Netflix Fun: Miraculous Ladybug

Overview
Not being much of a comic book reader—until recently—and never that interested in the superhero genre, I will take the word of the creator when he says that this is the first ladybug-based crusader of right and justice. Even I know there have been other cats, but mostly they’re bad and/or female, or at least big brawny bashers.
Put simply, this is one of the best animated shows I’ve ever seen, and it is one of my favorites of all time after just its first season. Rather than me bothering with explaining the premise, here’s a promo video that’ll tell ya all you need to know.

Writing
Did you catch the last thing mentioned in the video? (It did go by pretty fast.) Except for the superhero aspect, the most important thing in this show is the relationship between the leads. It’s actually quite funny how Marinette likes Adrien when he’s himself and is easily annoyed by him when he’s Cat Noir, even though they’re the same person. And he likes her as Ladybug but doesn’t spare her a second look in her civilian guise, thinking of her only as a friend. So that dynamic makes for four relationships between the two characters: without wasting my time trying to remember or look up their portmanteaus, there’s Marinette/Adrien, Marinette/Cat Noir, Ladybug Adrien, and Ladybug/Cat Noir (LadyNoir; I remember that one). It’s amazing that each of those have their own special elements that make the show so watchable as well as relatable.
The other superb part of this show is its humor. Most of my favorite moments involve Marinette’s adorkable attempts to speak to Adrian. Of course a major part of that is in the animation and acting, but it wouldn’t work at all if not for some great writing.
Some of my faves:
Marinette’s hand sliding down the railing {Guitar Villain}
Her fall off the bench and Cat Noir’s dances {Mr. Pigeon}
Her weird walk in the park, the sighing chin drops, and the best of what are usually puns that are smellier than Plagg’s cheese: Coldilocks {Stormy Weather}
The phone message and Baywatch-style slo-mo run through Copycat’s eyes {Copycat}
Marinette making “yada-yada-yada” gestures behind Cat Noir’s back {Evilistrator}
Using one hand to make the other stop waving, and the incredibly corny—on purpose—dramatic moves during Ladybug’s song {Santa Claws}.
And of course her catchphrase when she has to go before she turns back into a pumpkin: “Bug, out!”
But as a photographer, I must protest about all those “the boy ate too much spaghetti” lines! I’m stuck somewhere between outraged and amused, but those ridiculous red pants drop it into the outraged side.
Another thing that abounds is shoutouts. My favorite is in “Stormy Weather,” when Manon is hiding under the table and giggles, right out of Brave! Even though I’ve never watched a Spiderman movie, I still recognize the iconic scene where he’s hanging upside down next to right-side-up girl, and this happens twice, although one time it’s the girl upside-down. In “Pixillator,” Mr. Damocles uses the line, “Surely you can’t be serious,” but Jagged Stone doesn’t bite. I’d be shocked if Gabriel’s scream of “Adrien!” from the Christmas episode isn’t recognized by all. And this one might be me projecting, but there’s something about the vertigo-inducing scenes in the Origins episodes that remind me of Lindsey Stirling’s “We Are Giants” video.
Now for a small downside. I think the writers made it a little too obvious and over the top with the clues as to who Hawkmoth is, so it’s entire possible they’ll pull a switcheroo in the second season. My no-evidence guess is that he’s actually Gabriel’s brother, who was jealous that the gorgeous blonde woman didn’t pick him, so he kidnapped her and is holding her hostage. He wants the ultimate power that having all the miraculouses would give him so he can give her the world. Or perhaps she ran away so he wouldn’t nab her, having to leave her family to protect them. Yes, I’m a master of the delicious art known as fanwanking  . . .

