Wednesday, 8 March 2017

From the Shadows!

Remember when I said I'd be posting an update or two? Well here's the first one.

I little while back I submitted a short story for an anthology It was about superheroes. The story was accepted. Now I have the pleasure of officially revealing it here!



The Crossover Alliance is a bit of an oddity, which is why I submitted to them in the first place. Though they are a Christian publisher, they do not publish "Christian Fiction" as such. Being as unfamiliar with that whole market as I am, I mainly submitted because of their adherence to storytelling with a purpose beyond preaching or subverting norms. They were looking for stories about finding light in the dark. I couldn't resist that.

Though I am a Christian, I did not grow up as one. This is why my tolerance for message fiction, even of what I believe, is not very high. However, the Crossover Alliance is dedicated to stories above all. They accepted my tale despite no message smacking you in the face.

The story I wrote is entitled Someone is Aiming For You and is about a superhero called "The Seeker." He operates in the fictional city of Summerside. The Seeker is a myth in the city due operating in the shadows and for the impossibility of his abilities. What can he do? With a touch he can see into his target's past, and can transform his appearance into whoever he likes. Having one power is rare enough in this world, but having two is impossible.

But this ability has a side effect. When he uses his touch, ghosts appear out of the darkness of night to meet his target. The Seeker pries into the past of his victims, but part of that past comes out of them in the process. These visions confront the targets with memories that refuse to stay buried. Or maybe they're actually something else? But the Seeker cannot see these visions his victims see. He can only use it as a tool in his quest.

In this world superheroes and magic are two separate and deadly forces, but the latter is hidden from sight. The Seeker is a crusader (an illegal hero) who hunts this dark magic and exterminates it. In a world where official heroes battle with villains, he deals with something entirely different. The Seeker is a myth that battles with myths.

Those who know me probably understand where this character came from. The Seeker is a response, of sorts, to a handful of different heroes. He is a mirror of the Shadow who can cloud men's minds; The Seeker reveals truths that men hide even from themselves. He is a reflection of the Question who seeks answers; The Seeker knows far too many answers and holds onto the truth. He is an echo of Daredevil who traverses a world on fire; The Seeker is always just outside unable to see what he unleashes. There are many differences between these heroes, but their similarities are what drew me to each of them. As a fan of all three, the Seeker was a pleasure to work with.

But don't take my word for it. Read the story yourself. It will be out when the anthology launches at the end of the month. Clear your schedule and give it a shot. It's sure to be a great time.

The anthology officially comes out on March 28th and will be available in kindle and paperback. You can preorder it on kindle on their website now for a slight discount before release.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Lent and Updates!

Hey there. After doing some reflecting I realize that I have been spending far too much time online. For Lent I've decided to take a break from posting online and on social media. This is good for me too, since I have other things to worry about.

But I do have a quick update or two I will post so the blog won't be completely dead. Still, don't expect much to come from this blog until April.

However, if you do want to contact me, send me an e-mail. I'll still be checking that. You can find me at: lonewolfandjd@gmail.com

Until then: see ya!

"Never Forget Who You Want to Become!" ~ My Hero Academia Volume 7 Review



"This is just how I feel personally, but the most exciting part of any superhero movie or comic is the process of becoming a hero. And I mean "exciting," which goes a level beyond "interesting" in how it creates a sense of anticipation. 
"So I set out to make a story about becoming the greatest hero there ever was that would perfectly capture that excitement, even for myself as the author. 
"The stage for that was set way earlier than expected, but I've still got a ton of story in me, so I'm going ahead at full throttle."

~ Kohei Horikoshi

And this is where we are in volume 7 of My Hero Academia. If you thought things were heating up in volume 6 you ain't seen nothing yet. When we last left our heroes, Midoriya, Ida, and Todoroki, were doing battle with Stain the Hero Killer, and were on the ropes. Volume 7 finishes the battle and ends the Hosu City Incident in a brutal and dynamic way. The world of My Hero Academia will never be the same.

To fans, this battle is when My Hero Academia went from a great series to an excellent one. You have separate threads connecting to each other, a thrilling battle of good and evil, incredible detailed art (and this is a weekly series, don't forget), and the start of upped stakes that Kohei Horikoshi takes to heart. Everything is on the line here. This is top shelf material.

But the battle with Stain and the aftershocks, which take place over half the volume, as incredible as they are, don't slow the pace down whatsoever. There is no down time. The story continues on, continuing to ramp up the scale.

As you've noticed from the cover, just as with volume 5, this is the second cover to not have Izuku Midoriya, the main character, on it. Just as that volume was called Shoto Todoroki: The Origin (which came back in a big way during the Stain fight), this volume is called Katsuki Bakugo: The Origin. Horikoshi's covers when focusing on one character at a time are quite incredible, and this is no exception. There's a really nice one coming up, but I can't mention it for fear of spoilers. Trust me, these covers are always great.

