Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ookū The Inner Chambers: An Inspired Story Told In An Uninspired Way

A Review By: Amelia
Alternate histories are something that I’ve really come to enjoy looking into: it’s like fanfiction for real-life history and if there’s two things on Earth that I love indefinitely it’s history and fanfiction! An alternate history of Japan is what Ookū The Inner Chambers is all about and it’s what drew me to the manga series. It really is a shame that I didn’t like it at all!

Ookū: The Inner Chambers is an alternative timeline of feudal Japan, a strange disease that only affects men has caused a massive reduction of male population, thus women have to pick up men's jobs, changing the social structure. Now, after 80 years of the initial outbreak, Japan has become completely matriarchal, with women holding important political positions and men being their consort.

Fumi Yoshinaga is both the writer and the artist of Ookū. She attended the prestigious Keio University in Tokyo and she writes/draws her mangas on the simple premise that she “wants to show the people who didn’t win, whose dreams didn’t come true. It is not possible for everybody to get first prize”. This rather depressing outlook is a prominent feature in her work, especially Ookū.

The characters of Ookū change from volume to volume, each one featuring a new set of people with a new set of problems. Unfortunately with this frequent role over of characters I wasn’t able to really get to know any of them or find a reason to care about them. I know a lot of people out there will disagree with me on this, but I thought the characters were flat and lifeless. They were there only to progress the plot–they didn’t bring anything to the plot.

Ookū is a manga that has more words than it does pictures. The speech
bubbles are large–very large–and as the story is told through them, little of the story is told through pictures. The art style is second to the story and it definitely shows throughout the different volumes of the piece. The art is simple and is the bare minimum that it can be. The faces are plain and mostly bare of any emotion (it certainly doesn’t show the characters with the level of emotion that other mangas do!), and the locations are mostly unfilled white space, the exception being outdoors when trees and drawn with leaves and flowers and so on. The one thing in the whole manga series that has consistent detail are the clothing: the many kimono that the characters wear are always beautifully detailed.

I choose to read Ookū because of the story it was presenting: an alternate history of Japan told through the form of manga and after having read great reviews about it online, I was completely sold. Unfortunately after reading four volumes of it, I was left longing for more. The story is such a great idea, but it was executed poorly with visuals that are sorely lacking–and when you use the manga volume, shouldn’t the visuals be 65% of how the story gets told?

My final thoughts on the manga series Ookū The Inner Chambers are that it’s okay. It wasn’t really my cup of tea with its heavy, dry storyline and lacklustre art style, so I couldn’t get into it. I read four volumes of it–each time expecting to be drawn into the story and find something about it that I really liked–and each time I was left disappointed. I guess what it comes down to is that I prefer my mangas to be light and fluffy or, at the very least, have humour in them. Based on that alone, Ookū was sure to leave me disappointed: it was just way too deep for whimsical-little-me!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The House of Doors: A Sub-Par Horror But An Alright Thriller

A Review By: Amelia

As far as horror writers go, there’s one that raises far above all others: H.P. Lovecraft. In his day he wrote bizarre landscapes and horrifying monsters from the depths of time and space. Nowadays, the British author Brian Lumley draws his influences from Lovecraft and creates many a bizarre landscape of horror himself: The House of Doors being just one of many.

The House of Doors’ main plot revolves around the Thone–a highly evolved species of aliens that are looking to terra-form new planets to their own ends. The Thone have found Earth and have planted a monstrous device on our planet's surface. The device is a test to see if humanity has evolved past the point where the Thone will have to leave them be, but the Thone named Sith running this test has become corrupted and will do anything to stop the group of people trapped inside the House of Doors from winning.

The author of The House of Doors, as I stated above, is the famous English horror writer Brian Lumley. Lumley has, over the years, made his name synonymous with the horror genre. He’s added to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, written the huge series of books Necroscope that has many spin-off titles come from it, and, in 2010 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association and the World Fantasy Award. All in all, the man knows his way around a horror novel!