Directing
I admit to not having a single notion as to what a director does in animation. Everything must be storyboarded to an OCD degree and then sent to the animators. It’s noteworthy that when I do catch a director credit, it’s always the creator. So, since there’s really nothing to say here, I’ll just leave it at that.
There is one thing I have to mention, though I don’t know if this started in the writing room, done on purpose, or if it was an animation error. Since at least some of the animation must be done in Japan, it’s completely possible it wasn’t noticed, but in “Guitar Villain,” Marinette is outside the hotel talking to Tikki—this is when the Gorilla catches her and she says it’s a talking purse from Japan—but behind him you can see the traffic going on both streets. We don’t see the intersection, but enough cars pass by so that if they were stopped for a red light, we’d see them stopped behind the Gorilla. So with both directions going at the same time, there’d be plenty of crashes. . . and they’re driving on the British side of the road. . . which is also the driving style in Japan.
I also wonder about the background characters. Of course in order to save money they’ll reuse the same images, thinking no one will notice, but there’s a regular cast that appears in almost every episode. The one who’s really noticeable, is the redhead in the green sweater; in “The Mime” she’s on the bus and then is right outside it too!

Acting
I don’t follow voice actors, but apparently the two English leads are pretty famous, and they show here that they very much deserve to be. There’s a few BTS vids of Marinette’s actor both vocalizing and singing, and she’s truly stunning to watch. In “Evilistrator,” there’s a scene where Marinette—not Ladybug—tells Cat Noir how they can escape from the box they’re in. As usual he thanks her in a flirting manner, only to have her turn his face away with a dry, “Yeah, I’m a genius” that he doesn’t pick up on, but is a subtle yet amazing piece of acting. In “Guitar Villain” after she slips down the railing, after Adrian leaves, she murmurs, “I can’t feel my legs anymore,” and it sounds incredible. Then there’s the beginning song of the Christmas Special, when her mom tells her to be nice to Chloe: she gives a small “ugh,” compared to Chloe’s over the top reaction. But the crowning moments had to be all those tiny squeaks when she’s around Adrien. . .
One last note: I would think one of the best reasons for a writer to go into animation is that you don’t have to worry about the actors adlibbing! Given that constraint, I have a new and higher respect for the job these voice actors do.

Cinematography (“Artwork” if animated)
I’m no expert on animation, though I did get why Brave was so amazing in that respect. With such little experience, it may not mean much when I say the CGI here is every bit as spectacular.
Perhaps the best example is in Ladybug’s transformation sequence: if you look closely you can see the geometric patterns of her suit, which shine when the light hits them and makes the view shimmer, but not in a “that-looks-like-a-mistake” kinda way.
It’s startling how quickly one gets used to the visuals of Paris, with that iconic if ugly tower and the buildings around the river. Other landmarks are delightfully rendered, like the Trocadero, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, and the zoo. But once in a while, particularly when they’re jumping along the rooftops to get somewhere quickly, there are glimpses of the city that tourists would never notice, and possibly locals don’t bother with either, the best being the park next to the bakery, now featuring a statue of Ladybug and Cat Noir.
Perhaps the best episode for visuals was “Stormy Weather,” where the very first shot is from above, looking down the building. And the final storm taking place on top of the same building looks spectacular. When Marinette gets off the bus in “Mr. Pigeon,” the street and buildings look gorgeous. The only recurring scenery worth noting is every time an akuma leaves home, giving an overview of the Paris suburbs, with that damned tower in the background.
Closer to the camera, there’s plenty of freeze-frame bonuses, my favorite coming in “Timebreaker”: during the scene in the restaurant, with Alix and her dad celebrating her birthday, there’s a close-up of the Egyptology specialist, and you can see he’s wearing a shirt decorated in hieroglyphs. . . and it looks a lot better than mine! Another one occurs in “Mr. Pigeon,” when Plagg lands on the bed in the hotel after declawing. As the dish of cheese is brought to him, you can see a pillow in the shape and color of a ladybug behind him.

Music
Possibly the best theme song since Jack of All Trades. Here’s the complete version, in English.

But it’s kinda surprising that there isn’t much of an emphasis on sound in this series. An interview shows that this is on purpose: “The music plays a very minor role in the show. Often times it’s hardly audible over the dialogue or sound effects, but it provides the right subtle push that guides the emotion of the episode.”
There’s some great soft music at the iconic scene at the end of “Origins 2,” not quite romantic but still emotion-inducing. Once in a while there’s mood music, like the soft stuff when Adrien’s dad finally hugs him, or during the first scene of “Horrificator,” where it’s melodramatic horror; on the other hand, “Smelly Wolf” might become the next “Soft Kitty.” Then there are the themes, particularly Ladybug and Cat Noir’s transformation sequences, which immediately go into earworm territory, though the “Fly away, my little akuma!” theme does not. Besides the Christmas episode, which is actually a musical episode, there’s one other that features music, “Guitar Villain,” where we get Jagged Stone jamming on the electric guitar—actually pretty good instrumentals—unlike XY’s (purposeful) crap.

