come off as rather forced and heavy-handed, which gets especially thick in the second season. I do understand the points the creators are trying to make, but sometimes less is more, and doing a more subtler approach would have been better in some areas.

No surprise, Anne With an E also suffers from the problem of having a little bit of modernisms thrown in that are really out of place. For the most part, the dialogue in the show is faithful to the book. Other times, the characters say things such as "Are you serious?" "What's your problem?" "What is wrong with you?!" "Not a chance" "Women should stay in the kitchen!" "Newsflash" or anything of the like, none of which had ever been said during the 19th and early 20th century. Granted, this isn't that uncommon for modern writers attempting to write historical stories or adaptations of stories. Heck, I've done it a few times myself even while doing extensive research on various time periods. It's an easy hole to fall in, and yes, Anne With an E does struggle with this, so in that respect, the complaints about modernity in a 19th century story are valid. But the modern ideas in a 19th century setting aren't limited to just dialogue. A lot of people took issue with season two in that it had episodes focusing on LGBT issues, with complaints going from "We can't have this in our beloved Anne! It'll corrupt the little children and teach them bad messages!" (eye roll) to "This stuff has no place in Anne of Green Gables. It doesn't make sense for the time period" (This one makes the most sense to me) or "Ewwww! The writers are pushing a PC SJW feminist agenda!" (Facepalm)

On one hand, I can somewhat see where they're coming from. Back in that era, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness, and anyone who was homosexual or anywhere on the spectrum back then was deemed a disgrace to society or put in an asylum. Nowadays, such things don't happen anymore, but I do agree that trying to fit modern ideologies into media that take place in the 19th/20th century isn't really a good idea. They don't really mix well, and trying to make the past seem politically correct not only makes the messages feel out of place, it isn't accurate to history as a whole. On the other hand, I feel like some overzealous people/moral guardians are blowing things way out of proportion when they claim the writers are trying to push an agenda or "corrupt the children with bad messages." Nobody's corrupting anyone, and the writers are people. They make mistakes and the decisions they make are hit or miss, but Anne With an E is a work of fiction. I feel like people who say something is propaganda or pushing an agenda don't really know what they're talking about. When I think propaganda or pushing an agenda, I think of those old World War II reels or all of the crappy documentaries and commercials that Autism Speaks makes that try to make autism seem like a horrible disease that absolutely ruins everyone's lives and makes autistic kids out to be nothing but tantrum throwing idiots who burden their poor parents with their inconvenient existence. It's one thing to constructively criticize a TV show, but it's another thing to look for problems in it that don't exist or blow its flaws out of proportion or claim it's some sort of brainwashing propaganda.

Is Anne With an E a perfect show? Of course not. Nothing ever is. It's not entirely faithful to L. M. Montgomery's novel, and some parts of it could have been written better or with more nuance and subtlely, and focused less on trying to be dark and overly dramatic. But honestly, I still think it's a fine show. I think the hate it's getting is really overblown and undeserved, though I do agree with a lot of the more reasonable critiques on it. If I had to choose between watching this or...say, Jersey Shore, I'd pick Anne With an E in a heartbeat. It's definitely not the best adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. For me, nothing can beat the 1979 anime series, but I feel it's still a relatively good show in its own right and does have a lot to offer if you're willing to give it a chance and take it as its own entity. I won't give it a rating as of right now, as the show isn't fully complete, but if I had to, I'd give it a 70/100 for the first two seasons. Now to wait for season 3 to come out.
 
This review was originally written on December 13th, 2014.

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I give this cliche fantasy anime...a 65/100.

Record of Lodoss War is one of anime's most beloved titles, even though I never learned about it until this year on TVTropes. Plus I felt bored of watching nothing but Pokemon and Sword Art Online all throughout the semester, so I figured I might as well try something I've never seen before. This has gotten a lot of praise from fans, and I thought I'd like it. To an extent, I did, but...honestly, I can't really see why people like this. Now don't get me wrong, it's not a BAD anime. Heck, I'd watch this over every ecchi anime in the world! However, there's just too much wrong with it to really be conceived as anything other than decent. But the show's main problem is that it's just way too short and way too convoluted for its own good. By convoluted I mean like Digimon Adventure 02 convoluted. What do I mean? Let's explain, shall we? (Note: this review is only about the OVA, not the TV series. I haven't seen the latter, and don't know if I'm going to or not)

There's definitely a story to this anime. But the problem is, I can barely comprehend it, as there's just WAAAY too much being shoved down my throat. All I managed to comprehend was that a group of people meet and join forces, an evil empire called Marmo is trying to take control of Lodoss, there's some evil spirit trying to manipulate everything, and at the end, some wizard tries to resurrect one of the goddesses that split Lodoss. That's about it, really. Remember when I said Escaflowne isn't giving people time to absorb its story? Well, I take it back. Lodoss does it too, but far worse. There's so much going on within that timespan that it tries to bite off more than it can chew. It doesn't help that everything jumps around like a kangaroo high on sugar, so you can barely tell exactly what the heck is going on! Part of it could be the fact that its thirteen episodes long, and had it been extended to 26 or even 52 episodes, the story would be more comprehensible, and everything would feel more connected and flow better. If you want to tell a good story, don't just throw in a bunch of events and shove them down our throats without giving us time to chew it! Popolocrois had 25 episodes, yet it had a perfect balance between the story and the characters, the episodes felt more connected, and they kept a consistent yet restrained output. It gave time to develop its story and explain what was going on, and it didn't need to rely on adding in as much stuff as possible. It knew how much it could chew at a time and managed to come out fine in the end. Lodoss really needs to work on that.

The animation...I'll be honest here, it really hasn't aged well, and there's lots of errors. Heck, one part of the opening sequence looks like two of the characters were cut from paper and pasted on a background! There's too many still frames, and I think the animators wasted too much budget on making everybody's costumes as elaborate and fantasy-like as possible. But I do like the character designs, though! Plus nobody looks the same. In a time where modern anime characters look too much the same except with different eye and hair colors and different hair lengths, the character designs in this are very refreshing. I'll at least give the show credit for that. The music...while the opening and ending are nice, they're still a little bit generic, and the background music isn't really all that memorable. Some pieces sound like they came from popular video games, like Zelda or Final Fantasy.

The characters...eh. They're all kinda bland to me. Nobody was even remotely interesting to me. We have the hero, the chick, the mage, the skeevy guy, the evil villains, etc. Because the story is so freakishly convoluted to the point of looking like an overflowing trash bag, it really suffered in characterization. They could have made these characters into real characters, but here they're just a bunch of bland archetypes. The only characters I thought were even remotely interesting were Orson and Shiris, and they don't appear until episode eight! I really want to like these characters, but even after 13 whole episodes, I still feel like I've only JUST started getting to know them. They could have been more fleshed out, which is a shame. Had the creators gotten more episodes and didn't try so hard, they could have been able to do great things with them.

There's a difference between balancing things out and biting off more than you can chew, and unfortunately, Lodoss is the latter. While I appreciate its efforts, it was just trying too hard, and because it tried too hard, it suffered greatly as a result. Escaflowne had somewhat the same problem, but it had 26 episodes (it was going to be longer but their budget was cut so they had to make do with 26), and it at least tried everything it could to get its story out, and it wasn't freakishly convoluted either. It also did its best to fit in a lot of character progression, even though it was also extremely focused on its story. Plus, their characters were more interesting! Escaflowne, while it didn't entirely succeed in its effort, at least tried to balance out its story and characters, and for what its worth, it did a good job. Popolocrois has 25 episodes, yet it knew what its story wanted to be, didn't try to go for anything big, and balanced out its story and characters in whatever time it had, and it really worked in its favor. Lodoss...it just wound up biting off way more than it could chew, and wound up suffocating in the process. All it really needed was more episodes and more time to flesh out both its story and characters so we'd be able to comprehend everything better. Maybe they had budget issues and couldn't do it? Were they not able to get it to air on TV? I dunno. Also, we also get reminded that there was a great war resulting in the creation of Lodoss. It'd be one thing if this was said once, but he explains it in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE!! We freaking get it! The story's hard enough to comprehend as it is! That pointless opening scene was really not necessary, and Lodoss has suffered enough as it is.

All in all, Record of Lodoss War isn't a bad anime. It was just too short and took on more than it could handle. All it really needed was more episodes and a lot of polishing. But I can at least appreciate its good points, and if you're looking for an escapist fantasy anime, check it out.
 
This review was originally written on December 8th, 2018, though not finished until today.

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I give this revival of an obscure old school shoujo...an 84/100!

Let me ask you: Have you ever heard of an old manga called Haikara-san ga Tooru? Yeah, me either. Not until this, at least. Anyway, the original manga by Waki Yamato, which ran from 1975 to 1977, actually had a bit of a rough history with animation. It was adapted into a TV series from 1978 to 1979 and received 42 episodes. It was apparently supposed to be longer, but from what I've heard, it got cancelled due to low ratings, and as a result, the anime had to end in a different way than the manga. Ever since then, it just sort of faded into obscurity, as nobody ever really talked about it. The manga and the anime series were never licensed in the US, likely due to their old age and old school artstyle. Considering all of these things going against it, it seemed that Haikara-san ga Tooru would be left into the darkness forever, never to be seen again.

OR WAS IT?!

Apparently, someone decided this story deserved a second chance, rightfully so, and decided to make a bold move: Revive the series! But instead of making it into another TV series, they decided to adapt it into two movies. Not only that, they completely changed the art style to make it appeal to modern anime audiences, with a new look and coat of paint. Having seen the first movie--Haikara-san ga Tooru Part one--myself now that I have the first Blu-Ray, I can wholeheartedly say that whoever decided this anime deserved a second chance did an awesome job of bringing it back to life, even with its flaws. Because this movie is awesome and I absolutely can't wait for the second movie to come out!

