Monday, August 18, 2014

ANIME REVIEW: Hamatora

Hamatora is a 2014 anime that ran for 12 episodes from Jan 8 to Mar 26 in Japan. It was produced by TV TokyoNAZDIVE II Entertainment and the second season titled Re: Hamatora began on Jul 8.

PLOT

"Minimum" - a special inborn power found in a limited number of human beings, known as "minimum holders." In Yokohama, the detective team Hamatora, formed by two minimum holders named Nice and Murasaki, comes across information connected to a serial killer being pursued by their old friend Art. It turns out all the victims are minimum holders like them. Unwillingly at first, the two detectives become involved in the investigation.

WHAT I THOUGHT

With that plot summary you might think that this show is as straightforward as can be an action anime with super powers and not much plot at all. You would be wrong there is something so much deeper lying below the surface of this anime, something that becomes much clearer in the second season. I’m getting ahead of myself first we should consider the core elements of the show.

The detective agency – Hamatora – which is really more accurately sort of an agency for odd jobs consists of a small group of friends who all possess Minimums which are there super powers. The powers seem to be activated by the Minimum holder interacting with objects that they tend to keep on them, I’m not sure if it is like a shortcut to an incantation or if they can’t use their abilities without them which is something we never find out.


The leader Nice has a power that puts him about one level below Superman in terms of the world of Hamatora though it took me until the second season to get any sort of understanding of what it was that he was doing. A lot of the fun I had with watching Hamatora was trying to figure out the rules around their powers but that might just be for former comic collectors like me to enjoy.

I can’t write about this show without mentioning that there is a lot of comedy thrown in there especially in the opening half of the season, comedy which for me did not always work but isn’t so bad that it puts you off checking out the next episode.


There is a mystery at the centre of Hamatora despite what the first few filler episodes might make you think I urge you just to hang in there, like a large number of anime shows out there the first few filler episodes are just that but they offer you bread crumb bits that actually do feature when things pick up in the second half of the season.


The animation is great and I love the outfits and sense of style, definitely good for cosplaying opportunities for guys something that I can definitely get behind. The music is interesting lots of piano and very different from what you tend to hear in most anime.


Hamatora first season lasts 13 episodes with a Finale that definitely has a WTF moment but in a good way and because it has a second season you know that you get some resolution and actually a reasonable resolution at that.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

ANIME REVIEW: Mekakucity Actors

Bear with me people this is a new feature and trying to review a whole season of an anime is very different from my episodic or single book reviews. Hope you have fun reading it.

Mekakucity Actors is a 2014 anime series that ran first from April 13, 2014 to June 29, 2014. Its producers are listed as Aniplex, Shaft and 1st Place.

PLOT

The incidents which occurred on August 14th and 15th bring a group of young boys and girls together... They are members of a group they call themselves the "Mekakushi Dan" (Blindfold Organization) and each member possesses a strange power involving their eyes. Will the members of this peculiar organization be able to solve the mysteries behind these incidents and see the truth?

ANIMATION

The animation is smooth and incredibly well done but the animation style is fairly unique as such things go and most similar to the Bakemonogatari series which was made by the same studio. It is beautiful but very different and will take some getting used to.

WHAT I THOUGHT

This anime makes no sense.
This anime makes no sense.
This anime makes…
OH wait why didn’t they make that more clear in the beginning.

If you require require a show to have a linear plot moving from A to B and so on you need to stay well away from this show it might have an adverse effect on your health seriously at times this show can and will seriously stress you out.


Mekakucity is one of the strangest anime I have ever seen. It is not that the show doesn’t have a plot in fact the plot is rather expansive and pretty involved the issue comes around the fact that the plot doesn’t follow any simple timeline or logical progression it just tells you stuff whenever it wants and without warning. It jumps here and there and doesn’t explain itself.

Mekakucity Actors is based on a series of Vocaloid songs by the artitst Jin so perhaps that explains some of the weirdness of the show. The songs were apparently huge and spawned light novel and manga adaptions, the songs together tell a story which is something to note in terms of discussing the show itself.


There are things to recommend in this anime the art work is good but somewhat unique UNLESS you have also watched Monogatari and the related series which are all made by the same studio and do this weird thing where only the main characters have any definition and extras are often still silhouettes or disembodied voices. It is kind of creepy if I’m honest but meh.