“Feel”
If I had to pick one moment above all others to encapsulate exactly what this show is made of, it would be the climax of “The Puppeteer,” where a split second before she’s going to be turned into an evil minion and have her powers taken away, Ladybug uses Lady Wifi to “pause” the villain. . . then, having all the time in the world, she casually strolls to the Puppeteer while whistling her own theme song!
But more than anything, this show has so much heart, particularly in its young heroine. While someone like Clark Kent has had decades to learn how to be both himself and Superman—and to a lesser degree the same goes for Batman and Bruce Wayne—Marinette not only has been an unexpected superhero for only a few months, she’s a teenager! She’s got school, she’s got family, she’s a babysitter sometimes, she’s trying really hard to be a fashion designer, and she’s dealing with her first case of puppy love. . . all these things pull for her attention, which is hard enough for your average teen, but then add the humongous responsibility of saving her city at least once a week. This also goes for Adrien, but to a lesser extent. Thankfully there’s a few scenes that show how much of a weight this is for her, as well as times when she doesn’t make the right choice, choosing herself first over her job as Ladybug. . . usually involving jealousy whenever another girl’s around Adrien.
Yet despite all that, Marinette is an awesome character. For a teen to be a superhero but unable to gloat about it, and always failing to get what she wants in the end, she takes things remarkably in stride, never losing her sense of humor or sweetness. Her big aquamarine eyes, which get even bigger when she’s joyful, perfectly offset the blue/black hair to the point she goes from incredibly cute to downright beautiful. Early on there’s a shot of her caught as she’s rooting through the trash, and the look she gives is priceless, worth the price of admission alone. She usually doesn’t mind being teased, quirky but lovable, so she’s someone girls can relate to. All this makes her one of the most intriguing teen protagonists I’ve ever seen. Adrien manages to pull that off in no small way as well, even when his fame and wealth are added to it, though he becomes a bit of an arrogant jerk when he’s dressed feline.
But of course I can’t leave this without mentioning the giant elephant in the fandom: the far-too-common complaint by supposed fans who spend all their time whining about how no one recognizes Marinette as Ladybug. That doesn’t seem to bother people about Superman, but for some reason it’s a big issue here. This surprises me because you’d think such creative people as the fans claim to be would rather spend their time coming up with fanwanks rather than whimper about it.
So here’s mine. There’s a comic strip called “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” where in order to keep herself hidden from most people Marigold the Unicorn has something called the Shield of Boringness. Now, considering all the magical powers Tikki gives Marinette, especially the way her mask didn’t come off when Lady Wifi pulled on it, then you’d think over 5000 years they would have developed a power that disguises their faces and bodies. See, simple?
(And as I wrote above, I don’t believe Hawk Moth is Adrien’s Dad, but that’s a story for another time.)
9/10

;o)

Netflix Fun, July Edition

As always, little snippets of reviews from stuff I saw on Netflix or Amazon or Vudu or whatever, which didn’t do enough to get me to write up a whole big blog about each of them.