The story takes place in the 1910s-1920s, during the Taisho era, focusing on Benio Hanamura, a happy-go-lucky, ambitious young woman and the daughter of a high ranking military officer in the Japanese Army. She lost her mother when she was young, and as a result, has become quite the stubborn, individualistic tomboy, in stark contrast to the strict idea of the "good wife, wise mother" ideal of womanhood. She studies kendo, drinks sake, dresses in Western clothes, and ardently believes that a woman should be free to choose who they themselves want to marry instead of being forced to accept arranged marriages. When she finds she's been betrothed to a man she knows nothing about, a handsome, sweet natured man named Shinobu Ijuuin, Benio tries everything she can to get out of it, from deliberately messing up her chores and housework (Which isn't hard, since she sucks at housework anyway) to trying to set him up with her best friend, who actually likes him. But things don't always go the way she wants them to, and circumstances might just make her realize that things might be better than she thinks.

Now, the original manga is eight volumes long, so it can be hard to try and cram so much material into two movies, much less one. Many movies have tried this and failed miserably. As of this writing, I haven't seen the second movie yet (Though I do want to, and I'm definitely getting the Blu-Ray once it comes out!), so the review will focus solely on the first one for now. But even with the movie's overly condensed, compressed nature, there's a lot of things that it manages to do really well. One of those things is the animation and the character designs. As you can see, both the original manga and the anime from the 70s have VERY dated designs, with washed out colors, exaggerated sparkly eyes, huge lips, and some weird-looking, gonky faces sometimes. The producers for the new movies radically updated the character designs, making them sharper, cleaner, and more modern but still keeping it true to the shoujo aesthestic, with huge doe eyes, large eyelashes, and the men having some feminized features. The animation is beautiful, with smooth movement, lovely backgrounds and backdrops that really enhance the mood of various scenes, and it even has the characters make comedic, goofy faces like in the original Sailor Moon anime, and it works really well here.

I'm kind of biased when it comes to the soundtrack, as it's done by one of my favorite anime composers, Michiru Oshima, who's worked on a lot of my favorite anime such as Nabari no Ou, My Sister Momoko, Fancy Lala, Snow White with the Red Hair, the live-action Sailor Moon series, and many others. But you probably know her for her work on the original Fullmetal Alchemist, Little Witch Academia, Tatami Galaxy, and more recently, Bloom Into You. Yet again, she hits a home run with the soundtrack here, with oboes and violins that perfectly fit the quaint, romantic feel of the movie, but never to the point of getting obnoxious or overbearing, something that few soundtracks can boast.

I do have some mixed feelings about the characters, which is inevitable considering this manga tries to cram several volumes of manga into one/two movies. I will say that Benio is a relatively good lead character: She has a lot of character flaws, such as being a little too stubborn and argumentative, which can make her come across as bratty at first, but the movie never takes these traits too far to the point of making her come off as obnoxious or a bitch. Plus, while she does eventually fall in love with Shinobu, she still keeps her self-sufficient, independent personality, taking charge of her own fate. She's an intriguing, three-dimensional character with plenty of strengths, weaknesses, and perfectly carries the movie, something which is sorely needed in the anime industry as of right now. The other characters, on the other hand, aren't as lucky in this department. They're all decent enough, and I love the whole ensemble, but because the movie rushes through everything, they don't get fleshed out like Benio does, so every scene they're in lacks emotional impact. Shinobu in particular comes off as way too perfect. His patience for Benio is saintly, he's always nice and kind, never pressures Benio into doing anything she doesn't want to, supports her in everything, and there isn't a bad bone in his body. Now, don't get me wrong, normally I love these kinds of characters, and considering that most shoujo manga/anime tend to give those kinds of characters the shaft in favor of portraying people who IRL would be considered domestic abusers in a romantic, sympathetic light, we need more characters like Shinobu. But the problem with him here is that he doesn't have any flaws. You can't make a character that audiences will like if you don't give him any flaws or traits that he needs to deal with or overcome, and the only time we see him have to deal with a character flaw is at the very end, so it winds up coming way too late. Eh, maybe the next movie will rectify this. I hope it does, because as much as I like Shinobu, you can't deny that he's rather vanilla and too perfect for his own good.

But none of these things detract from my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. Many scenes had me on the floor laughing a lot of the time, and in a really good way. The animation is luscious, the music is great, I love all the characters despite the movie being unable to develop them and flesh them out, and I'm really excited to see the next movie. I guess all of the movie's problems can be attributed to its format: Movies are typically better suited for standalone stories, and trying to cram 10 volumes of manga into two movies won't yield very good results if you want to tell a whole story. Scenes have to be cut out and you have to compress other parts in order to tell the story you want to tell. As far as Haikara-san is concerned, despite its initial missteps, I think the producers did extremely well with what they had and did the best they could to do what they needed to do here. It's a sweet, heartwarming romantic comedy that's sure to get a laugh out of you and take you to a time long past.

All in all, while made missteps in its presentation, Haikara-san part one is definitely one of the better romances I've seen this year, and I normally tend to dislike romance. Now to impatientlyeagerly wait for the next movie to come out on Blu-Ray!
 
This review was originally written on April 14th, 2017, and you probably won't know this one.

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(I tried to find a picture of the version I found at my library, but it's non-existent on the internet, so I found a different one instead)

I give this sweet, 1950s romance...a 93/100!

I'll admit, one media genre I'm not a big fan of is romance, namely because not only is it oversaturated with stupid cliches and tropes that grind my gears to no end, none of the romance stuff I've seen has ever been really well written or well executed. Genuinely good romances are really hard to find these days, and with the fact that romance-themed media hasn't always had the best of luck in the originality department, that's kind of the rule rather than the exception. I can name a few romance-themed media that I think are outright terrible, such as Twilight, Earthian, The Fault In Our Stars, and Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai, namely because their depictions of romance come off less as sweet and cutesy and more either emotionally abusive, uncaring, or downright stupid. But as hard as it is to believe, good romance media still exists. It's rare, but it exists. I actually managed to find one such example of a genuinely good romance that doesn't make me want to claw my eyes out, and ironically enough, it comes from one of America's famous writers of children's books, Beverly Cleary! It may not be a perfect romance, but Cleary's book, The Luckiest Girl, is definitely one of the better examples of how to write a good romance.

Looking at the story on the surface, I don't blame you for thinking it sounds absolutely cliche. 17-year-old Shelley Latham is a pretty typical teenager who hates the fact that her mother wants to dress her up in cutesy wootsy dresses when she'd rather wear an ugly yellow football slicker that the boys wear. After some unpleasant incidents, her family agrees to let Shelley live with her relatives in San Sebastian, California for one school year. Thus, Shelley goes to school in a completely new state and new environment. She quickly adjusts well, and she soon finds herself falling for a cute guy named Philip, who's pretty nice, and she wishes she could be his girlfriend. But getting a guy to like you isn't easy, and when real life starts to get in the way, such as Philip needing to get his priorities straight, Shelley isn't sure if her idea of romance is as great as she thinks it'd be.

Now, the first Cleary books I read were the Ramona series, which is very much a children's series with simple prose that anyone can understand. While the prose is simple here as well, it's more lyrical and elegant in that it tries to appeal to teenaged and adult readers as well without resorting to purple prose or trying too hard to sound intelligent and risk coming off as pretentious (Fault In Our Stars, anyone?). The prose and writing style is simple and concise, but the descriptions give the reader everything they need to try and comprehend what's going on, along with vivid, elegant descriptions about life in San Sebastian. In some ways, it felt like I was in San Sebastian right there with Shelley. Cleary also gives clear details about the time period in which this takes place and what lives were like for people in the 50s, such as lighting buckets of oil on fire to keep orange harvests from going bad during the winter, people going to parking lots or drive-in theaters for dates, soda bars where drinks were mixed with ice cream, and so on. While parts of the book may seem dated today, sometimes it's nice to have a look back to the past and read stories from a bygone era.

If you're looking for characters--especially teenaged characters--overridden with hormones and screaming at each other over stupid things and a ton of drama, then this isn't the book for you. The characters are wonderfully three-dimensional, and while they may seem overly schmaltzy and cutesy on the surface, the book goes deeper into their personalities, their troubles, and what makes them tick later on. Now, this was written during an era where teenagers were much more sensible, cordial, and pleasant to one another, boys kept their hands to themselves, and a LOT of emphasis was put on getting their parents' approval for...well, basically everything, even for something harmless. Considering most media nowadays tend to have teenager characters act like complete brats who go to extremes to do just about anything, it's actually rather refreshing to see teenagers written as sensible and down-to-earth, and any flaws they may have are treated with more subtlety and tact than most writers tend to do nowadays. This is the reason why I like Shelley: At first, she does seem like a typical teenager, but throughout the book, her experiences in San Sebastian change her for the better, and she goes through some amazing character development, especially in regards to how she realizes what her relationship with Philip turns out to be in the end. Plus, the book treats her flaws and insecurities with respect and never shames her for having the feelings that she does, and Cleary never makes her characters go super over-the-top insane in regards to anything, which is really, REALLY refreshing. It helps that she does have interests beyond just hitching with a boy, such as plants and journalism, so that helps. I loved the other characters as well, from Philip, the love interest who seems too good to be true, to Katie, the energetic, rebellious daughter in the family Shelley goes to live with. Even Shelley's parents are portrayed as likeable and sympathetic, even if Shelley does get embarrassed by them.

Now, I did notice some things about the book that did raise my eyebrows, but they're more nitpicks than anything, so I'll just mention them here: Shelley lives with the Michie family, and her mother was once college roommates with Mavis Michie. Honestly, who has the last name Michie anymore? For that matter, is that even a last name? I know it's a common first name used in Japan, but I've never heard it used as a surname before. The odd surname choice also makes me wonder...are the Michies part Japanese? Are they biracial? Is the patriarch of the family, Tom, Japanese, or part Japanese in some way? Even after reading this novel so many times, this odd surname choice still picks at my brain. This is never explained, and the Michies in general are pretty much a typical American family, so I have no idea what was going on in Cleary's mind when she named them. Plus, sometimes the teenagers come off as being a little TOO mature. But again, that's more of a nitpick than anything.