I can recommend this if you want to take a look at a great example of non-typical anime, there isn’t a wimpy protagonist who just wants to become strong or humanoid mecha battles between warring nations. It is definitely an anime that you can’t watch passively you need to pay attention to what is going on and think about them in order to rearrange the jigsaw that is the plot of this show.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Night School by CJ Daugherty

Night School by CJ Daugherty is the first book in a YA series and was published on January 1st 2012 by Atom Books. The ISBN is 1907411216 and I purchased the paperback edition. This review does not contain any spoilers.

PLOT

Allie Sheridan’s world is falling apart. Her brother’s run away from home. Her parents ignore her. And she’s just been arrested.

Again.

This time her parents have had enough. They cut her off from her friends and send her away to boarding school, far from her London friends.

But at Cimmeria Academy, Allie is soon caught up in the strange activities of a secret group of elite students.

When she’s attacked late one night the incident sets off a chain of increasingly violent events. As the school begins to seem like a very dangerous place, she finds out that nothing at Cimmeria is what it seems to be.

And that she is not who she thought she was.

WHY I BOUGHT IT

I saw Night School featured on a blog a while back one of those special ones where they interview the author and I liked the sound of it. Boarding school mystery stories are usually quite interesting and I have particularly been let down by any I have read.


WHAT I THOUGHT

Even if you aren’t particularly interested in reading this book I would ask you to check out the blurb at the back as one of the best examples of keeping spoilers out of a plot summaries I have ever read. It succeeds it giving nothing away while leaving enough there for you to think that maybe this book is worth a read.

As the summary suggests this story is all about secrets and lies, Allie is in this strange new world that she wants to like but it is made clear early on that everyone around her is not telling her the whole truth and that leaves her at a disadvantage to say the least whilst also alienating her. The common threads from most boarding school stories are here devilishly handsome boys falling over themselves to date the protagonist an envious social Queen who does her best to bully and belittle her but is done in a way that is tolerable and often entertaining.

Night School manages to do this by making the cast of characters around Allie the other students interesting and real. Too often in boarding school books the rest of the cast can be described simply as the quiet one, the spoiled one, the hot one, the nerdy one but Night School does its best to make sure that if you wanted to list the characters featured in this book and describe them you’d need a lot more than one word to describe them.

I read through Night School in four days and that was after forcing myself to stop after reading a chunk just to let the whole thing sink in a bit before continuing on, there is quite a number of characters to keep track of and their relationships are important to note.

There is a real feeling of paranoia that pervades this book when you look at things from Allie to describe most of the people as two-faced is probably being too nice. They have their reasons only SOME of which are revealed by the end of this the first book in a series but reasons don’t help when everyone is lying to you.


Night School is a great example of the boarding school YA premise often done but rarely executed as well as this book. The characters, the suspense and the sense of intrigue keep you from putting this book down, trust me.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Comic Con Time Again!!!

It is that time of year again when we mere mortals look on with envy at all the shiny hijinks happening in a little place called San Diego. This is a little post when I sum up some of the things I like the sound of so far.

The Originals


The thing that set The Originals apart from a lot shows with supernatural elements is the tight plotting of an almost Shakespearean ongoing tragedy with envy, jealousy and betrayal all playing major roles. The second season trailer dropped at Comic Con and things look to be going on in a very similar vein. Some of the commenters have raised concerned about the sheer amount going on. I agree that it might be a problem but I’m going to give the writers credit that they have things planned out and that the different antagonists seem to form into two or three factions dedicated to challenging Klaus and Elijah.

Here's the Trailer:



Arrow


I love the world that Arrow built last season though I was getting a little tired of all that Olicity baiting that was going on it was like they wanted to go toe to toe with Supernatural in the ship baiting stakes which is a tall order. Last season ended with us finally getting off the island and though as a rule I hate flashbacks I understand and accept them as a device on Arrow. An issue I had with the trailer is it seems like we are going to have to wait to the back end for Thea to come back after her training. The only other thing is the business side of things which was a little boring for me last time.

Check out the Arrow Trailer:

Anyway those are the things that I really enjoyed from the coverage TV wise. I know there is Game Of Thrones stuff but I’m not a rabid frothing at the mouth fan of the TV show I just sit quietly waiting for the next book mostly. The movie stuff doesn’t really matter to me as much as TV shows. However you can’t really talk seriously about Comic Con without featuring some pictures of the action.