Bakugo, despite his early characterization, is a much better character than you would first think. Horikoshi does not sit on him as a stock bully character. Bakugo is thought as, even by his teachers, to be going down the wrong road and away from the path of good. It's easy to think that. He had been going the wrong way when he was young and got his quirk. In the first chapter and at the start of the series, he's a chump. He was arrogant, a bully, and had a volatile personality as a result of life not working out the way he wanted it to.

That was the way it was. Until he was surpassed by Izuku Midoriya and continued to be time and time again. Super special Bakugo is really just a boy with a good power, and little else. And Midoriya annoys him because the weakling was nothing special before he got his quirk: he was just a pebble in the road toward Bakugo's deserved greatness. Yet, he keeps getting in the way and reminding him what he is not. What is it that Midoriya has that even All Might sees? What is Bakugo missing, and how can he find it?

This leads to two things. The first is a great confrontation at the end of this volume where Bakugo teams up with an unlikely ally against an unlikely enemy, and the first tease of a very important event to come later in the series. Suffice to say, there is more to Bakugo than what you see on the surface.

Don't get me wrong: he's still a jerk. His behavior is not justified, or ever thought of as anything but repulsive for a hero. But very slowly, it appears that he knows it himself. He knows he is insufficient to be a hero. Watching Bakugo grow from an arrogant bully into a hero should be just as fun to watch as Midoriya has been.

One of Horikoshi's strengths is to never rely on cliches with his characters. They might start with a simple personality like nerd, cool guy, or bully, but they always turn out to be more than that. Bakugo is a bully done right, and he goes beyond what you would expect. Whatever he eventually ends up being should be interesting to see.

Unfortunately, Mr. Horikoshi once again leaves readers on a cliffhanger with this volume! This will have readers grinding their teeth, but I assure you that My Hero Academia is worth the wait. Volume 8 will be worth the wait. It's currently over 120 chapters long and is still the best running manga out there.

In other news, season 2 of the series is a month out. It might even cover material in this volume. Suffice to say, if you enjoyed season 1, you're definitely going to want to catch this, especially if the rumor of it being twice as long as season 1 is true. Fans are in for a treat. My Hero Academia just gets better and better as it goes.

Here's hoping 2017 is the year the series finally achieves mainstream recognition!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Damned on the Run ~ A review of "Live & Let Bite" by Declan Finn



After a surprising first entry and a rousing second, author Declan Finn's Love At First Bite series performed the task I had been certain wasn't ever going to happen: He wrote a vampire series I actually enjoy.

How did he perform this feat? Well, he did a remarkable thing. It's as crazy as it is impossible. What he did was write a story where vampires were actually vampires, the characters aren't mopey millennials or pious boomers, and the plot progresses from point A to B. Basically he wrote a story that happens to have vampires in it.

I still can't believe it.

The first book established the world and characters, the second blew it out (and up) by spiraling everything out of control, and now here we are at book three. So how does Mr. Finn improve on what came before?

The first thing to point out is that Live & Let Bite is not the conclusion of the series, and is not a trilogy, as is common today. So you will not get a thunderous conclusion that wraps up all the characters and plot of the first two volumes here. But is all well and good since book allows a few of the characters grow and the relationships deepen. It feels like a necessary piece of the puzzle. This helps set the stage for book 4 to finally wrap everything up in a supremely satisfying way.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Live & Let Bite starts out a bit after the events of book 2. The main characters, Marco and Amanda, are still of doing their own things and Marco, especially, is not happy about it. In fact, it looks like he's about to reach his tipping point. He's still being hunted on top of it. Just who is it that wants him dead? Will he finally reconcile with Amanda? Will we finally learn just what is the deal with the Kraft Bros. after two books of hinting? Well, you'll have to read to find out. A review is not for spoiling.

But I did dig one thing in particular. The final confrontation did not go quite how I was expecting, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Considering how the first two books ended, it was a pleasant surprise, and shows there are still plenty more surprises for the Love At First Bite series to deliver. Book 4 can't come soon enough!

Unfortunately that leads us to the one negative to point out, and that's the fact that there's still one more book to go. I eagerly await what Mr. Finn puts out to finish this series, and have the hope that it will certainly surpass other vampire series on the market. There are few things more satisfying than watching a vampire burn.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Different Sort of Dragon

Entertainment is in a weird place these days. It feels as if there has been a major disconnect between the past and present in regards to storytelling that has never existed before. I've been curious if that trend was a worldwide issue or purely relegated to the west. Since Japan has had a problem appealing to the worldwide audience since the mid-00s there had to be a problem there that no one was talking about. But finding anything out about the recent history of Japan's animation or manga industry is quite difficult.