Overall, if you're looking for a genuinely good, well written romance that isn't saturated in stupidity and pointless melodrama, The Luckiest Girl is guaranteed to be a good read. If it can win me over, someone who normally doesn't like romance novels, then it has to be good!
 
This review was originally written on April 3rd, 2014.

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I give this old piece of work...a 60/100.

I heard about this book on TVTropes. Curious, I read reviews about it on Amazon. After that, I went to the library, rented it (the person who looked it up for me actually read it and was very bubbly and enthusiastic about it, as she read Blume's work in the past, so that was a first), read it, and finished it all in one day. Bullying was, and still is, a very hot button issue. But now, bullying in schools, home, and workplaces have gotten so bad and so out of control that the victims even commit suicide. Books about bullying have been around for a very long time, and there's probably more to come. I myself have been picked on for my eccentricities, but never to the extent one of the characters in this book has gone through. Seriously, even though I like it for what it does well, I seriously hate parts of it, mostly for personal reasons, but I'll try to be as objective as possible with this review. It's kinda hard to believe this book was written in the seventies (1974 to be more precise, the same year the anime Heidi: Girl of the Alps began airing on Japanese airwaves for all Heidi lovers to see).

The main character of this book is a girl named Jill Brenner, who just wants to fit in and be popular. After watching an overweight girl named Linda Fischer do a presentation on whales as part of an assignment about mammals, her friend Wendy decides to give her the nickname Blubber, feeling that Linda is fat like a whale. Jill, being the conformist, popularity seeking girl that she is, joins in on Wendy's crusade to make Linda's life miserable, though she isn't as persistent and vicious about it as Wendy and her clique is. Wendy and a good majority of the other kids do horrible things to Linda, from pulling up her skirt to making her lick Wendy's shoe to making her eat a chocolate covered ant. The teachers do nothing to help, and when they try to, the kids lie about it, and they instantly believe what they say. But when Jill decides things have gone too far, she betrays Wendy, and winds up becoming a victim of their treachery instead.

While the book is definitely written for kids in mind with its simplistic and not so overly descriptive style, there's quite a bit of swearing in here. I'm kind of surprised this is considered a children's book in the first place. But then again, it is true to life in that kids in the 5th grade swear, even when they're not supposed to (I don't remember if the kids I spent time with in 5th grade did so back then or not), so it's not a big issue to me, unlike some people who have been turned off by it. The book itself, while nothing special, is still very good in its own right, bringing to light various issues surrounding children and showing that they can be cruel. I was also very surprised with the ending, not because it's somewhat unsatisfying, which is true to life as well, but with a certain twist that nobody saw coming, not even me.

However, I do have some issues with the book. I did get bullied in the past, but the worst I had to endure was six whole years of annoying kids singing the "I Love You" song from Barney at me for some unknown, stupid, and unfathomable reason which I will probably never figure out. Plus, I think I even brought it on myself when I was younger, as I was pretty naive and stupid when I should have known better back then (for example, in the 4th grade I was unable to differentiate fantasy from reality as in never realized cartoons were just drawings on paper and I had a VERY vocal fangirl crush on an anime character. I finally got over it in 6th grade, but I don't think everyone else forgot about it). I'm genuinely surprised at how vicious these girls were in this book, and these are 5th graders! And by vicious, I mean...they do some really horrible things to Linda, like forcing her skirt up to show to pervy boys, making her eat a chocolate covered ant, making her kiss Wendy's shoe, making her say self-deprecating things in order to do stuff...God, the list goes on! I thought viciousness like this was only limited to high schoolers! I personally never went through the stuff Linda did, so I can't relate in that part. It really made me want to step into the book and save her from their treachery...which makes the unfortunate twist at the end even more heartbreaking and infuriating. I won't say what that twist is, because it's a HUGE spoiler. Also, the music teacher. God, that music teacher drove me nuts! Why? While the other teachers, while strict, have good intentions, indifferent to the bullying as they are. This music teacher at one point scolds Linda for not getting an answer right, and...rips out part of her hair! What teacher does that?! Teachers are NOT supposed to do that! Shouldn't that teacher have gotten fired?! Again, there are teachers who go too far and abuse their power, but ripping out strands of an innocent kid's hair just because she got an answer wrong?! That's going too far in itself! If my parents found out a teacher did that to me, they'd sue them and get them fired by any means necessary like they did with two one-to-one assistants (who weren't even real one-to-one assistants trained to help Autistic kids--just a couple of local moms from the neighborhood who were looking to make some quick and easy cash) who abused me in 2nd and 3rd grade!

The characters...are kinda bland to me. While I did like the interactions between them, as that's how real kids interact, I really didn't feel anything for them, nor could I connect with them in any way, not even Linda. Linda even more so considering that twist in the end. While Jill is a well rounded and realistic character, with actual hobbies, a social life, has a decent family she both loves and squabbles with, and easily succumbs to peer pressure like any other kid, I really couldn't relate to her, even as the tables got turned on her, but I don't think the author intended for us to relate to her or root for her at all. She's supposed to be the girl we DON'T want to be: the girl who wants to be popular, who joins in on the bullying, who does absolutely nothing to stop it and instead condones it to fit in, which makes the message of this book even more striking. This'll really stick with a kid more than any sermon or preachiness will. But even as the tables got turned on her, I couldn't relate to her at all. Jill doesn't even feel any remorse for the things she does nor does she try to apologize to Linda or learn the error of her ways. I especially hated Wendy and her clique. I really wanted to see them get punished. Very hard. I want to see them suffer. But we readers are not given that opportunity. One reason I preferred Gamer Girl despite it being slightly worse in quality and writing is that the bullies, unrealistic as they are, actually do get some very satisfying comeuppance even though it was off screen.

While Blubber isn't the best book in the word, and isn't the most satisfying, it's very good, and it teaches a very good lesson that most kids these days really really REALLY need to learn. But if you want to see bullies get some punishment for the bad things they do, or a book that has likeable characters, look elsewhere.
 
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This review was started on May 22nd 2018, though not finished until today.

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I give this book that jump started the heartwarming orphan genre...an 87/100!

When I was younger, I was never fond of reading, especially for school. Having to analyze books for school assignments had turned me off to the idea of reading, so I had no desire to read anything that wasn't absolutely required. Thus, I never knew a single thing about Anne of Green Gables. But in 2009, I found an anime called Before Green Gables, which then led me to the book by Budge Wilson, and then to the original book Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. If I had read this when I was little, I probably would have hated it. But when I read it when I was in high school, I found that I liked it, even if I did skip a bunch of paragraphs because some parts went on for way too long. Re-reading it now, I can definitely see why people like it so much, as it's just a nice, laid-back, sweet slice-of-life book about an orphaned girl being adopted by new parents and her experiences with her new life. So...yeah, I learned of this series through anime. Got a problem with that?

The story centers on two adult siblings, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who live in a farm on the beautiful Prince Edward Island. Matthew is getting on in years, so they decide to adopt a boy from an orphanage to have him help around the farm. But a miscommunication has them wind up with a girl, instead, and this girl--Anne Shirley--isn't any ordinary child. She's an outgoing, talkative, energetic red haired kid who loves to imagine things and is a romantic idealist despite the bad life she had up to this point. Although Marilla and Matthew do their best to bring her up, they can't contain her wild energy, and Anne finds herself in a variety of situations, like making friends, dealing with boys, learning things in school, wishing she could follow current fashion trends despite Marilla's distaste for anything extravagant and fashionable, and so on. One thing's for sure: Avonlea won't be the same with her around, and maybe this will prove to be a good thing for everyone involved.

Now, I know I said Anne of Green Gables jump started the wave of stories starring young orphans who get adopted by strict parents/relatives who eventually warm up to their strange ways, but that's not quite true. Technically, one of the first to do this was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin, which was published in 1903, even though the main character wasn't technically an orphan. Anne of Green Gables came out five years later, and was much more popular, which is why you might not have heard of the former book. Even so, Anne of Green Gables has become a huge hit since its publication, and its still popular and well beloved to this day. However, I won't try to claim Anne of Green Gables is a perfect book, as it does have its fair share of problems.

One of those problems is its prose. Don't get me wrong, Montgomery is a really good writer. She has a great knack for describing settings and really bringing forth the beauty of nature. She has good sentence structure, describes her characters' and their appearances succinctly, and every moment she writes has great atmosphere. However, the problem with her writing is that it is really, really, REALLY sentimental, to the point of bordering on extremely nauseating. I think this kind of writing was meant to be taken as finding the beauty in the mundane, considering that Anne lived a terrible life before she came to live with the Cuthberts and she finds beauty in everything, but Montgomery often writes several pages of overwrought, sentimental, melodramatic descriptions of things from Anne's reactions to various happenings to all the overly Christian morals that some characters spout every now and again. Several things could be cut out entirely and nothing would be lost, or at the very least written more simply and with less melodramatic sentimentality. Then again, from what I've heard, this was the standard way of writing kids books back in that time period, before L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and eschewed excessive purple prose. Yeah, Montgomery really needed to dial back the excessively sentimental and melodramatic writing. A lot.

But that aside, the story itself is very good. It follows Anne as she adjusts to life on Prince Edward Island, meeting new friends, going to school, getting into mischief at times, and growing up. One of the book's biggest strengths is its sense of realism. There's lots of scenarios here that I'm sure many people can relate to, like being dared by other kids to do something stupid or overly ambitious, or wanting to one-up that one kid you really hate, or forgetting to do something even when your parents literally just told you to do it, or daydreaming during class. I'm sure we've all done stupid things when we were kids, and Anne is no different. Every character, from Anne herself to her circle of friends, feels like a real person, whose problems feel real and down to earth, rather than those you'd find in soap operas. You never feel like it tries too hard to be something it isn't, and the characters are all funny and loveable and feel real, even if you don't like them or disagree with them.