Thanks to @reinascully @magdaeh @thatgrltrish and others for the pictures found mostly through searching Twitter.






Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sanctioned Again

It always happens just when you manage to quiet the nightmares from the previous. A slip up thanks to a BT Engineer that needed extended access to my apartment to put my line back in. I have again gotten myself a sanction. Looking at things logically it has been a year since the previous WRONGFUL sanction but logic doesn't count for shit when you got bills to pay and 4 weeks with no money. I do have to say that it is too early to know whether or not my reasons were acceptable or not because surprise I have still yet to receive my Decision Letter despite the sanction going through and the fact that my Good Reason letter was sent more than a week ago.


UPDATE:

What I've done

I have sent an email of complaint that has been passed on my Job Centre.

Still no Decision Letter.

Picked up my hardship form today and hand delivered my request for a written statement of reasons.

Also somewhat calmed down and stopped freaking out (THIS IS IMPORTANT)

Left a message with my local CAB as far as I know from last time they prefer a call and then they tell you a day to go in with a sort of pseudo appointment but heard nothing back yet. So will have to do that again.

What next

The next steps are to return the hardship form and request the mandatory reconsideration which I would hope to start before the end of the week as I know it took more than 3 months last time to go through the process but this time is far less straightforward so I'm not sure I'll be successful.

The Bad

Out of nowhere I get a letter saying I've missed Council Tax payments which is nonsense but I now have to chase up or get called to court over.

I was planning on paying off some bills with this week's money which included my 2nd to last payment of my current over priced phone contract which I am more than happy to get out of to save some money and my phoneline/broadband payment. When it rains it pours.

The Indifferent

After nearly two weeks I got a call from one of the panel at my last ingterview who gave me feedback saying nice things like don't change your approach, you researched the role well, you were a good candidate. He told me the reason I didn't get either of the roles (I think there were two) was that the people they hired were doing the exact same job at other institutions.

I guess it is nice to hear you are doing the right things at an interview but to me that is erased by the whole you pretty much had no chance of getting this when we could just hire some people already doing it but maybe that is my jaded perspective.

This link right here from @refuted got me started with what I needed to do and it was with help from @refuted that I managed to get compensation for the royal mess that happened last time when I was wrongfully sanctioned and it took more than 3 and a half months for the DWP to realise they had been totally ignoring their own rules in order to sanction me.

Make no mistake sanctions are just a multi-faceted tool for propaganda and to be used against the unemployed and under-employed.

  1. Figures on high numbers of sanctions each month or year adds credence to the foolish idea that all the unemployed are out there trying to scam the system and that there are plenty of jobs.
  2. Sanctions are a legal way to steal our money and for the government to profit from it. If person A gets wrongfully sanctioned and loses say £290 that he was entitled to help him survive while looking for work firstly there is only a 50% chance he is going to take it further just for the first level of appeal and god knows what that percentage will be for those who go through all 4 stages of appealing meanwhile Person A's money is sitting in the government coffers making them money and even if he is ultimately successful it will take MONTHS before he gets the cash with no compensation to help mitigate the costs of missed direct debit payments, fines, court action or anything else that may have arisen from the wrongful sanction.
Just a personal story to share after leaving university I would now and then be lucky enough to get temporary jobs from the employment bureau there while claiming JSA. That meant each week having to fill out a complicated bit of paperwork putting out in excruciating detail days and times of each role, fair enough. 

After I did a temporary job let's say as waiting staff at a graduation it would likely take two weeks before my payment came around with the payment slip sent to me but oh JSA won't release funds of any kind without my pay cheque so that meant I was often going without any money for up to a month which lead to missed payments on my bank account which charged £30 per OD transaction, my bank must have made £300 from me easily before I just stopped taking short term roles and it was only years later and too late according to the JSA that I learned that I could have claimed back for all that messing around.

The DWP and JSA just want you the unemployed to disappear off their books one way or another and then slap themselves on the back about how the unemployment figures are going down all the while ignoring more and more stories of horrific incidences were unemployed people crack under the pressure and commit suicide because of the circumstances and stigma of being unemployed in this country it makes me sick.

Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals is a 2013 YA novel written by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. It was published on 7 November 2013 by Quercus and its ISBN is 1780876823. I picked up the paperback from an evil corporate conglomerate plotting to take over the world. There are NO SPOILERS in my review.