Timer
Cute premise: in the near future, technology will be available to let you know when you’re going to meet the person you’re destined to spend the rest of your life with. The movie follows a cute Emma Caufield— easily recognizable from her Buffy days, though the character is far different—as she goes from hopeful, waiting for her timer to wind down, to by the end done with the whole deal. Yes, it’s a comedy.
First off, let me say that due to my only listening to independent music—except for Rush—I hardly ever hear any songs I know playing in movies. But then, Meiko really doesn’t qualify as independent anymore, does she? All to say that there’s a perfectly placed snippet of her Piano Song at the beginning.
More to the point, the movie is surprisingly sweet, and funnier than expected. And the reason I watched it in the first place—Michelle Borth—can always be counted on to bring the Bohemian, even when in a hospital in Afghanistan, as she did in one of her series. Emma Caulfield carries what’s really a light frothy movie, though the dramatic and emotional parts are also well done.
Here’s the thing: that’s what I thought about it the first time I saw it, a few years ago. In fact, I gave it a 4.5/5. But now I watched it again and felt completely different about it. I did notice some things that escaped my view the first time, like the hilarious Matchmaker Patty; I would hate that woman in real life, but I love her here. And all the people in the credits have timers too, producers and everyone! That was really funny. And a fantastic line I missed the first time, or simply didn’t remember it: “My eggs! They can hear you!”
But then we come to the one thing I don’t like about this movie: as funny as Michelle Borth can be—“Tell me what you did or I’m gonna pee on your bed!”—everything Emma Caufield has to do is so cringeworthy, far into butt monkey range. Even from the start there’s so much awkward, and it’s just too painful to watch.
So yeah, I liked it a lot more the first time, and if I were to combine the scores I’d now call it a:
6/10

Particle Fever
Ever wonder how a massive supercollider is made, then used? Find out in this movie.
The first visage that caught my attention came right away, as during construction of CERN they’re lowering a huge piece—five stories tall, if I heard that right—that is surprisingly in the shape of the Millennium Falcon. But despite how long it took to build the Hadron, that’s not the main point of this film. Mostly it follows some physicists, both on the ground there in Switzerland and around the US, as they eagerly await the start-up and then the results while trying to explain to the audience exactly what’s going on and what they hope to see.
Though the scientists interviewed throughout are pretty good communicators, giving great lectures, most of it still goes over my head. There was one eye-opening explanation of how important the experiments are, how it might even be the end of physics if they get it wrong. Then there’s Monica screaming, “We rocked!” She’s my fave. But the best line had to be “Jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the secret to success.” And funniest moment was during the interview while driving: “And I missed my exit.” Or else the baby screaming while everyone was listening to what they’ve all been waiting for. But something that also needs to be mentioned is just how painful that rap was. . .
Some of the CGI is hokey, others are pretty cool. The graphic showing the Higgs at the middle of the wheel is the best explanation I’ve seen so far. There’s also a bit of theater at certain points, like when they tried so hard to make “first beam” so dramatic. And near the end, so much cheering and even Beethoven’s 9th for numbers changing on a screen—just seems funny. Would have liked to see how the reporters reacted to this, because for me it woulda been anticlimactic.
Totally expected Dr. Higgs to get emotional, but that was also the most touching moment. And then it ends with a shoutout to one of my favorite movies, Cave of Forgotten Dreams!
8/10

Thor 2: Dark World
As I’ve stated before, I’m not much for the superhero genre. If I’m watching one of these it’s usually because there’s an actress I like—in this case two—or it’s something that I simply can’t pass up, like Wonder Woman. So I try not to get too wrapped up in reviewing these, but in the end can’t help it.
Though Thor has appeared in The Avengers, and showed quite a bit at the end of the first movie, it’s here where you see how much the character has matured. He actually laughs when he’s teased now. There’s a little bit of character development to Sif as well, but Jane. . . not so much. Darcy is Darcy, but that’s okay, that’s what she’s there for. It’s Selvig who changes the most, but not in a good way, although I’m sure the actor enjoyed running around in his underwear.
As always in these kinds of movies, there’s too much speechifying by the bad guys. Around halfway through I thought, “Now I see why Loki’s in this: comic relief!” More fool I. Certainly not sorry about what happened to him—Selvig speaks for me—or what we thought happened to him, anyway.
As you might expect, I watched this for Natalie Portman, and she did not disappoint. There are some moments in here that prove she’s underrated on her comedic side. Jane has sequestered herself in labs—or chasing tornados—for so long she doesn’t seem to know how to act around strangers, mostly to hilarious results. Her excitement at going through the Bifrost leads her to give Heimdall a totally informal “Hi!” which is a great harbinger to when she does the same later to the Queen. . . who by the way is her lover’s mom, but she’s too nervously excited to realize it in that moment. But her best line is probably “I like the way you. . . explain things.”
I also love Kat Dennings, who just like on her TV series doesn’t seem to be acting at all, simply being her usual snarky real-life persona. She actually has great chemistry with Hemsworth, the best example being when she asks him “How’s space?” so he can laconic, “Space is fine.” His best moment, though, is likely when, after a great pause, he throws out, “So. . . who’s Richard?” followed by Jane’s exasperated “Really?”
Hair color change and an accent can do wonders; how many recognized “Chuck” as Fandral? If anyone saw Zach Levi in the short he did for The Adventures of Basil and Moebius, he’s got the exact same accent and character here.
The one thing I genuinely loved is the music. Appropriate heroic themes, even for those spoiled by John Williams; the horns in particular were pretty tasty. The one thing I most disliked was how dark it was, in this case more literally than spiritually or psychologically. Ultimately that’s the fault of the director, but you wonder if the cinematographer ever said anything. Best scenery was during the end battle in London, as well as the boat/ship chase.
Most of all, though, the bad guy wasn’t that interesting, and the plot was all over the place. Didn’t like it as much as the first.
5/10