That said, the book is mainly an episodic slice of life novel, so there's one major thing it's lacking, something that's pretty essential in every piece of media nowadays: Conflict. Any conflicts the book has are really, REALLY far apart, and the book is completely slice-of-life, so if you're coming here looking for nonstop drama or explosions or giant robots beating the crap out of each other, you're in the wrong place. If you're not really into slice-of-life, it can be easy to find this book boring. I tried to get my mom to read it, but she didn't get very far and stopped reading, saying it was boring. So again, it's all down to personal taste. I like it well enough, and its popularity has endured to this day, so I think it's safe to say Anne of Green Gables isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

On that note, in spite of my issues with it, I can definitely say that Anne of Green Gables deserves its popularity, and here's hoping more people will enjoy it just as much as I, and many other fans of Anne Shirley, do as well. Finally, my personal favorite movie/TV/media adaptations of it are as follows:

  1. Akage no Anne, the 50-episode long Japanese anime version from 1979. It's fully subbed and available if you know where to look.
  2. The 1998 manga by Yumiko Igarashi (Yes, there is a manga. I checked. I even read and reviewed it)
  3. Anne With an E
  4. Kevin Sullivan's 1985 Anne of Green Gables movie/mini series (Haven't seen the other movies, though, and from what I hear, they're not as good, so I'll be avoiding those)
 
This review was written on October 30th, 2017.

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(This review only applies to the first three volumes, not the later ones that make up Magic Knight Rayearth II. That'll be its own review. I also plan to review the whole anime later on, if I ever get around to watching all of it)

I give one of CLAMP's most well-liked manga series...a 70/100.

Let's face it: anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of anime has at least heard of CLAMP, or if you don't, you've seen one of their anime/manga without knowing it. They were the queens of manga back in the 90s. They made famous titles like Card Captor Sakura, XxxHolic, Tsubasa Chronicles, X, Angelic Layer, etc. My first manga by them was Wish, and I still own all four volumes to this day. People still love their work even now, though as of late, CLAMP doesn't seem to be as well-loved now as they were during their heyday, what with all the drama regarding Tsubasa, the low quality of their newer works, among other things. One of their most well-liked manga is a little title called Magic Knight Rayearth, famous for having three female main characters wielding swords and magic, going to another world, deconstructing the typical "destroy the evil villain and save the princess" tropes in unexpected ways, and just being all-around cool. I've seen the anime version and have read the manga (the first three volumes make up 20 episodes of the anime series, which technically counts as the first season), and...well, to be honest, I feel the anime told the story a little better.

So the premise in and of itself isn't much to write home about. Three middle school girls--Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji--are suddenly whisked away to the magical land of Cephiro, where one's choices and belief are the strongest power of all. But Cephiro is in a global crisis, as Princess Emeraude's trusted high priest, Zagato, has kidnapped her and whisked her away to his secret lair, and because Princess Emeraude keeps Cephiro alive and thriving with her prayers, he basically is the cause of everything. With the help of some allies, both human and non-human, the three girls are tasked to become the legendary Magic Knights and save Princess Emeraude and Cephiro from certain doom.

I really don't think I need to say much about the artwork that hasn't been said about CLAMP by now. It's freaking beautiful. Everyone's outfits are meticulously detailed, sometimes even excessively so, the battle scenes are full of action that really feel like they come alive, sometimes taking up whole pages, and all of the characters have unique designs that are distinctly their own, so not once do you feel like everyone looks the same. Need I mention the setting and weapon designs as well? You have to admit, CLAMP has a real knack for making their own fantasy worlds and weapons that really look unique. Magical flying fish, fountains that only exist in two dimensions, weapons that evolve when their characters grow up mentally, a princess whose very life is used for making the entire world peaceful and nothing else? You have to admit, those are pretty original, especially for their time period.

Unfortunately, this leads to what I feel is one of the manga's biggest flaws. Since the story only takes up three volumes, it moves at a very fast, breakneck pace that doesn't leave much time for the characters to just sit down, breathe, and learn more about Cephiro, what it's like, its customs, the people living on it, etc. This is one flaw that the anime managed to rectify. Since the first season of the anime consisted of 20 episodes, it had more time to add more episodes that not only expanded on Cephiro and its plight as a hole, but added new situations that really allowed you to relax and get to know the characters and the setting more. The manga doesn't have that luxury, and it's basically just "Learn stuff from Clef, go to the forest, meet Presea, get weapons, fight monsters, go to castle, etc" with nothing in between to even the pace.

The manga's short length and extremely strict but fast pacing also effects the characters as well. Since 98% of the story takes place in Cephiro, we know little to nothing about what the girls are like outside the main story, and they aren't given the opportunity to truly blossom and become fully realized characters. Hikaru is still a happy-go-lucky tomboy who's extremely determined, Umi starts off as an annoying rich girl who complains a lot but then mellows out, Fuu is the smart one, etc. There isn't much else to them. One minor character, Ferio, is the biggest victim of this since he barely gets any plot relevance outside helping the girls out of a forest and fighting off one of Princess Emeraude's brainwashed guards. The anime rectified this by giving him more character, more screentime, and a far more active role in the grand scheme of things, even a fleshed out backstory. On the other hand, I did like some of the details added in the character bios and omake sections, such as Hikaru wanting to be a seeing-eye dog trainer, Umi being good at fencing which helps her grow as a Magic Knight, and Fuu being good with computers, things I really wish had been explored in the manga or even a side-story if CLAMP had the chance to expand on those aspects of them.

So yeah, the manga's not perfect. Nothing is. It could have been so much better if CLAMP made more than just three volumes of it. But for the purpose of not being an edgy killjoy, here's some more positives: the girls themselves are pretty decent characters overall, and they get off to a rough start but gradually become friends and work together, not once falling into the catty girl stereotypes and superficial friendships you see in most trashy teen romcom TV shows nowadays and even back in the 90s. Plus, they use swords and magic! How cool is that?! Also, I absolutely LOVE the twist ending. I won't spoil it for you, but the ending is an absolute masterpiece in that it completely eschews typical "save the princess" cliches and doesn't coddle the reader whatsoever. The anime keeps the twist too, so don't worry about it not being adapted.

Not one of the best mangas ever, but it's still a pretty fun ride if you want something cool to read to kill time.
 
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This review was written on June 14th, 2019.

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I give this book about an insecure girl and the secrets she keeps...a 61/100.

For those who don't know, I tend to be picky about what I read. Most books I read tend to be aimed at kids or teenagers, but I prefer my media to have substance and quality. For every good piece of media out there, there's always going to be bad stuff. Oddly enough, even though I'll be 26 soon, I've never found myself liking books aimed at adults. I had to read a few when I was in school, or read others just to see if they were any good, and they just didn't appeal to me for some reason. Maybe they were too formulaic, too melodramatic, too pretentious, trying too hard, or just have a lot of flaws that marred my enjoyment of it. But I don't want to dismiss all adult books as being bad. I'm sure there are some good ones out there. I probably just haven't found them yet. I read somewhere that one writer, Sarah Dessen, writes pretty good books. I read two of them, Lock and Key and the subject of today's review, Just Listen. I didn't finish Lock and Key because everything felt really contrived, and one character's reaction to the main character's spiral into despair really rubbed me the wrong way, so you won't see a review of that any time soon. I did like Just Listen a little better, to the point that I did finish it cover to cover, but I didn't find myself liking it for a variety of reasons.

Teenager Annabel Greene seems like she has it all. At least, that's how she portrays herself in commercials she acts in meant to advertise for a department store called Kopf's Department Store. But the truth is, Annabel is nothing like the part she plays in the commercial. She's a successful model, but she has no friends, one girl named Sophie is always mean to her, her family is in turmoil because one of her older sisters is revealed to be anorexic, and another traumatic event has left her a shell of who she once was. She does manage to befriend a guy named Owen Armstrong, who is absolutely obsessed with eclectic music and is brutally honest, something Annabel wishes she was. The two get closer, and Annabel is hoping that maybe she can face that awful night once and for all.

To get it out of the way: this book is really flawed. For one, Dessen writes her books like she's still in high school. More often than not, she has Annabel go on tangents about uninteresting, unnecessary things that ultimately contribute nothing to the story nor give the characters more depth. Like what Jennifer Weiner did with The Littlest Bigfoot, Dessen eschews showing in favor of telling, and it shows. Several things, such as Annabel's mother micromanaging her modeling career, or Whitney's troubled life and details on her anorexia could have benefitted from being expanded in greater detail. Instead, all of these things are glossed over, and Dessen's prose is, as a result, painfully dull and not in any way engaging in the least. Just think of how much better this book would be if Dessen put more of an effort into at least some of these subplots!

Furthermore, the characters are also dull and uninteresting. Annabel is too passive for her own good and hates confrontation. In a better book, Dessen would have Annabel eventually be forced to face her flaws or at least make an effort to tell people what's been going on, not just for her own personal healing, but so she can finally resolve things once and for all. Instead, she doesn't do anything until the very end, or after someone else does things for her. I did sympathize with her problems, sure, but she's just not that great of a character, and her passivity and lack of concern for anything that isn't her own headspace makes her unable to carry the story. Owen, her male friend and love interest, was particularly obnoxious, and a major hypocrite. He's a big buff dude who's obsessed with weird music and thinks he's enlightened because of it. Yawn. Pretentious and edgy, just what we need. He wants everyone to be honest with them and claims he won't judge them, but when Annabel dislikes some of his tastes in music, he shoots her down and orders her around. Plus, he's needlessly pushy, too. When they go to some rock and roll party and Annabel has an episode, she runs away and doesn't speak to him for a while out of shame. But when she tries to talk to Owen about it, he's angry at her for leaving, practically browbeats her into telling him every single detail about everything, like he's entitled to all of her personal secrets, when it's not even any of his business (And did I mention that he feels like he should be the first to hear them? Instead of, y'know, her family? People who would actually benefit from knowing about Annabel's troubles?), and is needlessly butthurt by focusing on his own feelings about it, not even letting her get a word in. The book tries to paint him as a great listener, but he really isn't. He should be trying to comfort Annabel in her time of need, giving her space, and telling her that he'll be there when she wants to talk about it, when she's comfortable, on her own terms, not berating her for...y'know, having a breakdown and wanting some space. Also, Annabel's so-called friend Sophie is a despicable bitch who jumps to conclusions, has horrible judgment, and gets off scot free for all the crap she pulls on Annabel and her friend Clarke. I mean, Sophie was cruel to Annabel from the start, but the latter continues to befriend her. Why would she even want anything to do with her? Every other character was dull and uninteresting as well, save for only two: Whitney, Annabel's older sister, and Clarke, her ex-childhood friend whom she dumped in favor of Sophie.

