Wednesday, 16 August 2017

To Pulp or Not to Pulp ~ A Review of Astounding Frontiers #1 and a Bonus!

I've been following the Superversive movement for a while now. It has paired with the Pulp Revolution as the two main influences of where I'm taking my writing, and both have a lot of crossover with each other. Superversive is focused on stories that show the reader that world can be larger and more mysterious than at first glance, and Pulp Rev focuses on stories with a moral clarity where anything can happen at any time. At some point the two streams will cross and the fabric of the universe will tear. It only stands to reason. They have much in common.

So when I heard members of the Superversive movement were planning on making their own Pulp magazine, I was excited. What more could I ask for? There's so much clear overlap that I could hardly wait to give it a read.

And read it I did.

I'll start with the positives. Declan Finn's According to Culture is just about what I'd expect from him and it gave the magazine the shot in the arm it needed. It was fast paced, action packed, and takes place in a universe that leaves the audience with wonder. It's also quite funny. It's exactly what I was hoping for.

The magazine itself is also very well edited, and the writers all contributed very good speculative stories that wouldn't feel out of place in a Science Fiction magazine from the 1970s. I did not read the serials simply because I do not like serials as a rule, but know that all the authors involved are very capable at writing great stories and from what I've seen these serials continue the trend. If you buy this issue you will get your money's worth. It is a 5 star magazine with very worthy stories.

It has a fantastic title and tagline, too. Very well put together. All in all, it's a great buy.

Now the negatives.

As I said, I didn't read the serials. This is nothing against either the magazine or the writers, but just that I don't read serials. My memory is bad enough that waiting even a week to read the next block of a story will cause me to lose my excitement and the story thread. So anything I say next will exclude them from criticism.

The cover is boring. I don't have any idea why those guys are standing around amidst computer screens and blandly looking around. There isn't any wonder or mystery to be found on the cover and it dulls enthusiasm for opening the issue. Luckily, issue 2 is a step in the right direction here.

This leads into the biggest problem I had with the magazine: it's not traditional Pulp.

Keep in mind that there are no bad stories here. They're all well written and do what they do well, but they are not Pulp stories aside from According to Culture. The reason they're not Pulp is not just because of lax pacing (the first story in particular is rather quick and it is not very Pulp either) but that there isn't much mystery or wonder at the world outside of the characters. There's no genre bending (though again Finn's comes close), and there are no moral conflicts that tie in to the exterior battles-- if there are exterior battles at all.

In other words, it's Science Fiction done in Heinlein's Silver Age style. Not Golden Age Pulp in the vein of Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, or Leigh Brackett.

The lack of romance (in the older sense) is a big deal for this reader. I read Golden Age Pulp for the excitement, the off-kilter ideas, the wonder, the action, the mystery, the smashing of genre walls, and the morality and spiritual battles. I don't tend to read Silver Age SF because it barely ever has half of those and I personally don't care about complex math equations to tell me how faster than light travel works. Pulp naturally focuses on everything from the bottomless well of the soul to the near inscrutable atoms of the universe and everything in between, while Silver Age focuses on How Things Work and how Making Things Work will solve every problem. They have very different aims.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with the latter, and it wouldn't be an apt criticism normally. But this magazine was advertised as being a Pulp magazine, and my expectations were adjusted accordingly. In that aspect it doesn't hit the mark.

Part of the problem is that all the stories are locked to Science Fiction. Pulp is not just Science Fiction. Pulp is Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Thrillers, Alternate History, Weird Tales, Westerns, Detective Fiction, and Romance. It can be any of these at any time, and all at once. There are no genre boundaries in Pulp, and it is one of the unique characteristics that only it contains. Limiting that scope limits the potential stories for the audience.

That's not to say I disliked the stories actually in the magazine. I enjoyed them all. But they did not offer what I was expecting, and I can't help but feel a tinge of disappointment.

To put it in contrast, let me use this space to review two other short stories I have read recently. These are the types of stories I went in expecting from Astounding Frontiers.

The first is I, The One by Dominika Lein. The second is Spider Silk from J.D. Brink (fantastic name, sir) and both of which I had to purchase in the cluttered asteroid field that is amazon's site just to read. I've been looking for a way to properly review them, so it'll work here. These are the sorts of stories that should be in a Pulp magazine.