Star Trek: Beyond
The second reboot film was so disappointing I skipped going to this when it was in the theaters; that’s the first time that’s ever happened to me with Star Trek. So my expectations were pretty low going into this.
As usual nowadays, Kirk gets to be a total butt monkey at the start, though in this case it gives him a chance to be angsty. The part where we see Sulu meeting up with his husband and kid was nicely done in that it wasn’t a big deal, just here it is and moving on. But more than anything it hurt to see Anton.
Another part I’ve always disliked is seeing all the dead when the Enterprise is blown up—literally. Too much showing of bodies floating off into space. It does seem to be a staple of these movies, going all the way back to Wrath of Khan, but this is one way all the series, and their lower budgets, have it better. And what’s the deal with yet another Enterprise biting the dust? Seems like the name is bad luck!
Random thoughts:
I lived for the moment I could hear Spock say “horseshit.” I can die happy now.
No way Kirk could be beamed while on the motorcycle at full speed.Gimme a break. It’s one thing for Chekov to have done a difficult beam in an earlier movie, but remember that here they were using 100-year-old transporters.
My fave character was Jaylah. “Do not break my music!” And her taking the captain’s chair, reportedly adlibbed, was classic. And at the end when she says “Aye’ to Scotty. Love that she’s going to Starfleet Academy, where she won’t be anything like Kirk, I’m sure; hope she breaks the demerits record.
Best unexpected visual: Chekov tapping his foot to the “classical” music.
Kirk says he couldn’t do anything without Spock, but no thanks for Bones? He was the pilot who saved his ass!
Shohreh Aghdashloo always brings it; she’s the coolest commodore ever.
That photo of the original crew: awww. . .
Idris did his best with a villain that though appropriately motivated didn’t really hit as a classic bad guy. I suppose allowances have to be made for a script that was hastily rewritten.
As always I stay for the credits, and noticed that the actors are listed alphabetically, with Cho first. That’s lovely.
While I have no complaints about the music—soundtrack, I mean; not the choice for destruction—I have to say the sound effects were more memorable. They spent a lot of money and time on that space station, but some of that CGI budget might have been better served during the battle inside the crushed Enterprise, which simply came out too dark. But other than that it was a pretty enjoyable movie that would have done well as a two-part episode on one of the series.
7/10

Iron Man
Completely forgettable. I wrote two notes, and one of them said Gwynnth has never looked better than in that blue dress at Disney Hall.

Iron Man 2
More of the same. Only reason I watched it was because I thought that was ScarJo’s best look and wanted to see it in all its undiminshed glory.