For what it's worth, though, the book does have a good message: It's better to listen to people than to judge them, and you won't get anywhere by bottling up your pain. Talk to someone who will listen and get the help you need. You'll be much better off for it. I only wish the book's overall execution of its themes weren't so haphazard. The message is unfortunately shot because of characters like Owen, who is just poorly written, and the unnecessary subplots that don't do anything other than bloat the book. Honestly, I kind of wish Whitney's subplot was given more attention. That I was actually interested in, and I thought the portrayal of anorexia here was pretty well done. Unfortunately, that isn't enough to save the book from being unbearably dull, contrived, and a huge mess of what could have been a decent book at best.

Overall, not that great of a book. Go for something better. This one's not worth it.
 
This review was written on June 21st, 2018, though not finished until just today.

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I give this charming little sci-fi light novel...a 73/100.

Light novels are really popular in Japan, and have been so since the early 2000s. But nowadays, other than a few exceptions, they've acquired a bit of a bad reputation for mostly being associated with poor quality series trapped in stale genres, the two most prominent being harem and, as of very recently, isekai stuff. Unless you really look hard enough, genuinely good light novels are hard to come by anymore. That said, I would never have even HEARD of Mia and the Forbidden Medicine Report if not for this review I found on Anime News Network. It didn't seem like any generic light novel focusing on a guy who either befriends a bunch of girls or goes into another world and befriends a bunch of girls. At first, I was disappointed to find that it was just an eBook, as I didn't want to buy it and then find that I didn't like it. But my curiosity got the better of me and I did buy it, deciding to take a chance on it, and I'm glad I did. But the first half of the light novel is very, VERY hard to get into if you know your anime/manga/light novel cliches by now.

In a magical land called Isea, a country girl, Mia Baumann, is on a mission. She has just been accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy, particularly in its pharmacology department, determined to study a disease called Demon Claw and create a medicine for it. Demon Claw, along with another illness called Angel Tears, has been ravaging the world for years, and no one seems to know why, despite the government's efforts to study the latter, and Demon Claw has been largely ignored. When she's told to work on a personal project throughout the course of the year, she's joined by Felix, a young nobleman, his childhood friend Mathias, a brusque mage in training, and Henrik, an aloof medical student. Together, they do all they can to study Demon Claw and its secrets despite all the opposition thrown at them from every direction.

Seriously, you guys have no idea how much I want to gush about this novel. The concept starts off cliche, but gets extremely interesting and intriguing when the second half rolls around, the two main characters are very likeable and fun to follow, and the tension is absolutely amazing. So why the low score? Unfortunately, you can blame it on the first half of the novel, which, I won't lie, starts off very, VERY cliche. Country girl goes to a school for rich people, nobody likes her at first, she befriends a bunch of pretty boys, earns the ire of the catty alpha bitch who hates her existence just because she hangs out with a boy she likes, she gets bullied by dumb kids, the main love interest's childhood friend is a stand-offish tsundere who's always putting him down, teachers are hard on Mia, she has a tragic past, so on and so forth. The story in the first half is painfully predictable, because any anime/manga/light novel fan worth their salt can spot so many of these cliches from a mile away, and it plays out similarly to many other stories that have also tackled these tropes. It'd be one thing if the novel did something with them, but in the beginning, they're played pretty straight.

Cliches can be done well, depending on the execution. Anyone can attest to that. However, the problem with this novel's take on it is the fact that it really amps up the melodrama, blowing things to proportions that are just plain ridiculous. When Mia gets to school, she reveals that she wants to do a project on Demon Claw, a disease everyone fears is fatal and contagious. When she explains her reasons to the class, everybody suddenly starts treating her like she's the next coming of Godzilla and scream and rave at her like the world is being invaded by aliens, forgoing any kind of common sense or rational thought. There is an in-story explanation for this, but their overly exaggerated reactions, along with the fact that Mia's backstory is just as tragic, with kids hating her even when she was young, compounded by the fact that this treatment continues even as the novel goes on, shows that the author is trying a little TOO hard to make the readers sympathize with Mia.

The characters wind up suffering from being written in a cliche fashion as well, and not in a good way. The only two characters who narrowly escape this, Mia and Felix, are thankfully very enjoyable characters, with their own strengths, flaws, and engaging personalities. Mia is smart, determined, and working feverishly to research a cure for her ill mother, and because of her bad experiences with people in the past, she feels like she can't trust others, but slowly she finds a group of friends who stand by her, even if they get off to a rough start. Felix, thankfully, avoids the trappings of the typical bishounen who instantly falls for Mia, and his reasons for doing so are much more poignant than most of his archetype, but I won't spoil it. He's honest, caring, and even impulsive in wanting to help Mia, and his intentions are always good, even if they annoy others around him. Unfortunately, the same praises I sing for Mia and Felix cannot be said for the other two main characters, Henrik and Mathias. Not gonna lie, I DID NOT like these two. Henrik was too cold and aloof for his own good, to the point of coming off as mean-spirited at times, and Mathias...hoo boy, I have a lot to say about him, none of it good! He's this annoying tsundere childhood friend of Felix's, but he never behaves like an actual friend to Felix. In his first scene alone, the first thing he does is complain endlessly about Felix, whining and bitching about him and calling him weak, worthless, and a burden he has to babysit. Uhhh...dude, that is NOT how you treat a person, much less someone who considers you a friend! What's worse is that he acts like this THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BOOK! Why would Felix even want someone like him around, who constantly puts him down and shames him for being who he is, even over things that aren't his fault? If someone treated me like this, I'd give them the boot regardless of whether my parents assigned him as my bodyguard or not. Sorry, but Mathias is the big reason I can't rate this book higher. He annoys me every time he appears on the page, and Felix deserves way better than a guy like him. He's basically the guy version of an autism warrior mom who complains about how hard life is raising an autistic child, and we're supposed to like this guy? No way, no how. Also, Angelica, the girl who picks on Mia a lot, is little more than another alpha bitch character who gets no development or purpose in the story whatsoever.

The prose is fairly good, with concise descriptions that are a little beige, but still provide enough substance to make you picture the story's world in your head. That said, there were a lot of misspelled words, typos, and grammatical mistakes in the book. At one point, Angel Tears is called Demon Tears, some words are stuck together when they should be separated, and some sentences ended with question marks when they weren't needed. That's about all I can say in the actual writing department.

To my eternal relief, despite the rough start, Mia and the Forbidden Medicine Report picks up in chapters 7-8, and after that, it gets MASSIVELY good, with a genuinely awesome and amazing story revelation that blew me away. I won't spoil it for you, but the twist revealed in the story actually manages to save the book for me. The story plays out more like a science drama with an underlayer of mystery than a shoujo harem story, the 20th century steampunk setting is very intriguing, if a little underutilized, and the bits of worldbuilding we get, namely from characters explaining the history of Isea and the fact that their military prizes mages and their magic, is simply amazing. It's a shame this isn't a longer series, as a story like this with the setting that it has could really benefit from further exploration. And that's the final big flaw of this book: IT'S TOO DAMN SHORT!! I would absolutely love to read more of this and maybe learn more about Henrik, Mathias, the teachers, and other characters who appear and learn more about the world these characters live in.

The novel was first released as a digital eBook, but if you don't like digital books and want to read a physical edition, you're in luck! Cross Infinite World, the company that licensed this, just released a print edition of it, along with several other light novels, not even a few days ago, so it's ripe for buying! Authoress Fumi Yamamoto says in her afterword that she was inspired to write this novel based on current events about the lack of available drugs and treatments for people in less affluent parts of the world. She incorporates this theme into her steampunk story fluidly, raising our awareness without ever sounding preachy or too intense for the relatively light book. It's a shame this story isn't longer, because it could really benefit from a massive expansion and be a great series. But as a standalone story, this is still a very good book, even with a lot of flaws holding it back from being truly great. Check it out if you can.
 
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This review was written on June 28th, 2019.

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I give this cute kids series about a girl working at an inn...a 70/100.

Ever since I first started getting into anime, the place I always frequent for anime news is, well, Anime News Network. That's every anime fan's go-to place for anything related to it, from news to informative articles. That's how I found out about Okko's Inn (Wakaokami wa Shougakusei)...well, technically the movie version, which is coming out on DVD in the US next week. I looked it up and found that it was a series as well, and a fairly recent one. Having been bored, I decided to sit down and watch it. Eh...I wouldn't say this series is anything great, just average and plain, with only a few good moments here and there.

So what's the story? After the death of her parents, 12-year-old Oriko Seki, or Okko for short, is sent to live with her grandmother in the countryside. Said grandmother, Mineko, runs an old Japanese-style inn. But when Okko gets there, she sees a strange boy hanging around...and said boy is a ghost. Uribo, Mineko's childhood friend from years ago, hangs around the inn and tries to convince Okko to become the next innkeeper. She refuses at first, but she finds the role foisted on her anyway. Afterward, she finds herself training to become a hostess, dealing with a variety of colorful guests and competing with another girl, Matsuki, whose family runs a more modern style inn. She even befriends Matsuki's dead older sister, Mio, who comes to hang out at the inn every now and again. Every day is an exciting new adventure for Okko and her ghostly friends, and over time, she learns the ins and outs of working at an inn.

Not gonna lie: the animation in this series is...limited, to say the least. There's a lot of still frames, and the series has a particular problem with side views of the characters faces. Whenever a character is viewed from the side, particularly the children, their faces look strangely round and bloated, like they're trying to chew a huge amount of food. Other times body parts such as eyes are out of place, and anatomy can get skewed at times. Some episodes have better animation than others, particularly when they make use of lighting and color in episodes that involve making hot springs all sparkly, but that's about it. The music is rather generic as well, so I don't have much to say about it. The ending songs are pretty nice, though.