PLOT

Cassie Hobbes is not like most teenagers. Most teenagers don't lose their mother in a bloody, unsolved murder. Most teenagers can't tell who you are, where you're from and how you're likely to behave within moments of meeting you. And most teenagers don't get chosen to join The Naturals.

Identified by the FBI as uniquely gifted, Cassie is recruited to an elite school where a small number of teens are trained to hone their exceptional abilities. For Cassie, trying to make friends with the girls, and to figure out the two very different, very hot boys, is challenging enough.

But when a new serial killer strikes and Cassie is drawn into a lethal game of cat and mouse, she realises just how dangerous life in The Naturals could be.

WHY I BOUGHT IT

I follow Jennifer Lynn Barnes on Twitter so I saw the whole thing as she talked about a new project and watched as it formed into The Naturals. I followed Jennifer Lynn Barnes after reading Tattoo and Fate which I had a love/hate relationship with.

WHAT I THOUGHT

As mentioned I heard a lot about the ongoing development process of the book and it was worth the wait. At first you might think trying to combine YA with grisly crimes would be a step too far and that the effect would be discordant at best. JLB somehow manages to combine the two, I say somehow but I know how she did it, good research and great writing.

Cassie is an interesting protagonist with a rather unique set of strengths and special skills but at the beginning of the book she is just a girl who is a little aimless in life the arrival of the FBI offers her a chance at purpose and at justice.

The rest of the Naturals are an interesting group but as it is only the first book I am not going to judge them yet it would not be fair as we have barely just met them and I for one need more time to decide if they are three dimensional.

Now for the story which is scary it does as many commentators have stated capture the feel of Criminal Minds that whole “why the hell am I watching this is totally creeps me out” vibe, there is no doubt that this is a scary read, a different kind than something like Michael Grant’s Gone series  but still very scary.

I mentioned that this was similar to Criminal Minds a lot of the same terms are thrown around and indeed apparently it was Criminal Minds who started that whole UNSUB thing that has pressed its way deep into pop culture. Indeed much like Criminal Minds we get to see things from the killer’s perspective though more in his thoughts as this is a book, I think I would have liked to hear how that was done on an audiobook but I have the paperback.


So by now you should have realised I like the book and now all there is to see whether or not it is for you. If you like action and a plot that makes you think with the YA elements of snappy dialogue then this book will welcome you with open arms.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother is a YA book written by Cory Doctorow it is the first book in a series. Little Brother was released on the 13 October 2008 and published by Harper Voyager. The ISBN is 0007288425.

PLOT

The ultimate tale of teen rebellion – one seventeen-year-old against the surveillance state.
Big Brother is watching you. Who’s watching back?

Marcus is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works – and how to work the system. Smart, fast and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.
But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. 

In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison, where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.


When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state, where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

WHY I READ IT

The premise was just so very interesting there is not a lot more than that. I had not heard anything about the book beforehand or the author.

WHAT I THOUGHT

This book blew me away totally unexpectedly. Due to my own habits I generally know a little something about a book or author before reading, most of the books I read are part of a series but I have not been so surprised by the effect a book had on me since Daemon by Daniel Suarez which is also a techno-thriller with some similar themes.

A lot of books feature unfair, horrible things happening to the protagonist but this is one of a few books that actually make you feel it deep in your bones leaving you actually angry. This book takes the personal freedom vs security argument straps it in to a rocket and sends it off into the wild blue yonder.

Not only does this book make you think, it also manages to be very entertaining, Little Brother is a techno-thriller with far more believable and reachable tech. The things mentioned in here are not some logical extension of technologies that will be available “soon” they are things that happen here and now. The parallels with real world events aren’t difficult to make and one only need look at the news to see snooping legislation being discussed and voted on both in the US and the UK as I write this.

The issues around liberty versus security are only slightly less contentious then the situation in the Middle East with two sides that are never going to be able to meet in the middle. The book comes down on one side but it certainly doesn’t ignore the other side of the argument which would have been an easy thing to do.

This book though isn’t just about a fight for privacy it is about a guy in high school, trying to connect with his parents, and hanging out with his friends. It is the length that he goes to in order to avenge his friends that moves the story along and it is the conflict with his friends and family that keeps things real and not just like watching some debate.

I thoroughly recommend this book, I’m not going the cheesy route and say it changed my life but what it did do was make me think about things like my use of the Internet and what I am doing even in a small way to campaign for change. OK now that part sounds a little cheesy, go read the book.
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