So I decided to look into some of the more longer lasting enterprises which contributed to the worldwide boom of anime and manga. I only found things that supported my theory. You probably won't be surprised with the results.

Now, not everything has changed all that much. Weekly Shonen Jump still runs action adventure stories for kids and teenagers, just as Weekly Shonen Sunday, and Weekly Shonen Magazine do. There is a higher acceptance of overt sexuality than there used to be, but the link between old series and new are not all that different, content-wise. When it comes to the bigger magazines and anthologies (the ones that still sell), nothing has changed all that much.

But there is one magazine that has taken the hardest hit, and it is very evident when looking over its pedigree that things have undoubtedly changed. Looking over what I could, the only conclusion one can come to is that the cultural shift in Japan has slowly changed everything. And not for the better. This magazine is quite representative of a lot of the problems the industry is currently facing right now.

That would be Fujimi Shobo's Dragon Magazine.


Note: Everything here was found on Wikipedia. Finding outside sources for Dragon is tough. If you know of any, please leave the info in the comments. Thanks.

Dragon Magazine was a monthly magazine that started in 1988 (changed to bi-monthly in 2008) that ran fantasy and science fiction light novels and manga in its pages. They also included RPG information between new chapters of manga and their light novels. Dragon was a magazine for genre fiction. It was extremely popular when it came out, running some of the most popular series, but has fallen off hard in recent years. The change to bi-monthly is reflective of this as that was about the time they began to shed their old identity. Kadokawa's official website doesn't even include Dragon in their history though they included the creation of their fantasy line of light novels. It's as if they are more interested in sweeping aside their past than embracing it.

It is incredibly hard to get information about the magazine's full history since there is no real information about it in English, but let's just say that it had a very clear goal from the start. All you would have to look at is what they ran. Specific genre magazines like this were not altogether common, especially now. Most magazines in Japan are segregated by age and sex, and rarely by genre. Shonen and Seinen magazines run fantasy, science fiction, and romance, sometimes all in the same story. But Dragon was very dedicated to genre to the point that it was its entire identity. You bought Dragon Magazine because you were a genre fan.

Fujimi Shobo created the magazine when they were still part of the Kadokawa Shoten, a major Japanese publisher. They became a subsidiary in 1991, mostly in charge of the Dragon Magazine brand. They were merged back into Kadokawa Shoten in 2013 when they shed the "Shoten" part of the name and became Kadokawa. All the subsidiaries merged as well. Now they no longer exist.

Fujimi Shobo had three basic pillars for their brand, all three of which are still running today.

Fujimi Dragon Book was a magazine on RPGs, Fujimi Fantasia Bunko centered on genre light novels, and Fujimi Mystery Bunko focused on mystery light novels. They had six other publishing brands, all of which fell off as the years went on. They run different RPGs in Fujimi Dragon Book including Sword World, Double Cross, Arianrhod, and a translated version of GURPS, some of which spill over into Dragon Magazine's pages. Aside from the magazines, they also had three different card games centered on fantasy worlds.

Fantasia Bunko, their light novel brand, was mostly established off the back of Dragon Magazine and includes everything that ran in its pages, and includes series that did not. This includes non-Dragon series such as Full Metal Panic!, Lost Universe, and spin-offs of other media like Granblue Fantasy. As far as I can ascertain this is still the most popular division of the former Fujimi Shobo brand. Their other non-specified labels all went defunct over the decades, but their fantasy line remains. RPGs and genre fiction were their bread and butter.

They eventually began running Dragon Age Magazine in 2003 (and a limited special magazine which ran between 2006-2009) which was centered solely on manga, and was, honestly, characterless. It is no longer a magazine for genre.

And that was the problem.

Dragon Magazine suffered from two problems later in its life. The first was the declining readership due to the advent of the internet and the slow move to adopt digital formats from most Japanese publishers. The second was that Dragon eventually lost its identity and became just another light novel and manga magazine like everything else out there. The former is a problem still affecting the print world in Japan, the second is a problem veteran magazines shouldn't be having, and yet undoubtedly are. Dragon Magazine should be bigger than ever, but it's not.

To stand out in Japan's market you need a strong brand identity and be associated heavily with what the reader cannot get elsewhere. Every successful brand in Japan lives and dies by this. Dragon, unfortunately, lost that identity around 20 years into its run. A tie with genre fiction and RPG gaming was undoubtedly its strongest feature and is one it no longer has. As it is, the magazine is really just a former shell of its peak days.

But the best way to prove Dragon's unique flavor would be to talk about what it ran in its pages. Those that were around in the '90s anime boom would do well to recognize many here. A lot of these series are the reason anime got so big outside Japan in the first place. The connection between genre fiction and anime is important.

Thanks to a variety of wikis for the concise descriptions.