The characters are kinda a mixed bag. On one hand, I do like Okko, Uribo, and Mio's dynamic. They're pretty cute when they're all together, even if the ghosts wind up getting more development than Okko herself does, and Matsuki, who seems like a typical mean girl at first, does warm up to Okko later and they work together a lot in later episodes. The series mostly centers on Okko, who's a pretty decent, realistic kid trying to take on an adult role, who screws up every now and again but learns new things and tries to help in any way she can, even if she's reckless and impulsive at times. Not the most interesting character, but relatively sweet. Throughout the series, Okko deals with a variety of guests, from a classmate who has body image issues to a wannabe exorcist. But I feel like the series really gave Okko the shaft when she really needed development the most. For one, we know nothing of her life before she came to Harunoya, and one arc later in the series teases the idea of Okko questioning her abilities as an innkeeper after a guy she meets is better than her at everything, but then the series completely meanders into something else while completely squandering any chance they had of fleshing Okko out some more, really having her come to terms with her flaws, and have her change. Also, Suzuki was just there for comic relief and not much else.

Yeah, the series' biggest issue is that it tries to play things safe and doesn't do anything that'll really bring out its best. Many of the story arcs, while consisting of two episodes each, are rather short, which is because the episodes are 10 minutes long, and they tend to get resolved rather quickly, without much nuance. Other times, it builds up to one thing but completely swerves into something else entirely. It doesn't really seem to know what it wants to do at times, so as a result, the story comes off as being rather incomplete and half-baked. I really want to like this show more than I do, because it has a lot of elements that I really like. But its desire to dabble in cliches and play it safe ultimately held it back.

There is a silver lining to this, though: As I said before, there's going to be a movie for Okko's Inn coming out in a bit, and from what I've seen from trailers and interviews, it's going to be a completely original story in a different continuity from the series. Best of all, it's going to focus specifically on Okko and her struggles to become a good hostess, deal with the loss of her parents, and what happens when she doesn't have her ghost friends. I'm really excited to see how it plays out. The series is cute and harmless, but generic at best. Nothing great, but nothing bad, and it does teach some good lessons to kids.
 
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This review was originally written on May 5th, 2016.

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I give one of Japan's best selling autobiographies...a 70/100.

I was bored, so I decided to look up books online and see if I can satisfy some reading cravings. Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window was one of the books that caught my interest. I ordered it at Barnes and Noble over my vacation and now I own it. So what do I think of it? Well, I think it's a nice little autobiography about schooling, sterile education, passionate teachers, and World War II, but there were times when the events that happened in the book, which are explicitly said to have happened in real life, seriously baffle me to no end. I can see why this is such a bestseller, and I do like it, but I'm not quite sure if certain elements in this book would fly past censors if it managed to get published today, and how certain parts flew past the censors back when it was translated in 1984 is beyond me.

So the bulk of the book is about the author's childhood experiences in an unorthodox--as in outside the norm or not like the rest of the traditional Japanese schools--school called Tomoe Gakuen. After she gets expelled for her bad behavior, Tetsuko, affectionately nicknamed Totto-chan by family and her peers, is transferred to the new school, which isn't like all the other schools. The headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi, eschews traditional Japanese norms regarding education and pretty much lets kids do their own thing, such as make up their own school schedules for studying, lets them play outside and doesn't worry about them getting dirty, tries to understand and accommodate every child, allows them to discover the wonders of nature, allows them to be themselves, and doesn't believe in shunning even the disabled or foreign, even though certain religions and handicaps were not considered acceptable by Japanese society back in World War II, especially if the emperor of the time, Hirohito, didn't approve of it.

Strangely enough, the novel is extremely episodic in nature, and all of the chapters, which are very short bordering on 2-3 pages long at most, are about Totto-chan's life both in and out of school and her experiences. There's one chapter about her teaching a kid with polio how to climb a tree, another about an incident about her dog biting her by accident, another about her raising chicks, another about kids swimming in the school's pool, etc. This is rare for a novel, especially an autobiography, as usually an episodic format is reserved for children's TV shows or Japanese dramas, and novels usually have overarching storylines and big events that keep people interested. But for the most part, the chapters are very short, short enough to breeze through without missing anything, and the prose is extremely accessible, not too beige but not purple either, so it's pretty easy to read. I'm sure children between the ages of 8-14 can read it easily. I'm sure I would have if I ever read this back when I was young. Plus, there isn't much that happens throughout the novel, as it's mostly just a series of random chapters detailing Totto-chan's life and some things she experienced in her younger days, so there's no real beginning, middle, or end, and it feels more like you're there watching a bunch of kids play in the park, which is fitting since that's what the book is about. I do like how it doesn't really follow a typical three-act structure.

The illustrations are really simplistic, as they're basically just watercolor paintings of Totto-chan and others sprinkled throughout the book. They look rather haphazard, like someone tried to paint kids but instead made them look like aliens that came out of a river, but they're not bad. They're pretty simplistic enough for kids to enjoy, and they still barely manage to toe the line between cartoony and realistic. Plus, it does add to the childlike nature of the story, since we're reading the story through the eyes of a child, and it's a pretty safe bet that if kids were to make watercolor drawings, the illustrations here would be eerily reminiscent of what most kids would attempt to paint.

Since the book is so episodic, there's not much room for actual character development, as the only ones who get a lot of focus are Totto-chan, her parents, some classmates such as Yasuaki, and the headmaster. But they're all relatively good characters in their own right and since this is a slice-of-life story, and an autobiography no less, they don't really need to develop, as they're all portrayed realistically, shown as people just going about their lives even though World War II is sneaking up on them. I did find Totto-chan to be pretty funny, as she's pretty much a gigantic tomboy, and an imaginative girl who explores her neighborhood despite the consequences, would much rather play outside and watch street musicians rather than sit at a desk all day, throws tantrums if she doesn't get what she wants, causes trouble, and doesn't always realize her actions can get herself in trouble, but she's still shown as a genuinely good kid who wants to make her friends happy and do the right thing, such as helping her friend climb a tree and pleads for her parents not to euthanize her dog Rocky after he bit her. She's the kind of girl I'm sure you've run into at least once in your life, and I could definitely relate to some of her experiences, such as when her baby chicks die despite trying to raise them, and when Rocky dies while she's out on a trip, and when her parents try to hide things from her but she knows something's up and won't stand to be kept in the dark. It ties into the themes of education and how children are smarter than people give them credit for.

Unfortunately, this book isn't perfect, even though I did enjoy reading it. The episodic nature can definitely turn people off, especially if you're expecting something big to happen like someone gets kidnapped and is enslaved by a psycho for ten years, or bombs come falling down and destroying everything. While it's true that most autobiographies detail events that happened in the author's life, such as the wars, the Holocaust, a bad experience such as being kidnapped or enslaved or sexually abused by a psycho, it's unrealistic to think that that's the only experiences people go through in their lives. True, Totto-chan is set during World War II, and the ending definitely solidifies this, but that's not what Totto-chan is about. So...yeah, if you're looking for detailed accounts of someone going through a terrible time in their life, this isn't the autobiography for you.

Now I think it's time I address the elephant in the room, the thing that keeps me from actually LOVING the book to high heaven. There's one chapter where Totto-chan and the kids go swimming in the pool at Tomoe, but none of them have their swimsuits, so the teacher allows them to...swim naked. One pool, full of nude kids aged 6-8, both boys and girls, naked in a big pool with a male teacher. Yeaaaaahhhhh...to be fair, the book DOES provide a decent explanation: the teacher feels that children shouldn't be ashamed of or overly curious about the differences between their bodies and felt that people taking pains ro hide their bodies just didn't feel natural. He wanted to teach the kids that all bodies are beautiful, ridding the kids of feelings of shame and prevent them from developing inferiority complexes. Understandably, the chapter does address parents being uncomfortable with this, and while I do applaud the teacher's intentions, and understand that Japan has always had different cultural views on children and underaged nudity, if someone attempted something like this here in America, they'd be accused of being a budding pedophile no matter their intentions. There might have been better ways to teach kids that rather than let boys and girls swim in a big pool in their birthday suits supervised by a male teacher. But the good thing is, the chapter is only two or three pages long and doesn't affect the story in any way, so you can easily skip it and not miss out on anything. But if you're easily offended by this stuff to the point where you'll drop something like this entirely...I don't know what to tell you.

However, I don't think the book should be dropped just because of that. Other than a couple of boggling writing choices, Totto-chan is actually a very subtle critique of Japan's stubbornly conformist and conservative education system, and it still holds up even to this day. Japan and America have different views on education. American kids go to school but are allowed individual freedom to decide what they want to be. The Japanese, however, mostly feel that all members of their society should conform to a certain ideal and aim for the same goal, and anyone who doesn't conform or adhere to society's views or values is considered an outcast or deemed a hindrance, a burden, or a blemish on their traditionalist reputations. Totto-chan's main lesson is that no matter where you come from, education should be to allow children to grow, to allow them the freedom to become their own individuals, as stifling them with rules and conformist views that'll make them feel ashamed to be themselves won't help them become productive members of society. Especially so since it's because of Kobayashi that Tetsuko Kuroyanagi became the famous writer, TV personality, and UNICEF goodwill ambassador that she is. Granted, Japan is still pretty rooted in its very traditionalist and even backward views on issues such as education and even sexual harassment, but the fact that Totto-chan has sold 5 million copies before 1982, at the time becoming the best selling book in Japanese history, says a lot about the book's overall impact and how true the message rings to not just the Japanese, but to the whole world.

In the end, it's not a perfect book, but it's still a very good book with a very important message and a good outlook on what it means to educate and what it means to be a child and to allow someone to become an individual.
 
This review was written on July 3rd, 2019, and a continuation of my review for the Wakaokami wa Shougakusei series, aka Okko's Inn.

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I give this adorable movie...an 85/100!

