Sunday, 16 April 2017

Style Substitutes Substance: A Review of Waid and Samnee's 'Black Widow' (2016-7 comic)

I don’t mean style over substance as an insult. In Waid and Samnee’s twelve-issue, single-arc run on Black Widow, plot threads only just hold together, characters have rote motivations, and the themes extend to characters saying ‘secret’ a lot. On their own, these elements are merely competent. Here, they are redeemed, because they fuel the book’s style.

Black Widow runs from SHIELD. A masked terrorist named Weeping Lion blackmails her into digging up her own past. He wants information on the Red Room, a school for child assassins. The Red Room has resurrected, ready to educate a new generation of assassins.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Gay Old Time: A Review of 'Moll Cutpurse: Her True History' by Ellen Galford (1985)

It’s amazing what you can find, trawling through second-hand bookstores. I found a swashbuckling, historical yarn, starring a tomboyish lesbian, in a loving relationship, written in the 1980s – which doesn’t end in misery.

During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, when women weren’t at their most emancipated, a dashing thief-tress stole her way through England: Moll Cutpurse. We follow her from her start as her parent’s problem child, to her managing a pick-pocket academy, to her bambooziling a shanghai-ing ship captain, and beyond. Throughout her life, Moll has one constant, her apothecary girlfriend Bridget. 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Approaching Mediocrity: A Review of 'Kindred Spirits on the Roof' (2015 manga)

Perhaps this collection appeals to fans of the original game, but Kindred Spirits on the Roof underwhelms as a standalone manga. Cameos pop up, as though we should care about them, and maybe players of the game do. But none of the characters in this work are compelling or distinct. What we have here are graphic novellas that feel slight and unsatisfying.

Both stories share Shirojo high-school as a setting, but otherwise do not overlap. The first story focuses on Shiori. She still pangs with guilt over fleeing her best friend, Mako, when Mako confessed her love for Shiori. With the help of her new friends, Hina and Seina, Shiori must learn to stop running from her problems, and her feelings.

The second story concerns a girl, Hase, who adores seeing female friendships. She loves her voyeurism so much, she joins the quiz club just to pour over the friendship of the club’s two leaders, Tomoe and Sasaki. Together they aim to win the national quiz tournament. And will Tomoe and Sasaki’s friendship become something more? (Not even a spoiler: it will.) 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

All Sweetness and Light: A Review of 'Hana and Hina After School' Vol. 1 (2015 manga)

Calling Hana and Hina After School ‘sweet’ seems like damning with faint praise. It’s like I’m saying, ‘This piece of fluff has nothing to say.’ And indeed, this series does have little to say (at least in this volume). But while this series has no grand moral messages, nor very deep characters, nor even grand conflict, the series is a sweet story of budding love.  

Quite against school rules, Hana has a part-time job. She works in a toy store, but she keeps a low profile. If her school finds out, they’ll expel her. One day, one of her regular customers, the dashing Hina, asks if the store still has a vacancy open. It turns out, despite her cool demeanour, Hina goes gaga over everything cute: plush-toys, dolls, Hana – Not that she’d ever reveal that last one. But until both Hana and Hina figure out their feelings, their biggest worry is that their school will discover their jobs, and expel them. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Break Your Shell: A Review of Princess Jellyfish Omnibus One (2009 manga)

Princess Jellyfish has a passive protagonist shocked into life by a manic pixie dream girl – and yet it’s not a bad book. Going on omnibus one, this seems to be a belated-coming-of-age story. Our heroine’s must learn to overcome her passivity. And the manic pixie dream girl is not the male wish fulfilment it so often is, because 1) this book is about a woman’s coming-of-age, and 2) our dream girl is a male transvestite.  

Tsukimi is a fujoshi, who shares an apartment building with other fujoshi, self-proclaimed ‘rotten women’. They have no time for social lives, or, really, lives at all, outside their obsessions. Tsukimi seems resigned to a life of social stagnation. Until, she runs into Koibuchi, a girl with all the style and affability Tsukimi lacks. But it turns out Koibuchi is a cross-dressing guy. And though Tsukimi gave up on her social life, Koibuchi has far more ambition for her.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Isn't This All Just a Bit Ridiculous: A Review of Daphne du Maurier's 'The Birds' (1952 short-story)

When applied to modern fiction, the word ‘fable’ sounds like an excuse. The word suggests the work harkens back to a simpler, more primal style – and thus the lack complex characters and plot is entirely justified. At times, the word ‘fable’ is justified (see Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery). Some have called Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds fable-like, though I am not so sure. The story’s simplicity is not a feature, but a fault. The story’s self-seriousness, and lack of compelling characters, undermines its genuinely terrifying aspects.

In an isolated English village, birds attack Nat Hocken’s family. These little birds break through his windows to peck out his eyes. By the next day, he has fifty avian carcases to clean up, and no villager will believe him. People soon have no choice but to believe, as the birds blacken the sky in London. A state of emergency is declared. The BBC warns the populace to stay indoors. Against nature so unnatural, can Nat Hocken and his family survive? 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Good is Enough: A Review of 'Secret of the Princess' (2012-5 manga)

Sometimes, a well-done love story is enough. In Milk Morinaga yuri oeuvre, there’s manga with more depth and scope. While such qualities can elevate a work to greatness, a merely decent story is nothing to scoff at. Secret of the Princess somewhat explores the shackles of heteronormativity, but this seems thematic gravy to what is a well-done yuri love story.

Miu’s mother raised her to snag a prince. Miu lives by her mother’s advice, making herself cute and girly so she can marry a handsome guy. Trouble is, she goes to an all-girls’ school. For all her girliness, Miu’s had no practise dating. What if she finds the one only to mess up their first date? When Fujiwara, Miu’s tomboyish upperclassman, smashes a vase, she begs Miu to keep quiet. She’ll do anything in return. Anything. Miu demands she and Fujiwara start dating – just so Miu can practise for her future prince, of course. But is Miu’s prince closer than she thinks.