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The Plain Girl’s Earrings

"Earrings" cover image
Cover image
Interesting debut fantasy novel by Kim J Cowie.
The ruthless Virnal Order rules over the Empire of Satine by fear, guile and an iron hand. Lethal poisons from a past cataclysm are leaking from the ground, causing sickness and death. Unseen insurgency seeks to overturn the established order.

Cadet Starsin only ever wanted a simple life, pursuing his own selfish interests, maintaining a mistress and adding to his meager army pay by trading in ancient artifacts. But when he witnesses the cold blooded murder of a much admired officer by Virnal enforcers, Starsin feels impelled against his instincts to protest. This marks him down as a trouble-maker and potential rebel.

Implicated in sedition, and with both the Virnals and a mysterious adventuress named Lannaira Hajan taking an unhealthy interest in him, Starsin’s mundane life is turned upside down. His own ambiguous past threatens an explosive revelation.

Take a journey across a troubled land with Starsin, as he battles the Virnals, uncovers shocking secrets and finds that he is not the man he thought he was.
Look Inside or buy it on:
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A letter to Momo – anime movie

Girl and monsters ‘A Letter to Momo’ is an animated movie from Production IG, directed by Hiroyuki Okiura. (120 mins).
Young Momo’s mother returns to her native island in the Japanese Inland Sea after the sudden death of Momo’s father. Momo is upset because she argued with her father just before his disappearance. She carries the beginning of a letter to her that her father started but left unfinished.
The story starts as family-centred but supernatural elements gradually intrude. Three greedy goblins have been assigned by Above to watch Momo and her mother. A fairly gentle comedy-drama develops.
I liked this movie a lot. The human character designs are attractive, Momo is an appealing character, and the backgrounds are very detailed.
This movie was released in 2011 but seems to have attracted little attention. The edition I bought is the UK Collector’s Edition, with BD+DVD in an attractive slip-cased box, with a booklet about the making of the movie.
Highly recommended.

The Red Turtle (animated movie)

Turtle and man swimming ‘The Red Turtle’ is an animated movie by Dutch film-maker Michael de Wit. Studio Ghibli appear in the producer credits, but their involvement seems to have been minimal. This hand-drawn animation shows a man stranded on a deserted tropical island. He tries to leave the island by constructing increasingly elaborate bamboo rafts, but each time he launches, a giant red turtle smashes the raft to bits, forcing the man to swim back to shore. More surprising events ensue. There is no dialogue.
To be honest, after the rave reviews in the quality press, I expected much of this, but was disappointed. The story isn’t much, and the animation, despite some nice touches and the detailed depiction of the rafts, does not look as interesting as a typical Studio Ghibli production. The screen is often occupied by large areas of uniform and uninteresting texture, and there are a lot of scenes, apparently representing dusk, in near monochrome.
As an amateur astronomer I was irritated by the generic random-dot depiction of the night-sky and moon. With a substantial budget they could have made this look more realistic. The night sky isn’t copyright.
Verdict – a miss.

My Life as a Courgette

Puppets ‘Courgette’ is an European stop-motion animated film from director Claude Barras and writer Celine Sciamma. (64 mins) After losing his drunken mother in an unfortunate accident, nine year old Icare, nicknamed ‘Courgette’ is taken to a care home by a kindly policeman. The other kids have equally shocking backstories of abuse and neglect. Courgette has trouble fitting in at first, but a new girl, Camille, arrives whom he recognises as a kindred spirit.
The stylised puppets with their large heads and minimal expressions fit the story. Each child has a distinct character and it is hard not to sympathise with them. Their ill-informed conversations about sex are funny, and the disco scene is one of the highlights of the movie.
For once, the care system and carers get a positive report.
Parents: note that this is PG rated – Disney it’s not.
Highly recommended.

In This Corner of the World – movie

Girl In This Corner of the World is an animated film directed by Sunao Katabuchi and based on the works of Fumio Kouno. This is the story of young Suzu, who lives in the Hiroshima region from the 1930’s onwards. Suzu has artistic leanings, and the love of her life is a youth who becomes a naval officer, but she is married in an arranged marriage to a young man who works at the naval dockyard in another town. She finds herself in another household with a critical sister-in-law, and her life is increasingly one of making-do. And then American bombers start operating in the area. The shadow of the Hiroshima bombing hangs over the latter part of the movie.
An elegy to a lost past.
Highly recommended.

Winter Anime 2017

I have not watched much anime lately, other than going to see “Your Name”, so thought I might check out some of the new season.

Blue haired girl
Fuuka
Fuuka:
The hero moves to a new school, and on the first day a girl collides with him and then accuses him of taking an upskirt photo. She smashes his phone before taking off. Later, he discovers that this girl, the hyper-energetic Fuuka, attends the same school. After some more misunderstandings, Fuuka sees something to like in him and they go on a sort-of-date. There is nothing very original here – boring boy meets dream girl has been done before – but it is quite pleasantly done.