I, The One is very hard to pin down. Reading the first paragraph one cannot discern if it is Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, or something else. It's quick and snappy: events continually unfold and unravel the world within. The prose is light and yet ropes you in to hold you to the page. Imagine Clark Ashton Smith with an eye on the more mystical parts of the Dresden Files and you might get close to what this story is. It was a delight to read.

On the other side is Spider Silk: Behind the Eightball by J.D Brink. This is a fast paced action story about a superhero hunting wannabe supervillains. It's got a good sense of humor, a swift flow, and is a quick read. It's not anything like I, The One, and yet it is very clearly pulp inspired. About the only personal gripe I have is the excessive swearing, but that is relatively minor compared to the rest. This was fun on every level.

But the best thing to get out of what I said is that these stories are entirely different from each other in just about every way. And they're both still Pulp. That is how wide the net casts. Pulp has an incredible scope.

This is why I expect a lot from a Pulp magazine, and will be expecting more in the future. Astounding Frontiers is a good magazine, with a good foundation for the future, but it is not a Pulp magazine. Not yet.

If you are looking for a Science Fiction magazine: Recommended.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Update from the Wasteland

Whew boy, I didn't expect that last post to blow up the way it did! Thanks to everyone who read linked, or commented, to it. It's nice to see that my rambling isn't always being absorbed by the void.

Now it's time for an update on just what has been going on with me. These posts are doubly fun because I get to tell you what's happening, and at the same time organize my thoughts. A lot's been going on behind the scenes.

So here's what's up.

I currently have three short stories out for submission. I'm still waiting on word whether any have been accepted or rejected yet. Hopefully I should have an update on any of these in the near future.

In other news, I've also finished editing another short story I got back from my second editor. I'm also deciding on where to send that. This one was a bit different than my usual: it's my attempt at more of C.L. Moore joint. It was tricky to put together.

As for projects done, I have a novella/short novel done, but I need to wait for my editor to have some free time to give it the once over so I can put the finishing touches on it. Once I get that back and edited, it will be ready to go. But, unfortunately, I don't see that happening by October at this rate.

I just started a short pulp superhero novel that I outlined (this might be the first time I follow an outline all the way through!) that I also hope I will have finished and out by year's end. But again, that will depend on if my editor has the time. Nonetheless, I'm liking where this one is going.

As for book 2 of Knights of the End, that one is still on the back-burner. The truth of the matter is that while the reception for it was surprisingly positive for a first novel, it hasn't done quite well enough for me to need to rush a sequel out. It's still being written, but it's not a priority. I have to give the audience what they want, and my short story from the Crossover Alliance has gotten the most positive audience reaction out of anything I've ever written. So that's the direction I'm going in for now.

But the follow-up will eventually happen.

In other news, a friend and myself are playing around with an idea that has me a bit excited. If all goes according to plan, we should have a blog for it up by September. And before anyone asks, it's not writing related (at least, not directly) but it should be a lot of fun. We need to get all our ducks in a row first. Stay tuned for that.

Also been making slow (glacially slow) progress in regards to moving. Of all the events I have listed so far, this is by far the least likely to happen this year. But, who knows. Please pray for me that I can work it out. It's tough organizing something like this.

Basically, I'm saying to sit tight. I do have things coming! I really haven't been sitting around twiddling my thumbs over the past half year. 2017 has been a very productive year for me, and I'm hoping I can show you all the results sooner than later.

And thanks for visiting. I appreciate every visit and comment from every one of you.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The End of Pop Culture

There's been an odd sea over change in the last week. I've noticed a lot of people regardless of age, political affiliation, tastes, country of residence, or general interest in pop culture, appear to be arriving at very similar conclusions.

That consensus is that there is something very odd going on right now. If you haven't been paying attention, I'll sum it up as best as I can.

We'll start with comics. The recent San Diego Comic Con, best I can tell, appears to be ground zero for this attitude. The reason? There wasn't anything of value announced, and what was made blatantly clear that the industry is dangerously low on ideas and people are becoming aware of it.

First there was this video by Diversity & Comics on the announcements:

Not only does he mention how the Eisner Awards have become just as worthless as the Hugo Awards, or any other industry award, but he goes into detail on what was shown there. The answer is nothing much at all.

Comic sales are cratering, and insiders are busy giving awards to each other and refusing to acknowledge the problem. Then there's the media refusing to report on any of this and pretending everything is just a-okay. Diversity & Comics has since been assaulted by Marvel writers and editors online telling him that only certain fans are welcome to buy and read their comics. This is not how a functioning business or service is supposed to operate. These people are shrinking the industry deliberately.