-Slayers-

Description: Slayers follows the adventures of teenage sorceress Lina Inverse and her companions as they journey through their world. Using powerful magic and swordsmanship they battle overreaching wizards, demons seeking to destroy the world, and an occasional hapless gang of bandits.


Does Slayers really need any introduction? The primary fantasy series released over here, Slayers ran in one form or another from near the magazines start in 1989 to its downgrade to bi-monthly in 2008. Part comedy and part action, Slayers was a massive hit and is responsible for a lot of the industry's growth over here. Chances are if you're reading this blog and like anime then you know this series. If anything, it doesn't get the credit it deserves these days.



-Patlabor-

Description: In the near future, robots called "Labors" are employed in heavy construction work. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police has its own fleet of Patrol Labors or Patlabors to combat crimes/terrorism and deal with accidents involving Labors. This series is about one such group of officers.


Weekly Shonen Sunday ran the original manga series, but it was Dragon Magazine that ran the light novels. Patlabor is a rarity in being one of the few classic anime franchises that broke out big here but has left so much material untranslated for release. This material from Dragon, like many light novels from Dragon's pages, sits unreleased overseas. This is rather unfortunate. Patlabor is as funny as it is exciting even to this day* and remains a staple for classic anime fans. I couldn't tell you exactly what those novels covered due to, again, lack of information, but Patlabor was running in Dragon from the start.

*This is an aside, but does anyone else miss those old "wacky cops take on crazy criminals" comedy action series Japan used to put out? Man, those were fun.



-Dragon Half-

Description: The story follows Mink, a half human /half dragon teenage girl on a quest for a potion which will turn her into a full human so that she can win the love of the legendary dragon slayer Dick Saucer. In the manga, in order to get the potion, she must slay Azetodeth, the greatest demon in the land.


The OVA anime for this series was fairly big back in the day, but did you know that it was based on a manga series? That's right, Dragon Half ran from 1988 to 1994 and finished with a seven volume run. This is one of those examples of Japan's early '90s zany fantasy series. However, the manga goes even further into the story due to the OVA being cut short at two episodes. The series isn't well known by modern fans, but it was big at the time. The manga was licensed just this year by Seven Seas Entertainment and is due to release the seven volumes in three omnibus editions. Suffice to say, I'll be in line for those.



-Hyper Police-

Description: Hyper Police is set in a period in the far future, in which humanity is almost extinct and most of the population are monsters. It is mostly set in the offices of a private police company and focuses on the life of Natsuki Sasahara, a young catgirl, and her co-workers: Foxgirl Sakura Bokuseiinmonzeninari, werewolf Batanen Fujioka and his cousin Tomy Fujioka.


It's fairly obvious just watching the show once how heavily it has been ripped off. Hyper Police was fairly popular back in the day, and is notable for being one of the few properties listed here that had its print version released overseas. That said, it was released by Tokyo Pop, so good luck finding it. Hyper Police is primarily a science fiction comedy, complete with a lot of furry bait, but still manages to stand out from the pack it created, which tends to sacrifice story and characters for titillation. The anime ran in 1997, but the manga itself ran from 1993 up to the beginning of the modern moe age in 2004. It represents its era quite well. There's really no chance that something like this would run now without being heavily modified.



-Rune Soldier-

Description: The series was created by Ryo Mizuno and takes place on the continent of Alecrast on the world called Forcelia, and is related to the novel, anime, and manga series Sword World. It is a sibling series to Record of Lodoss War (which is also directed by Mizuno), taking place on a continent north of Lodoss Island.



Yes, Dragon even had its fingers in the Record of Lodoss War pie. Rune Soldier was written by the creator of Lodoss War and takes place in the same world. Rune Soldier lasted longer than that seminal series, starting in 1997 and only ending in 2012, but it was a bit more lighthearted than the core Lodoss War brand and as such might not have garnered quite the same level of fame over here. Though its anime series certainly helped carry that load as, of course, the original light novels have not been released overseas. Still, it is more fantasy goodness. That said, Rune Soldier was quite popular, and deservedly so.



-Saber Marionette-

Description: Saber Marionette is a science fiction humor/adventure series featuring android girls. That's the short and easy description.


It's hard to imagine now, so far removed from its original release, just how absurdly huge this franchise was. The releases and franchise history is really hard to go through in a small description so let's just say that Dragon ran a short story, light novels, and manga of a few of the different series in its pages. It is difficult to say which series have even been brought over here for release. As I said, it's messy to sort through. But the most popular series has always been Saber Marionette J, which Dragon ran all twelve light novels of in its pages. If you like your android girls, you'll definitely get them in this series.



-The Weathering Continent-

Description: The Weathering Continent centers on three travelers - the delicately handsome sorcerer Tieh, the burly and reticent warrior Bois, and the spritely young Lakshi - as they trek though the shattered wastelands of the ancient continent of Atlantis.