Star Wars: Rogue 1
Like I mentioned about Star Trek above, this is the first Star Wars movie I did not go see in the theater; glad I didn’t.
Rather than dole out the exposition in small chunks, there were too many places and too many people at the start. Despite the great idea of placing it right before the start of the original movie, the writing is mostly unoriginal, as were most of the plot points. The best line had to be the “samurai” getting a bag placed over his head. “Are you kidding me? I’m blind!” And while I don’t have anything bad to say about the acting—other than Forest Whitaker overdoing things, to my shock—it’s telling that the most memorable is Wash. . . I mean, Alan Tudyk playing a robot.
They tried to make a big moment out of the Vader unreveal, but it was. . . underwhelming. But easily the worst scene was the attack in the rain, with the characters being completely stupid, especially Jyn yelling out “Dad!” You had a character with street smarts galore and you have her do something like this? The whole scene was one idiotic choice after another; it felt like the writers simply wanted to get this over with and move the movie along.
Another thing I didn’t like about that scene was the darkness, although part of it was no doubt due to the rain. But that was more than made up for by the location at the end, Scarif, especially the establishing shots from above. Maybe I prefer the Seychelles a little more, but you certainly can’t go wrong with filming in the Maldives, and I doubt any of the actors complained about it, other than the long trip. What’s weird is that according to the credits they also filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan, and I’d just been there a few months ago. Not that deserts look all that different from each other, and since the King of Jordan once appeared on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. . .
Can’t say I noticed the music at all. That’s not a bad thing, but really, what can you say about the first Star Wars movie not scored by John Williams?
The whole thing felt rushed, despite the slow pace at the beginning. They took some time to give her a backstory, but since it ended up in the plot—i.e., her father—it doesn’t really count. About halfway through, my thought was “It’s okay, but glad I didn’t pay to see this in the theater.” At that point I was calling it between a 5 and 6/10, keeping in mind that I gave Force Awakens a 7 and enjoyed it a lot more. Then the battle in the rain happened. . .
Some critics, and even the composer, have written about this movie having a lot of heart, but I frankly didn’t feel it. Maybe in the Imperial traitor who brought the message to Jyn, but that’s it.
4/10

;o)

Book Reviews: Buddhism and Prison Ships

Totie Fields
I’ve been on a diet for 2 weeks and all I’ve lost is 2 weeks.

Hadn’t realized until the last moment, but with books on yoga, Tokyo, New Guinea, and ancient Japan. . . definitely an accidental theme here.

Ours to Embrace: ES Siren 7
It’s the 7th in the series, not all by this author; a shared universe, I believe they call it. There’s a prison ship going from Earth to another planet, and all the stories take place on this platform. This particular plot deals with a shuttle pilot and one of the prisoners, of course a gorgeous woman. There seems to be a lot of backstory to her, no doubt in previous books, while he’s easy enough to grasp: just think Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds.
Though there’s a conspiracy by a few of the prisoners to not just escape but take over the ship, at heart this is a romance, with the usual jumping to conclusions and bad choices that get in the way of what they want. Setting it on a prison ship heading to a new world is certainly different, but the plot feels more complicated than it really needs to be. I can’t help thinking I would have enjoyed this more had I read the previous ones.
3.5/5

The Superyogi Scenario
At first I thought the premise was corny—yoga can turn you into a superhero!—but it ended up being very enjoyable, in a science-fiction kinda way. I mean, is that really any different than being bitten by a radioactive spider or shot in a rocket from a dying world on the other side of the galaxy? Why not?
I had a few questions about the first scene: If she can shapeshift, why does she need to change clothes? And why bother disguising yourself if there aren’t going to be any survivors/witnesses? These are the types of little things that annoy me, but fortunately the writing gets better. Later on a magnificent new character is introduced, only to be killed off by the end of the chapter; fortunately she got better too.
There are a few well-done drawings of the main characters in their superhero uniforms, but I didn’t like them much, because they didn’t seem to match the earlier word descriptions. And quite frankly they didn’t show off the beauty of these two ladies that had been an integral part of their characters since we were introduced to them.
Parts do get a bit silly, but if you don’t take it too seriously you’ll be fine with it. There are bad yogis who want to destroy the world, or at least New York, with a main villain we never meet who has brainwashed others to do his bidding. Instead of all these characters being Superman, they each have their own unique powers, which makes things a lot more interesting. There’s a lot to like here, but it could have been better, or will be, once the author has more experience; I’d be shocked if there aren’t sequels.
3.5/5