The characters of the piece are a rag-tag group of people thrown together into the nightmare world that is the House of Doors by nothing more coincidence. There’s Spencer, the hero of the piece, who is able to empathetically connect with machines. Turnbull, an ex-secret agent. Varre, a claustrophobic Frenchman who is only out for himself. Anderson, an arrogant politician who is also only out for himself. Claybourne, an overly-religious, fanatical occult zealot. Haggie, a brash, back-stabbing, two-bit criminal, and Angela, a woman running from an abusive drunkard and is mostly defined by her sexuality (Lumley never misses an opportunity to describe how most of her clothes have ripped off or put her in a situation that might end with rape). All these characters are varied and vivid but after a while, they stop adding to the storyline and just start bogging it down. It’s the same with the locations which are often expunged under the gravity of all the conflicting personalities and neurosis’s when they should be the highlight of the piece.

Speaking of locations, the setting of this novel is that of an alien machine nicknamed The Castle (only later being called the House of Doors by the group trapped inside) that mysteriously appeared on a hilltop in Scotland. Within the strange alien machine there are doors upon doors upon doors that each lead to a different place be it a lush forest filled with horrible monsters or a desert crawling with werewolves and Hell fire. Depending on who goes through the doors first depends upon what’s waiting for them–each door and world within that door is a construct of the person’s worst fears and anxieties. That being said the worlds are always very human in their construct: there are no strange alien atmospheres or fantastical magic landscapes, just things that humans are scared of and all in all, that’s a little bland after a while (although I will say that Spencer’s world is pretty creepy when you really think about it).

The House of Doors is not a horror story–at least not by the standards that Lumley has set with his other works. It’s a science-fiction thriller about alien invasion and the old stand by that comes with invasion: triumph against all odds. It’s an interesting look at the characters’ psyches and some of the worlds that they find themselves in are creepy and imaginative, but it falls short of the horror mark as the humans trapped within the alien machine–the predictable human element–are put through things that humans are scared of but aren’t necessarily all that scary to read about–the worlds that Varre and Anderson create, for example, are just plain boring!

My final thoughts on The House of Doors is that it’s alright. If you’re looking for horror along the lines of Lumley’s Necroscope series or his writings on in the Cthulhu mythos, you’re looking in the wrong place but The House of Doors is still an interesting read if you’re a science-fiction/thriller fan, a Brian Lumley fan, or are just looking for a break from the usual things you read.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Wonder Woman Odyssey: Makes Me Wonder Why More People Don’t Like Wonder Woman!

A Review By: Amelia
Wonder Woman doesn’t get a lot of love from a large segment of the comic community. Most of it comes from the fact that she’s such a hard character to write for and a lot of authors shy away from the challenge in the face of more uniform characters like Batman and Superman. Most Wonder Woman comics are either so homogeneous or non-evolved from what we know of Wonder Woman they pass us by. Or they are so ridiculous and off character that they’re panned by critics and/or hailed as genius and/or send the die-hard Wonder Woman fans into a tizzy that could end all life on Earth as we know it! Wonder Woman Odyssey, thankfully, falls in-between the two extremes to create something new with a splash of the old mixed in for good measure!

Simply put, Wonder Woman Odyssey is a romp of violence and revenge with a pissed off, mostly extinct race of female warriors lead by a magical demi-goddess whose out for blood! Why are they pissed off and looking for blood? Due to mysterious (and violent) circumstances, Princess Diana of the Amazons must track down the truth behind what’s happened to her timeline, her people, and her home.

The main author of Odyssey is J. Michael Straczynski. He’s known for his writer and producing in every media type available and is perhaps most well known as the creator/showrunner of Babylon 5 and it’s spin-off Crusade. His comic work includes The Amazing Spider-Man and Thor for Marvel, and Superman and Wonder Woman for DC.