I'm not sure how to say anything about this series since it's never been translated and the divisive movie is the only animation it has ever had. But it ran for a long time in Dragon from 1990 through 2006, the real start of the moe era. The series is a high seller and remains popular, and is very reflective of Dragon Magazine's brand. I'm not very certain we'll ever get this series here, unfortunately. Like most of Dragon's influential material, it remains unreleased overseas. Still, it was one of their pillars for the majority of its run.



-Black Blood Brothers-

Description: During a war called the Hong Kong Crusade, an Old Blood, Jiro Mochizuki, a.k.a. the Silver Blade (Gintō), fought and defeated the Kowloon King and most of the Kowloon Children. Ten years later, Jiro heads to Hong Kong with his little brother, Kotaro Mochizuki, in hopes of reaching The Special Zone, a thriving secret city where Vampires live. That's as succinct as it can get.


This was more recent, an 11 volume light novel series which ran a 12 episode anime in 2006. It was one of Dragon's last hits, especially one of its last to hit over here, just before the magazine went to bi-monthly. It was also one of the last pure fantasy series they ran. An action series, BBB is tight and sharp and highly worth watching. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that the light novels will ever see release over here.



-Chrono Crusade-

Description: Set in New York during the 1920s, Chrono Crusade follows the story of Rosette Christopher, and her demon partner Chrono. As members of the Magdalene Order, they travel around the country eliminating demonic threats to society, while Rosette searches for her lost brother Joshua.


I can't even pretend to talk about this one as I've never seen it. But it was extremely popular. The anime, specifically was big both in Japan and over here. The manga ran from 1998 to 2004 in 8 volumes, easily becoming one of Dragon's most popular series. You might also notice a pattern with many of the release years on this list. I swear I'm not doing it on purpose. This really is the way it is.



-Sorcerous Stabber Orphen-

Description: Orphen is a magician who is grumpy in the morning and likes money. He has an apprentice named Magic and a wanna-be apprentice girl Cleao who won't leave him alone. At first they just see Orphen as a source of fun, but as time goes by they keep getting into trouble and pick up things about Orphen's past. One thing in particular that haunts him is memories of when he was a member of the Tower of Fang; an incident involving Azalie, a brilliant magician, a girl who was like an older sister to him. I wish I could sum it up better than that.


A franchise that ran in many forms from 1998 to 2003, SSO is the type of series you don't see coming out of Japan much these days. It is one of those lighthearted action comedies that gets darker and more exciting as it goes. Needless to say, it was also a fairly big hit for its time. Even without a TV run, it was decently popular overseas showing the strength of that Dragon Magazine brand. But there's nothing like it in the magazine now. At this point you might be wondering just what Dragon actually runs these days. Well, I'll get to that soon.



-Scrapped Princess-

Description: The story takes place in what appears to be a fantasy world and revolves around a girl named Pacifica Casull, the sister in a pair of twins born to the royal family of a kingdom called Leinwan. Pacifica is abandoned at birth. The 5111th Grendel Prophecy predicts that she is the "poison that will destroy the world" if she reaches her sixteenth birthday. To prevent this, she is dropped off a cliff as an infant. Pacifica is rescued by a court wizard and adopted by the commoner Casull family, and that is where the story begins.


The reason this is so low is because I don't really like this series. It starts off with an interesting idea that it ultimately does nothing with as it relies on flat one-note antagonists, useless allies, and characters doing stupid things to achieve drama. The plot also gets aggressively up its own rear as it goes along. But I can't deny its popularity. It ran from 1999 to 2005 and is famed for having the famous Bones production team behind its anime. Chances are you probably remember the buzz this anime created when it came out. Scrapped Princess was touted as the next big thing. Unfortunately, it's also one of the last series from Dragon to elicit any kind of response from fans.



-The Legend of the Legendary Heroes-

Description: Ryner Lute is a lazy student of the Roland Empire Royal Magician's Academy. One day, the Roland Empire goes to war against their neighboring country Estabul, and Ryner loses his classmates in the war. After the war, Ryner sets out on a journey to search the relics of a "Legendary Hero" at King Sion Astal's command and finds out that a deadly curse is spreading throughout the continent.


This is the last series here because it is the only one that is still running in Dragon to this day. Starting in 2002, it's one of the few Dragon series that has maintained its high popularity since it began. You can take or leave the redundant title (I personally think it's hilarious) but it's traditional old school fantasy in a way you never see coming out of Japan these days. There was an anime, but I don't believe it was all too popular. This series is the only remainder of what Dragon used to be that still runs in its pages.



Okay, now that you know 12 of the more popular franchises to come out of Dragon, you might be wondering why, if the magazine is still running, that there is nothing listed here except one series that ran past 2008 when it went bi-monthly. Doesn't that seem odd? If Dragon's still running, shouldn't it still be getting quality material to run?