Beauty and Chaos
Here’s a book of essays on Tokyo, told by an American who’s lived there for a while now. It reads like blog entries, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly better written than most blogs, not including this one (up to you to guess if I’m joking).
I’ve been to Japan a half dozen times, but never for more than a few days, certainly not long enough to gain the type of insights he has on the culture. His is an interesting point of view, a Westerner in Tokyo but someone who’s lived there for years, more than just a tourist, so he fills the inbetween.
There’s a whole chapter on how people hold themselves up on trains; he says women have better balance, even in heels, holding on to the straps with their fingers, while men use the whole palm. That’s the kind of close detail you can expect in this book. There’s also a piece on why Japanese women go even more overboard with pink than American women, yet the color is also used to attract men to sex stuff. And everything else is white, black, or grey. Hmmm. . .
This book is filled with interesting tidbits that most people, including the residents, wouldn’t notice. There’s a chapter on how ubiquitous maps are, which I certainly don’t remember from my trips to Tokyo, and I would have remembered, cuz I love maps. . . which is why I’m enjoying this anyway, vicariously. Another entry talks about shopping bags, including how they would save civilization in a major earthquake; that’s too silly even for Japan. But for someone who’s never been there, or only for a short time as a tourist, it gives a sense of wonder, almost like science-fiction, reading about a whole new world. And isn’t that what travel books are supposed to do?
4.5/5

Lost in Shangri-La
This is one of those amazing true stories that you would think everyone has heard of but has been lost in the mists of history. In World War Two the United States has established bases in New Guinea, and a few soldiers and WACs go off on a joyride to look at the almost Stone Age natives in a hidden valley in the interior. The plane crashes and most of the passengers are killed, with only three survivors. This story is about how they managed to stay alive, befriend some natives, and ultimately be rescued from this desolate area too high for choppers, too hilly for planes, and weeks away by foot from any outpost.
As one would expect there’s a lot of background in the beginning, setting the scene. Once the crash happens the story narrows down to what the three do to survive, as well as asides on why the natives are always at war with each other, and a piece on a white explorer in the area that none of the players here knew about. Frankly, I’m quite surprised the author managed to get so many pages out of this, as the whole thing could have been told much more succinctly, especially once the rescue operation gets underway, with medics and troops parachuting in to keep the survivors safe from what turned out to be friendly natives.
The way they’re finally rescued left me incredulous. Still can’t believe it worked.
3.5/5

Nichiren
Wow, this is not your typical comic book/graphic novel. For one thing, it’s historical, set in 13th century Japan. For another, there’s no superheroes or such, unless you count the main character, a Buddhist monk, and his attempts at social change, dealing with a government that doesn’t care.
Though not by any means a Buddhist, I’ve read some of the main texts, so it’s not surprising for me to find some familiar stuff, like the old story about collecting mustard seeds from a house that has not experienced death in order to bring the dead back to life. Such familiarity helps set the scene, but its really jarring to believe this takes place 800 years ago when the writing is modern and simple, with the occasional “Whoa!”
My favorite line: “There’s a ghost in the outhouse!”
As far as the story goes, there’s three chapters that give examples of his attempts to make things better for the population, especially the poor. Not knowing how true to history these episodes are, I wonder if the people in this time period really were that gullible, believing all the lies told about Nichiren. As for the Buddhist priest himself, he considers himself so enlightened yet is incredibly stubborn. He knows people who have much to lose aren’t going to listen to him; he knows he’s in danger from them, but he never changes his strategy. As much as I would have liked him to succeed, I’m not at all surprised he didn’t. But I suppose since these events actually happened, I shouldn’t be criticizing the book for them.
All in all this is a quick easy read, though perhaps there’s too many characters to keep track of for too long; there’s a guide for that at the end, which I think proves my point. Some of the story was interesting, others not so much. I doubt the lack of color had anything to do with that, but yes, it’s in black and white.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Superheroes, Star Trek, Lady Detectives

As soon as she’d said it she knew she’d screwed up.
I eyed her speculatively. “Should I keep walking, or should I wait for the new girlfriend to arrive?”