It's strange: Movies used to be where you could really experiment and create what you want to create. That still happens, but for movies based on TV series, they tend to get too ambitious for their own good before crashing and burning, or are just recaps, or take too little risks out of fear of pissing off their fanbase. I say there need to be more movies that really go with their own ideas and visions, and they don't always have to be epic or complex in order to work. As you know, I knew nothing of Okko's Inn before reading info on the movie, and I watched the TV series, which I admit was cute, but rather generic and tended to meander. A lot. And it played things too safe. The trailer for the movie, which is an alternate retelling of the story, promised to be better and stronger, and I was interested in seeing it, but then my local theater yanked it off their schedule when it came time for it to premiere. Needless to say, I was pissed off. But now, having seen the movie now, I'm pissed off even more, because holy crap, this movie is damn good, in that it pretty much fixes every single flaw the series had and more! Would it be considered blasphemy if I say I like this way better than the series?

The story is the same as the series: After losing her parents in a car accident, Oriko "Okko" Seki is sent to live with her grandmother at her Japanese inn. When she gets there, she finds herself befriending a ghost boy, Uribo, who begs her to take over her grandmother's inn. She pretty much gets forced into it, and through trial and error, she learns the ins and outs of hospitality and being a gracious host. She also has to deal with an annoying rich girl classmate, Matsuki Akino, who lives at the much fancier Shuukou Inn, and later befriends another ghost, Miyo, and a mischievous demon, Suzuki. The thing with the series is that it was very flawed. It had a lot of filler-y subplots that either never went anywhere, were poorly executed, or resolved too quickly. It never really knew what it wanted to do. The movie finds its focus, cuts out all of the pointless parts, and has a much tighter story arc, never straying from its intended purpose. It's still rather cliche, but by cutting out all the chafe that held the series back and attempting realistic drama, it manages to stand on its own, as much more than just an alternate continuity.

One thing the movie definitely has that surpasses the TV series in every way is its MASSIVELY improved animation. The colors are brighter, the character animation is much more fluid and less stagant, the character designs are much sleeker (and Okko's face doesn't get weirdly round and over-bloated when she's seen from a side view), the colors are a visual orgasm. Everything looks absolutely beautiful, and considering the director of this movie and a few other people previously worked for Ghibli, you know the animation is going to be good. It helps that there's a lot going on, and everything has a flair to it that the series just didn't have. It really amazes me what a decent animation budget can achieve if you put it to good use!

Unfortunately, one big downside this movie has is its music. The TV series' music was fine, if rather generic. Sadly, the movie's soundtrack suffered a lot in quality. I mean, the usage of kotos and traditional Japanese instruments sound fine, especially during the famous Shinto dance sequences, which really set the mood. The story is supposed to be subtle, but a lot of genuinely good moments wind up losing their touch when an incredibly loud set of pianos and wind instruments thunder through the speakers, overpowering everything else. A soundtrack can do wonders in enriching a story, but the soundtrack here tried too hard, and some scenes would have benefited from having some of the music toned down a bit. It doesn't help that there's a shopping montage set to a really, REALLY generic, badly sung bubblegum pop song that's just so terrible that it makes your eardrums feel like they're being stabbed by knives. Was that even necessary?

While the minor characters such as some of the staff at Harunoya and Okko's classmates aren't nearly as developed as the main three--Okko, Miyo, and Uribo, the latter trio are still very dynamic and well done here. By far the biggest change the movie did from the series, for the better, was Okko's overall background and characterization. In the series, we see her work at the inn and deal with guests, but we don't know anything about her life before the accident, and any feelings she has for her parents' loss are just glazed over. The movie decides to make this the main focus, with Okko feeling their loss, being in denial about their deaths, showing pieces of her life before coming to Harunoya, showing how their deaths affect her personally, and really going out of their way to make her as fully fleshed out and three dimensional as possible, especially in regards to one scene near the very end, where she has to confront her painful past. It even shows Okko at school more, with plenty of scenes where she's interacting with her classmates and letting her be a kid, which the series didn't bother to do all that often. I'm really glad the movie made this change, as it gives the audience much more of a reason to care about Okko and her plight, really allowing her to shine and be the kind of flawed but engaging protagonist you want to root for. It helps that the cast in general act in a subtle manner and don't try to create more drama than is necessary.

The only other flaw I found with this movie is that Matsuki, Okko's rival and a typical rich girl who picks on her, kind of got the shaft when it comes to having development, which, to the TV show's credit, she did receive plenty of there. She's only ever shown being mean to Okko, even when she's trying to be helpful, and any signs of there being more to her don't show up until near the very end. I do appreciate the movie trying to give her more personality traits, such as quoting famous people (Though, what 12-year-old kid would quote Steve Jobs or Leo Tolstoy? I also didn't expect a random Walt Disney quote in the movie either) and having her be genuinely knowledgable about inns and how they work, so I'll give the producers credit for that. When I saw the English dubbed trailer for this movie, I thought her voice actress didn't sound quite right at first. I felt like she was trying too hard to sound over the top and theatrical, even for that character archetype. Thankfully, she's much better in the final product, and the over-acted line in question makes more sense in context. NYAV Post worked on the dub, and while I wouldn't consider it one of their best efforts, with a few stilted lines here and there, half the cast failing to pronounce Harunoya right, and one scene that didn't make sense to me in translation (I haven't seen the Japanese version yet), it's still a very good dub overall.

They say that sometimes, less is more, and I think this version of Okko's Inn is a great example of that. In any case, I'm still amazed at how well this movie turned out, flaws and all. Definitely check this out if you want a sweet, wholesome, but still engaging and fun movie.
 
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Buckle up, guys, because we're going back to garbage territory here. This review was originally written on March 15th, 2018.

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I give this short moe idol anime...a 30/100.

So I heard that an anime called Ongaku Shoujo was going to be made. Then I saw it was a 25-minute OVA before that, and I sat down to watch it. But I won't lie, this OVA is really bad.

I mean, seriously. I've never seen something so absolutely insipid, vapid, and downright annoying. It's basically about two girls, a shy blue-haired girl and a perky blonde haired girl, who run into each other thanks to singing, decide to become idols, and a lot of drama happens. That's it. There's absolutely nothing about its storyline that makes any effort to stand out, it doesn't even try to make use of its potential or be interesting in any way. It's just a cookie cutter cutesy idol drama anime with no substance to it at all. Many anime I've seen that were similar to this one happened to pull off the premise much better, and the ham-fisted drama near the end really didn't endear me to it at all. It doesn't help that the characters are bland, empty, and have no substance to them at all, and their voice actresses overact to hell and back, and every single line that comes out of their mouth is hammy, screechy, high pitched, and downright grating on the ears, which is a shame because I know these actresses can put on MUCH better performances.

Honestly, the only good thing about this OVA is the animation. It's bright and colorful, very stimulating to the eyes, and the character movement is very fluid, almost KyoAni-like in its smoothness. Unfortunately, that's where the OVA's good qualities end.

But all of its flaws absolutely cannot compare to what I feel is the biggest detriment of this OVA: Haru.

She alone basically ruined the entire OVA. Simply put, she is annoying as hell! Not only is her design really stupid-looking (Why does she have that big bow in her hair, along with all those other hair clips?! They're not necessary, and it looks way too tacky!), the show tries to present her as a fun, perky, enthusiastic, cheerful girl who wants to be friends with Eri, the blue haired girl, but the way the anime executes her overall character makes her come off as unrelentingly bratty, self-entitled, selfish, and almost creepily parasitic in her persistence in attaching herself to Eri in some of the worst, most dangerous ways possible. She's also a complete idiot who not only does stupid things, but never gets punished for them. For example, when she goes to school, she brings a cat with her, and the teacher doesn't even call her out on the fact that she brought a cat with her. Aren't cats not allowed on school property? She also has absolutely NO respect for privacy and boundaries whatsoever. She goes through Eri's belongings, goes after her in the hot springs, and worst of all, when Eri is struggling with reading a book out loud in class, what's Haru's solution? Why mess with her body without her consent and physically UNDO HER BRA RIGHT IN FRONT OF EVERYONE!!! Oh, and at the end of the OVA, her solution to making Eri come up on stage is to put every embarrassing photo she took of her on display, on a big LCD screen, IN FRONT OF A MASSIVE AUDIENCE, EVEN NUDE PHOTOS, THEREBY HUMILIATING HER IN FRONT OF EVERYONE!!!

You see what I'm getting at here? If someone did that to me, I'd report them for sexual harassment! But does Haru get in trouble for it? Nope! Well, to be fair, Eri does call out Haru on everything she's done, but it doesn't stick because it's all played for comedy, and Eri is meant to be seen as just a prude who won't accept Haru's so-called "friendship." Sakura, Eri's friend, is even worse in this regard because not only does she completely ignore Eri's discomfort and never makes any attempt to help, but outright encourages Haru's dangerous behavior! Seriously, if this were a horror or a Lifetime-drama movie, I'm pretty sure Haru's behavior would be presented in a much more dark and serious light, as it should be. But the anime doesn't realize the ramifications of Haru's actions and tries to make the audience see it as nothing but cute and endearing!...which it seriously isn't. At all. Honestly, I wanted to jump in there and save Eri from that parasitic little brat. She deserves better than to be their target. Also not helping matters is that Haru is extremely egotistical and self-entitled, convinced that she's hot stuff and is a great singer...when she actually sucks really bad at singing. Eri even tells her such.

So...yeah. This OVA really could have been something good. Unfortunately, it's just not good. At all. This, my friends, is the prime example of how a really, really bad and badly written main character can completely ruin a show in its entirety. Thankfully, it seems like the creators realized this as well, since from what little they revealed recently, the upcoming TV series features a completely different storyline with a plethora of new characters, with Eri and Haru being just side characters now. I hope to God that the TV series doesn't make the same mistakes that this OVA did. Then again, Birdy The Mighty Decode turned a flawed OVA into a great TV series from what I've heard, so it can happen.

But in the end, though, Ongaku Shoujo is utter crap, all because Haru's a little shit.
 