Well...

No, actually. In the mid-00s, Japan as previously mentioned went a little overboard in dealing with the rise of online piracy. Instead of creating series catering to wider audiences like they used to, they turned inward and began to focus on hardcore otaku with series that were meant only to titillate and make those hardcore sections of the fanbase buy merchandise. Unfortunately, Dragon was no different from the rest of them.

Like everyone else at the time, Dragon Magazine shed its identity to pander. And pander it did!

This is the current most popular thing in the magazine today: *Nudity Warning*


And that's the toned down version. Now you tell me if that is in tone with anything listed earlier.

Other series include a gender-flipped version of Nobunaga's Ambition, a young adult vampire story, a harem story about a passive guy, another harem story about a magical school, and a straight up harem manga. Oh and there's Tokyo Ravens, your average shonen manga. It's the only halfway popular thing they have, but it really doesn't offer much of note.

That's it.

What was once the premiere genre magazine no longer sets the trends but copies them. This is all they are now.

In an attempt to milk a hardcore fanbase that has no demographic future, Dragon, like many other entertainment companies in Japan, began to shrink in everything from audience to profits to variety and breadth of content. There's a very obvious reason Dragon's audience shrank to the point that they had to go bi-monthly in 2008, and it wasn't because of piracy. It took Japan a long time to realize this, but it was their own doing. It was because the material they put out no longer reflected what the majority of customers actually wanted.

And that is why we are where we are today.

Now it's not like Dragon Magazine was flawless. I think Scrapped Princess is a self-indulgent mess, and there are one or two other series I didn't bother listing here, but they all still tried to fit some sort of framework. They tried to be genre stories. They were about the story before everything else. Imagination was key.

The current Dragon Magazine has no character at all, nothing to help it stand out from the crowd. It's just like everything else Japan spits out. There's no more sense of wonder, no more big ideas, no more fun, and no more excitement. It's all about titillation and genre cliches.

What happened? Did Slayers ending leave Dragon to forget what its goal was? The light novel industry in Japan is in its nadir right now of video game fantasy stories featuring a harem of girls and your common Japanese nerd as the protagonist with long and cumbersome titles like I Fell Into A Fantasy World And Now Girls Actually Want To Date Me! or something even more ridiculous. As bad as we might think anime or manga is, light novels are ten times worse off. Dragon could be a beacon in the darkness of the modern genre market, but they're not even trying. To go from any of the top series above to what is being made now is disappointing. The fans deserves better. Well, whatever fans are left at this point anyway.

It's easy to lament the problems we have about a lack of strong male characters, hatred of real romance, and obsession with genre segregation, but Japan might have it almost as bad in a different way. If one of the former leading purveyors of the medium like Dragon Magazine has fallen this far, no wonder everyone else has. It's surprising that so many put up with it over there.

Light novels were a source of much of Japan's pop culture appeal overseas. Japan had Slayers, Full Metal Panic, Record of Lodoss War, Boogiepop, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vampire Hunter D, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Guin Saga, Crusher Joe, the other series listed above, and so many others that we'll never see released here. And what do they have now? Glorified harems in video game fantasy worlds. Is this really a contest?

It's not just about changing tastes. It is about sterilizing everything to be one and the same. This seems to be a hobby of the modern world, and it isn't just affecting Japan. It isn't that things were better back in the day, it's that there was more ambition, more variety, and a sense there was more than sex to look forward to in life. All that seems to be gone. What happened to that sense of hoping for more to life?

If anything needs to come back, it's that.

Monday, 13 February 2017

2016 Planetary Award Nomination

My nomination for the best science fiction and fantasy book of 2016 goes to "Murphy's Law of Vampires" by Declan Finn.


A fantastic mix of horror, fantasy, romance, and science fiction, the Love at First Bite series has been a lot of fun and one of the best newer series I'm currently reading.

The last time we've gotten a vampire series this fun Corey Haim was still with us. It also helps that Mr. Finn goes as old school as possible with his depiction of vampires. No sparkly nonsense or anything of the sort here.

As a sidenote: I'm currently halfway through the third book and will hopefully have a review up for it by the end of the month. Spoiler alert: it's what you would expect!

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Myth. The Legend.


So there's this guy.

His name is Jonathan. He's retired. His wife died. He's devastated. He wants to be left alone.

Then someone kills his dog and steals his car.

That someone soon learned that the unassuming quiet man is named John Wick. The Baba Yaga of the underworld. A retired monster who left his life behind to live in the light. And this idiotic punk took the last bit of light away. And he isn't happy about it.

What you get is one of the best action movies of the last twenty years. John Wick is a classic revenge film with phenomenal action choreography, an intriguing backstory and world, and manages a real sharpness to the writing. You could even see the action on screen! It came out of nowhere to surprise everyone and quickly became a favorite of many.