The main character of the piece is Diana, but not Diana as Wonder Woman. She’s not Wonder Woman in the piece because she’s not a hero–not in the way of Superman or Batman anyways. She’s out for revenge against those who wronged the Amazons while also fighting to stay alive as the people who destroyed the Amazon’s home island are out to kill the small groups of Amazons that are still alive. Unfortunately, even with such an easy plot line to write for, none of the characters ever really feel that fleshed out: they’re all very singular in their purposes and that’s fine, just give them a little more personality, drive, raw emotions–anything really.

The art style of Odyssey is a very detailed, realistic style. There are bright colours, stunning detail in the various locations, and excellent fight scenes that are well paced and really pretty to look at. Diana also has a fresh new costume and, personally, I think it’s great. It’s a costume that’s feminine but tough and it’s modern and versatile. It’s an upgrade that’s been a long time coming if you ask me!

Now, after all this, Odyssey is a difficult comic to critique. It’s Wonder Woman, so I think it’s awesome, and it’s got an awesome storyline. I mean she’s craving her own future with the bone of her enemies while trying to reclaim the past they took from her. That’s wicked. Unfortunately, it’s an epic storyline that isn’t executed as well as it could have been. That being said, this isn’t the worst comic I’ve ever read–not by far–but it also doesn’t really stand out as something that’s going to define a new Wonder Woman. It’s a nice try to get a fresh-eyed set of people interested in a new and improved (depending on who you ask) Wonder Woman–and her costume and storyline are pretty bad-ass–but all in all, it falls just a little short.

Diana in all her ass-kicking glory!
My final thoughts on Wonder Woman Odyssey are that it’s pretty good. Not great, but better than some. The characters–including Wonder Woman herself–all seem a little flat, but Wonder Woman’s a hard character to write for and I get that. Of course that doesn’t mean that we should publish ‘just okay’ pieces about her because authors (who are good with other superheroes) aren’t great with her. We should find new authors with more depth to offer to this iconic ass-kicking lady and show the world that fighting like a girl is a good thing!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Geisha, A Life: If Only We Should All Be So Lucky To Live A Life Like This!

A Review By: Amelia
I’m obsessed with Japanese culture, some might say to an unhealthy level and I will admit that my obsession started with geishas. I will also admit that the novel Memoirs of a Geisha was the very beginning of it. After reading this astounding novel about a culture I hadn’t known existed before hand, I had to know my! My research into the world of geisha led me straight to the book Geisha, A Life.

The author of this memoir is Mineko Iwasaki who was trained, from the age of five, to become a geisha. She lived a life that even a princess would be jealous of with a dozen parties every night and legions of admiring kings, princes, military heroes, and wealthy business men alike. She was said to be the best, most successful geisha of her generation, but she had to leave when she discovered that she needed something else: to live her own life. She retired early but lived a vivid and awe-inspiring life as a geisha which is recalls vibrantly in her memoir.

Iwasaki penned her own memoir when she was left disappointed in the novel Memoirs of a Geisha (which the author Arthur Golden based off interviews he did with Iwasaki). She decided to tell her story of being a geisha–a completely true story. In fact, in the three-hundred-year history of the female geisha profession, she is the first women to come forward and write what might be called a ‘tell-all’ book about the mysterious world of Japanese geisha culture. The writing itself is clear, concise, and very articulate (Iwasaki’s translator having done a good job) and although it doesn’t flow quite like a novel might, it’s still an enrapturing read.

Iwasaki in her prime
Iwasaki in her okiya
Geisha, A Life is such an eye-opening book. It’s a book about being a geisha written by an actual geisha! How much more do you need to be fully immersed in the topic? I will admit that as far as drama goes, Iwasaki’s life as a geisha had little. She lived a charmed life so she wrote about having a charmed life. If you want to read about backstabbing, hateful geisha competing against one another, you best stick to fiction!

My final thoughts on Geisha, A Life are that it is a great book. It gives an insight into a world that the west had no idea existed before the late 1990s! The prose flows beautifully, the story is amazing (even more so when you realize that this woman actually lived this life), and the pictures that are included are just amazing. I highly suggest this book to anyone and everyone!