Oh yay. Another stinker.

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I give this piece of Christian propaganda disguised as a book series about a pious, Jesus-loving girl...a 25/100.

Ugh...what a mess. One website I frequent is TVTropes, and I found a lot of shows, books, and games that I've come to like or dislike from going there a few times and reading through it. Some stuff I wouldn't have even heard of had I not gone to TVTropes. One of those things is an old book series called Elsie Dinsmore, which focuses on the life of...well, a young girl named Elsie Dinsmore. I read on its TVTropes page that not only does it contain a lot of things that would absolutely not fly in today's society, but that it's little more than an uber long mouthpiece for the authoress to preach her holy religious views through as a means to make young girls reading this become perfect, obedient, sweet, submissive, passive, Jesus-loving Christians who absolutely must love God and become wives to their husbands and bear children. Yeah, reading the premise and the background, I had a hunch that it was going to be either dull, annoying, or bad, but I found it on Project Gutenberg and decided to read it for kicks and to see if it was really as bad as people say.

My verdict? It is. I've only read the first book, which is just called Elsie Dinsmore, so this review will only focus on that one. Mostly because I have absolutely NO desire to read the rest of the series, especially since it'll very likely be of the same quality. But the first book alone is just dull, annoying, poorly written, and not worth it at all.

The book focuses on Elsie Dinsmore (Isn't repetition fun? NOT!), a sweet, religious little girl who loves reading her Bible and worships her heavenly father. But other than being rich and having nice clothes, she doesn't have a very nice life. Her grandparents and many cousins are always picking on her, her governess is always scolding her, her mother died when she was little, and the only one who remotely cares about her is one of the family's slaves, a black woman named Chloe. One day, her father, Horace Dinsmore Jr., suddenly returns from spending years in Europe, and Elsie is determined to be the girl he can love...only he spends most of the book either treating her like crap or being an absolute anal retentive control freak towards her, so much so that it'd probably make cult leaders look sane in comparison. But no matter how harsh he is to her, Elsie's faith never wavers, and she does everything she can to be the kind of girl that everyone will love, including Jesus.

I really don't want to be hard on a book like this, as a premise like this can be done well in the right hands. Unfortunately, Martha Finley really messed up here, in more ways than one. One of the biggest problems the book has is that it's extremely easy to see that while the simplistic writing tries to make it seem like a cute children's book, there are so many sermons and religious speeches throughout the entire book that go on and on without end, some of which are taken straight out of the Bible. Half of them barely contribute anything to the story and are just there so Finley can espouse her religious views. Finley doesn't even try to hide the fact that she's writing solely to preach, preach, preach to the audience, often addressing the reader directly at times, which is not only jarring, but makes the book come across as extremely didactic and heavy-handed. God is constantly mentioned in every other sentence, and any attempts at actual prose are no better than L. Frank Baum's writing, favoring telling over showing. But I probably shouldn't make that comparison because that's an insult to Baum, who at the very LEAST wrote stories and didn't use them as blatant mouthpieces for his personal views, or knew when to keep his views out of certain things when needed.

Surely the characters are interesting and likeable, right? WRONG! Nearly the ENTIRE cast of characters in this book are either extremely annoying or so repulsive and detestable that you have to wonder who you need to root for. Elsie is a whiny, overly perfect, flawless Mary Sue who is constantly crying over every little thing, never stands up for herself, and has about as much spine as a dead jellyfish, her entire family consists of uppity assholes who get off on picking on her because she's so perfect and God-obsessed, and the few good characters that appear in this book, such as the Carrington family, Caroline Howard, Chloe, Allison, and the Travilla family, are overshadowed by the Dinsmores, who happen to have much more page time than every other character. The characters are all so black-and-white and one-dimensional that they have zero depth to them. Elsie is a goody two shoes and everyone around her who doesn't love her is evil or straight up unnecessarily mean-spirited towards her. Miss Day, her governess and teacher, is pretty much just another evil teacher stereotype who is always yelling at and abusing Elsie for not being perfect at everything, even over stuff that doesn't need to be made into a big deal, like having ink blots on her writing books.

Furthermore, the book doesn't have much of a plot holding it together. It's just Elsie having adventures, dealing with her family, and soapboxing about how much she loves God and Jesus at every opportunity. How does Finley compensate for this? By having every single situation be forced, contrived, and be rife with ridiculously overblown melodrama that would make Twilight, Fallout, and Fifty Shades of Grey look cheerful. No, I am not exaggerating. Now, a bit of angst is always healthy, and if characters are happy all the time, they'd be boring. But it can be just as bad going in the other direction. What do I mean? Situations that modern readers wouldn't bat an eye at and go "Eh, whatever. No big deal" are treated with all the gravity of a murder in the Elsie Dinsmore series. For example, everyone makes a HUGE deal out of every slip up Elsie makes, from freeing a trapped hummingbird from a glass jar to crying when she's overcome with anxiety about her father's stern, authoritarian ways. Even the barest, most asinine of misdemeanors are treated with super hyper vigilance, get her screamed at, told she's bad, sent to her room, or often left starving, even over stuff that's not even her fault to begin with. No, I'm not kidding. If Elsie so much as screws up at something, everyone suddenly behaves like a Christian who found out the pope got pregnant and freak out like they're foaming at the mouth.

And the source of much of this melodrama? Elsie's father, Horace. Dear Jesus H. fucking Christ on a banana boat, this guy is the absolute most detestable character in this entire book, and the absolute worst of them all. Bluntly said, this guy is an idiotic dickish bastard who thinks everything he says is law, constantly expects the worst of his own daughter, and expects Elsie to be absolutely obedient to every single command he makes to the point of being completely self-effacing. That in and of itself would be considered emotional abuse, but this guy deliberately keeps Elsie away from people who care about her such as her friends, changes her diet because he thinks certain foods are bad for her, wants her to be more like an automaton than a human being, and completely flips his shit at Elsie over the most asinine things, such as going to a meadow for five minutes or crying in his presence (He considers crying to be babyish, even though he's the reason she cries so much. Can't you take a hint, old man?!) or refusing to play a song on a piano or refusing to read a book on Sabbath. Dear lord, every time this guy opened his mouth, I wanted to give him a good knee to the ballsack. At one point, Elsie frees a hummingbird from a glass jar that was set in the sun so it would kill it, which any sane person would consider to be a good thing, because trapping an animal with intent to kill it is obviously wrong. As it turns out, Horace trapped the bird and wanted to kill it because he wanted a specimen to add to his collection or some bullshit like that. What does he do when Elsie tells him what she did? He flat-out screams at Elsie for "meddling in his affairs," ties her hands with a rope, sends her to her room, scolds her for crying about the punishment and being too sad to eat because children obviously shouldn't have feelings or be allowed to be sad, and acts like a complete dick. Hell, he often straight up tells her that she absolutely MUST obey all of his commands, not ask questions about them (Even when asking why would have been completely reasonable). One of the things he says is "Remember I am to be obeyed always!" God, why hasn't someone fucking killed this guy yet? If anyone did any of these things to me, somebody would be well within their right to call CPS on the bastard! But the worst thing about all of this? Finley tries to JUSTIFY his abuse, not only by providing pitiful excuses for letting him do so, but making Elsie continue to obey him and treating his abuse of her as being a good thing! Here's a passage from late in the book that straight up confirms this:

“Dear papa, I love you so much!" she replied, twining her arms around his neck. "I love you all the better for never letting me have my own way, but always making me obey and keep to rules.”

It doesn't help that when the few times they DO get along, all of their interactions and affections are so saccharine and sugary sweet that I'm pretty sure it'd make any diabetic reading this die. It doesn't help that Finley makes no secret of the fact that she wants Elsie to be the kind of girl that all little girls living in the Victorian era should be like: Quiet, passive, submissive, Jesus-loving automatons who must do everything their parents tell them to do no matter how bad or cruel they are, because that's just their roundabout way of showing how much they love you! Give me a break, Finley. Faith isn't the same thing as Stockholm Syndrome, and forcing a child to suppress their emotions and always obey all authority, whether those authorities are wrong or not, is not okay. And no, the time period this was written is absolutely no excuse. Other books have that excuse, but not this one. Also, blacks are made to be all slaves who talk in broken English, because that was the standard at the time. Scarlet O'Hara's mammy ain't got nothing on Elsie's mammy, Chloe, who is an even worse caricature of a black maid than Gone With The Wind could ever hope to create, and considering the time period that both books take place in, that's saying something!

Okay. I better get off this soapbox before I drive myself insane. Anyway, the book is dull, obnoxiously preachy, mind-numbingly boring, with God-awful characters and morals that nowadays would seem extremely toxic and so full of so much stupid they'd make you fall out of your chair in agony. Lewis Carroll once said that he wrote Alice In Wonderland because he felt children deserved the right to read books solely for entertainment and that he absolutely hated moralistic books that tried to do nothing but teach good values. After reading Elsie Dinsmore, I have to wonder if this is one of the books he was talking about. Kids deserve better than frothy wastes of paper like this. I can recommend so many other books that are so much better, both aimed at kids and not. Don't bother with Elsie Dinsmore. These books are so not worth it.

(On a related and even more fucked up note, I read somewhere that Horace's reasons for abusing Elsie the way he does makes him the absolute dumbest idiot in the universe. One of the later books says that the reason he hates Elsie is that his mother, Elsie's paternal grandmother, basically wrote him a bunch of letters while in Europe saying that his daughter turned out to be a mischievous, naughty, bothersome kid who is out of control and requires strict discipline, basically slandering her and making up lies about Elsie for no other reason than pure contempt and she felt like it. Not only is this piss-poor writing and make her into a complete caricature of an evil mother archetype (or in her case, evil grandmother), it makes Horace's abuse of Elsie even more appalling in that he just accepted everything his stepmother told her and didn't ONCE question it! He basically abused Elsie all because he was too much of a gullible idiot to fucking think rationally and question whether anything his mother told him was genuine or not! WHYYYYYYY?!?)
 
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