And now the sequel's here. So how does it compare?

John Wick Chapter 2 starts off wrapping up the loose ends of the first film with John Wick reclaiming his car, and dealing with the repercussions of coming out of retirement even for a moment. What he ends up doing is getting pulled back into the underworld of professional killers and finding himself at odds with what he is and where he's probably going when it's all over and he's dead. This leads to classic John Wick action, but also a plot that quickly spirals out of control as the deeper he digs into the darkness, the deeper the hole goes. And by the ending you get the sense that there is much more to it all.

I'll be frank, I thought this movie was great. The lore from the first movie is expanded upon and given a real kick in the pants, John Wick himself shows even more charisma and surprising depth, and the supporting cast is even stronger than the one from the original. Everything is a step up.

But what about the action? Of course you want to know about the action.

Well. Um.

Let's put it this way. There's a scene where John Wick buys a bunch of different weapons (at least five by my count) and like some hyper-violent Chekov, ends up using them all until the ammo runs dry . . .

By the halfway mark of the film.

You do the math.

Look, man. If you're still reading this, you probably like action movies. Do you like action movies? Then you are going to go see this one.

If you aren't, well, maybe that porn movie they released today is more your speed. You clearly can't handle the action.

That's a long way to say "Go see it".

But go see it.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Selective Memory ~ An Appendix N Post

With the recent hoopla concerning Jeffro Johnson's Appendix N book, I decided to dedicate a post to that intentionally buried source. If you want some background on what Appendix N is, and why it matters, I suggest watching the below video from Geek Gab which goes into a bit more depth.




The reason I wanted to make this post is because I've never actually expressed my full opinions on Appendix N as a whole. I've mentioned it in passing but have never actually expressed any concrete thoughts.  I guess it's because it isn't anything new to me.

No, I don't mean Appendix N itself-- I mean I've been in this situation before. Let me give you a bit of background to illustrate what I'm talking about. Please be patient: I swear this is going somewhere.

When I was growing up, one of the few things that endured throughout the strangeness of my teenage years was my love of stories. But not my love of books. I was up for any good story you could give me, but you would have to fight me to get me to read a book. I was a very suspicious teenage boy.

So why didn't my love of books endure while my love of stories flourished? Easy. Because every book I picked up was a nihilistic slog filled with sex, drugs, celebrating the pointlessness of life, and how special it was to be an artist and be above the stupid common man. I'm not just talking about modern literature that no one reads either. I'm talking about everything on the bookshelf that was published while I was growing up. Not to mention that the "classic" books foisted on me as a teenager were the most boring and flavorless things you could imagine.

Maybe you had to be there, but can't you just imagine? Should I read a book about a sainted alien who teaches the world the truth about orgies, or read a manga about a mysterious gunslinger on a distant planet who has to stop his nihilistic brother from purging humanity from their new world? How is that a choice? I still have trouble imagining anyone preferring the first as genre defining art, while telling me that latter is juvenile trash. But that's how it was.

Then I got to college and read a pile of the most hateful stories you could ever thumb through. Two in particular made me give up entirely. They were called Generals Die in Bed and Catcher in the Rye, and they were considered classics. If you've ever read them you have my condolences.

Suffice to say, I was done. This was the best of the best? This was all the literary world had to offer? I went back to my comics and manga, and largely left reading books behind. I didn't know any readers. I didn't know any writers. I didn't know anybody who really cared about stories at all. So as far as I could tell, this was how it always was and always would be.

Years later a lot of things happened in my personal life and I everything changed. I was rejuvenated. Made whole. I began reading about this new world that opened up to me. And things got better.

Then I read someone named G.K. Chesterton and his book Orthodoxy. It fundamentally changed how I saw the world. He was the first person I'd ever read that made perfect sense. It was as if he was talking directly to me over a hundred years after writing that book. I'd never experienced anything like that before. Looking into him led me along an odd string of events to find a book called The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope which honestly might be the best book ever written. It had everything: action, adventure, comedy, romance, and it was fun. It made me realize that I'd missed so much, and I never even knew it.

But what really shifted the way I saw things was Mr. Chesterton as a person. He was friends with H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. He was a well known figure. He wrote scores of books, fiction and non-fiction, and he was highly respected even among those he opposed. He even wrote a pretty good play called "The Surprise" that earns its title.

That lead me to a very important question: Why had I never heard of him?

This was a man who was big (pun intended) in his time, was massively influential, and helped change my life. And I've never met another person in my life who has ever heard of him. He certainly isn't taught in schools. It was as if he was intentionally written out of history.

Keep that in mind for later.

In the midst of all this was my attempt to write. I'd been flailing around trying to learn on my own and not getting anywhere. My conversion helped allow me a focus and purpose for writing, but I couldn't nail down what to write or the best way to do it. There were no writing courses to take where I live, and as I said earlier, there were no writers to talk to. So I learned on my own and tried to ask around online.