How to Be a Superhero
In a nutshell, this book is about interviews with actors who’ve played superheroes, sidekicks, villains, antiheroes, and others. . . and it’s 588 pages long, so you can say it’s thorough.
After an intro where the author tries to prove the point that everyone loves superheroes, we go right into the interviews, but it isn’t just all the people who have played Superman and Batman and Spiderman; there’s Flashes and Captain Americas and Hulks, plenty of women. . . even Howard the Duck shows up. Not so much in Sidekicks and Supervillains, but for me the best part was Not All Heroes Are Super, which includes Spock, James Bond, even Agent Coulson. The book closes with questions for some of the creators: comic book artists, movie directors, screenwriters, TV series creators, even Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer. The interview with Stan Lee might be worth the price of admission alone.
Just like another book I recently reviewed on character actors, it’s the same questions over and over, though these are somewhat more pointed to the subject. Still, there are some unconventional questions that pop up every once in a while, and the best parts are when the interviewees appreciate them, especially if they’d never thought of it themselves. I’m not sure how much this would appeal to the causal movie fan, but if you enjoy superhero comic books, TV shows, or movies, this will probably be worth your while.
4/5

Star Trek: The Returned, Part I
For those familiar with the staggering amount of books written about the Star Trek Universe, this is the continuation of the series written by Peter David known as Star Trek: New Frontier. I remember reading the first collection of four stories a long time ago, and after a little research I’m quite surprised to see just how many there’s been since.
This starts with the aftermath of some big happenings in the previous story, which unhinge the main character; the first part is taken up with finding him and convincing him to come back to command his starship. Always fun when the Guardian of Forever is involved, even if only peripherally. Once he’s back the story goes into revenge for that thing that happened in the previous story, as well as a subplot involving his son and a couple of the main characters, who have changed dramatically since the last time I read about them. One of the reasons I originally read this series was the inclusion of the character of Robin Lefler, famously played by Ashley Judd in the Next Generation TV series. She doesn’t get much to do here, but since this story is going to continue past this book, it seems like a good setup for future involvement.
The best thing about the writing is the introductions of characters, which tells the newbie everything they need to know while not being too dull for those who know everything that’s going on. As someone in the middle of those two extremes, I found myself going from wondering who they were to instantly remembering them as soon as their main characteristics were described. But my point is this book can mostly likely be enjoyed by those who are coming in new to the series.
4/5

Rainy Day Women
This is another first person amateur PI story, the main difference from most being that it takes place in the late 60s, though it takes a while to realize that. Perhaps the author assumes you read the first in the series; it’s really not obvious until there’s a mention of the first moon landing. It takes place in Vancouver, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, mostly around the University of British Columbia and its chemistry lab, as well as the woman’s lib movement of the time, which is a huge part of the story.
It starts with a complete fakeout where you think the lead character’s trying to escape from an abusive boyfriend, only to find it’s something else completely. It made me laugh, so I forgive the author this joke.
While I enjoyed the setting and most of the banter, the plot—featuring more murders and attacks—and resolution. . . not as much. The author does a decent job of coming up with alternate suspects, but she stacks the deck too much for the reader to conceive it’s anyone but who it turns out to be (I know that’s vague, but I’m trying not to spoiler it).
3/5

Dead Man’s Legacy
A Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman—though she mostly works on boats—is sent to the Bahamas to do some undercover work, becoming friends with a rich and famous diva of the past to find out if she’s being abused. . . at least that’s what her boss tell her. Don’t know how she managed to get this job, but I assume it has something to do with the happenings in the previous novel, which I have not read.
The first part takes place in the Caribbean, but then she’s back in Canada and the tone drastically changes. Later on there’s a few chapters in Vegas, but except for the ending and a small jaunt further north everything takes place in the waterways between Ontario and the US, which involve a lot more than someone who hasn’t been there would imagine. Plenty of historical places, as well as the personal history of the not-so-diva’s family, keep the story going, so it’s safe t say the settings are what really work here. The main character deals with no less than four—and maybe more—guys who have crushes on her or just want to sleep with her; at times this was amusing, others cringe-worthy. The famous woman turns out to be the best-adjusted of her screwed-up rich family, and the Mountie is quickly on her side, which I think ruins her objectivity as she tries to solve a case where she’s not even sure what the crime is: fraud, human smuggling, drugs?
A solid 4/5, thought a bit uneven.

;o)