Onihei:
In this period piece, a thief is captured and tortured by the Arson Theft Control section of the Edo police. The section is headed by Heizo, also known as Onihei. Heizo sends the thief out to look for a gangster called Tanbei who is commmitting a series of robberies and murders. The thief thinks that Tanbei, his former boss, is being impersonated by someone else. This series is adapted from a novel, and is done in the style of a 1960’s police procedural. The story is rather dark in theme, and the animation is also rather dark. It’s not bad.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid:
Kobayashi gets drunk one evening and invites a dragon-girl to stay with her. She is considerably put out when the dragon turns up next day asking to stay. The dragon-maid tries to do the housework with amusingly destructive results. I’m not a great fan of maid anime and it did not do much for me.

Uniformed girl
Youjo Senki/Tanya
Saga of Tanya the Evil:
This is set in an alternative world, where an empire similar to Germany under the Kaiser is battling the surrounding nations, as if WWI never ended, and using magical forces. On the Empire side is Tanya, a 10-year old magical soldier who can fly and use magical weapons. Tanya has the personality of a middle-aged person and is ruthless and totally devoted to warfare, sending disobedient underlings to their deaths and finishing off enemy detachments single-handed. Whether you like this depends on how you respond to Tanya’s deliciously evil personality.

Drifters:
Shimazu Toyohisa, whilst involved at the Battle of Sekigahara on the losing side, manages to mortally wound Ii Naomasa, but is critically wounded in the process. As he walks from the field broken and bleeding, Toyohisa finds himself transported to a corridor of doors, where a bespectacled man at a desk waits for him. This man, Murasaki, sends Toyohisa into the nearest door where he wakes up in another world. There, Toyohisa meets other great warriors like him who have been transported as well, to be part of a group known as “Drifters.” These warriors turn out to be from different eras and (in later episodes) from different countries. They are in a magical world populated by elves and magicians.
The first episode is basically the set-up, but it looks as though it might be interesting. Odd-looking character designs.

Dagashi Kashi:
Kokonotsu and his father Yō live in a countryside town where they run a small sweets store. He aspires to be a manga artist, an ambition that puts him at odds with his father who wants him to inherit the store which has been run by the family for eight generations. Also in the story are Hotaru Shidare, an eccentric rich girl and daughter of a sweets factory owner who wants to hire father Yō. Yō will not agree unless Kokonotsu agrees to take over the store. Also involved are twins who run a cafe: Saya Endo, a girl who has a crush on Kokokatsu and her brother Tō Endo. It is quite amusing, and the girls are cute.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju:
The Rakugo series continues. By far the best series this season.

Kubo and the Two Strings

kubo1 Movie, BD, 101 mins, 2.35:1, 2016, by LAIKA
I saw this got some very good reviews so I invested in a BD copy.
The story is set in a fantasy Japan. A woman is washed up on a beach by a storm. With her is a baby which appears to have lost one eye. Ten years or so later the two are not doing great. They live in a cave and the mother is mostly catatonic while the boy does story-telling at a local village. He uses some powerful magic from his three-string shamisen to turn sheets of paper into origami figures to act out his stories.
His mother warns him never to stay out after dark otherwise bad things will happen. Of course, on the day of the O-bon festival he does stay out and his aunts, scary black figures, fly out of the gloom and attack him. His mother uses the last of her magic to let him escape, and so Kubo embarks on a quest for a magical sword and armour, accompanied by a monkey and a beetle.

I loved this. The Japanese village setting is carefully researched. The animation is done in stop-motion, with CGI processing, and what you see on screen is often beautiful. The story moves through a large number of settings, with magic, and fight scenes, before reaching a conclusion. Recommended.
The animators, LAIKA, are the same people who did Coraline and other successful animations.

Database fixed.

The anime and manga databases are working again. Links were still pointing to the old database after an upgrade, and after a while the service provider removed the old one.
I have as a result re-enabled comments, so you can waste your life sending me comment spam. :-(

When Marnie Was There

Marnie and Anna at mansion
When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mani) (2014)
An animated release from Studio Ghibli, adapted from the novel by Joan G Robinson and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The original book was set in England, but the movie is set in Japan.
Anna Sasaki has a difficult relationship with the aunt who is acting as her foster parent, and is sent to stay with other relatives at the seaside. Here Anna fails to bond with the local schoolchildren but meets the mysterious blonde Marnie who lives in a mansion across the tidal marsh. It seems that Anna is the only person who can see Marnie and the mansion is long deserted.
Regardless, the relationship between the two girls develops, but surprises are in store.
This is definitely one of Studio Ghibli’s better efforts, and is a good-looking film that repays multiple viewings. It is less action-packed than some, and in feel it probably most resembles the later adaptations of non-Japanese books, e.g. “Arrietty”. Anna is a more troubled child than any of the other Ghibli heroines, and the movie has an emotional impact. The plot contains some unexpected twists.
I suggest that you get the BD version if you have a player. Recommended.