Eventually I threw my hands up and decided to write a story I would have read as that disappointed thirteen year old. There had to be a good way to write a fun book, right? I buckled down in NaNoWriMo in 2014 and cranked out a novel. It took me a while to fix it up, but I eventually got it out the door with many people helping me along the way. That story ended up becoming Knights of the End, something I'm very proud of writing. It also helped solidify story construction for me. I successfully captured that feeling I wanted to bottle.

But while editing Knights, I came across a series of posts on the Castalia House blog on a topic called "Appendix N" written by a fellow named Jeffro Johnson. It was fascinating to me.

Now I knew about D&D. Everyone who has ever touched a video game, comic, genre film, anime or manga series, or genre fiction book, in the last half-century knows what it is. The game encapsulates everything that people steal from for their own fantasy stories. But the game didn't appear out of thin air. What I wasn't aware of was that there was a list of books that inspired its creation. But I was more surprised at some of the names on the list.

After Knights was in the can I sat down to read some of these stories. I'd already known Tolkien, and The Hobbit is still one of my favorite books, but I'd never gotten into the many writers who cribbed directly from him. Some of the other names I'd also heard before. Burroughs I'd only known from Tarzan and what I was told about his other works which were not glowing. You know where this is going.

I've already said I didn't read much genre fiction. This will make me unpopular among certain people, but I don't like stories about wizards throwing fireballs around like grenades, or tales about men with screwdrivers. I like stories about adventure, excitement, good and evil, and out-there ideas. That's why I went to places other than books to get them. My impression of genre fiction was that it was just another way to tell Important Stories about Things That Matter in a different setting, and that the stories I wanted to read died with John Buchan, George MacDonald, Anthony Hope, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

So I read a few of the books on the list. Some even older. Poul Anderson, A. Merritt, and Mr. Burroughs himself. The Worm Ouroboros. Manly Wade Wellman. I even finally read The Three Musketeers.

I was flabbergasted. I had found what I had been looking for years for. This is what those trashy stories actually were? Had I been lied to? I picked up Cirsova magazine, I started getting into old radio shows of The Shadow, and I started posting about a lot of this here. Everything changed. Like taking an old jalopy through the car wash and finding out its actually a corvette.

The stories I wrote after Knights began turning out a bit different than I first expected, I began looking at other stories in a different light, and I even found some other writers that felt the same way. Appendix N changed a lot. That's not to say I've taken up writing pure pulp, but it did affect me quite a good deal.

Genres didn't exist. There were no constraints. No lessons. No berating the audience. There was no whining. It was about the story. There was action. There was adventure. There was romance. There was speculation, history, and impossibilities, all mixed together to shape whatever story the author wanted. They weren't held back by anything except their imagination, as cheesy as it sounds. But it's true.

It was as if I finally understood just what made books so great in the first place. Whether I can capture that feeling in my future works is to be seen, but now that I have a clearer path I can at least be thankful to see the forest for the trees.

This even affected how I read more modern books. David Gemmell became a light in a rather dim field of modern fantasy, and even old superheroes like The Shadow and The Question took on a whole new meaning to me. It wasn't just the books. Everything changed.

That lead me to another very important question: What the heck happened?

Why did I have to go to manga, comics, video games, genre films, and anime, to get what I was looking for in the first place? Why was something intentionally hidden from me again?

Mr. Chesterton was a man who aided in saving my life, in more ways than one, but the world wanted him buried. The old pulp works would have sparked my imagination, and others, when I was younger, but they were scrubbed out of existence by the "right people" long before I was born. This was happening over and over.

And it's happening to a whole new generation. In the comic world, Marvel is currently taking a hammer to their brand as DC endlessly reboots themselves into irrelevance. Video games has seen the collapse of the middle market for AAA blandness while "journalists" joyfully insult their audience enjoying what they want. Manga and anime have been smothered in an overabundance of perversity and uniform sterility. Hollywood is dying from their own hubris.

There is ample reason for me to be upset about all of this. And I am. Were I born now, there would be nothing to sustain me in the empty modern age. I would be trapped in a room without windows. The thought of that is disturbing.

This is partially why I started this blog. We all wander the wasteland looking for something more than the barrenness surrounding us. We all look to the sky to find something above it. We are constantly stuck between them. There has to be a way out and beyond the boundaries.

Without imagination, without stories, without hope and wonder, we would have no hope of higher and more important things. And to think there are those deliberately destroying and hobbling those that are lost and searching? That is a game-changer for me.

So yes, Appendix N is important just as G.K. Chesterton is important. They are evidence that those who lived before us have much to offer us now. The past has a lot to offer. So why don't we connect with it once more? How can that possibly hurt?