But it goes further than comics.

Marvel Studios have been seeing some rough times recently. Spiderman Homecoming tied with Amazing Spiderman 2 as the lowest opening weekend in franchise history. This is bad for several reasons. The first being that Sony made the deal with Marvel to stop Spiderman's popularity from waning. It hasn't worked. Whether you're a fan of Homecoming or not, that's a worrying trend. Pair that with the yawns the new trailers for Inhumans and Thor: Ragnarok got, and the trend is solidifying.

Superhero films are hitting the wall. Not only have there been countless articles hoping for the death of this genre for years now, actual fans have been noticing their interest declining as well. Marvel movies are not pulling in the same amount of praise and bucks they used to. By the time Marvel finally finishes Phase 3 with Avengers: Infinity War and the end of Kevin Feige's contract, we could be looking at the end of superhero movies.

Every genre has its day, and superheroes have already had theirs. The clock is running out.

Razorfist even goes into it here:

He's right. All pop culture fads go through phases, and most have a 10-20 year saturation point. X-Men started the comic book boom in 2000, which is 17 years, or if you want to be recent, Iron Man was in 2008, which is 9 years. Either way, the wall is dead ahead. We're hitting that point.

And this is a bigger problem for Hollywood than you would think. People are going to movies less and less as it is, but now people are growing tired of the one thing they've been going to see in droves.

The last thing I wanted to point out was this blog post by Kestutis Kalvaitis which is a good sum up of everything so far.

"Every major multimedia franchise that's been marketed to Hell and back harder than Dante and Orpheus going on a bus tour is exhausting itself. Let's explore."

He then goes on to describe the state of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Dr. Who, The Walking Dead, Live Action Disney, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter. Go give that a read. I'll wait.

Modern pop culture is running on fumes, and its about to strand its passengers in the desert.

But the final straw for me, and it appears for many others, was the reveal of Ready Player One directed by an over the hill Steven Spielberg.

I think the best sum up of the reaction might have been this one. The pop culture atmosphere the original book was released in is much different than it is now. It's amazing how fast the climate has changed.

What the criticism boils down to is that nerd culture is really, really embarrassing, and that this generation is starting to realize why. It's the realization that we are little more than grown manchildren refusing to be adults. Our grandparents are gone, and no one is willing to step up to bat for them which leaves the Millennials and Gen X to make up for it. This is really about the growing self-awareness that "nerd blackface" (as a friend of mine puts is) has finally hit the wall.

This has little to do with liking geeky things. It was never about that. A lot of men like geeky movies, comics, and games, but those things are not their whole world. They have families, responsibilities, friends, and hopes for the future. Their entire world is not crying into their pillow about how much they miss the 1980s and their long gone youth. While this book might have been relevant to the zeitgeist when it came out, a lot has changed since 2011 and mindless wallowing in pop culture references have finally started to lose their luster.

People don't want to hide in their man-caves and be talked down to anymore, and constantly reassured that their childhood is where they should stay. It was a nice, comfortable place to be.

But childhood is over. Star Wars movies ended in 1983. Chris Claremont doesn't write X-Men anymore. Kurt Cobain is dead, and so is radio rock. Dr. Who has been treading water creatively since its reboot. These properties have had their stories and songs written and told. They are done. Now it is time for new franchises and new stories and for the baggage to be left behind. It's time to stop pining for a childhood that is over.

Which brings us to the bigger point. What comes next?

This is where we realize we are standing in muddy waters.

As Razorfist pointed out above, there's always a new trend coming along to replace the old one. It's the way of the beast. But it's different now. The industry has been working overtime to destroy legacy genres and franchises. They've been forcing PC doctrine into every script to make every set of characters interchangeable and every tired plot beat the same. It's not the same as it once was.

If superhero movies do end, then what replaces them? There is no pleasant answer to this, but there's only really one .

The answer, is nothing.

Hollywood has been telling audiences what to like for decades, but there have always been smart folks in the system willing to get around the suits and give the audience what they actually want. Star Wars was Golden Age pulp that bypassed the acceptable Silver Age sci-fi literature at the time. It ignored the grimdark Hollywood movies and gave the audience their good vs evil stories back again. It was a major hit and phenomenon as a result, causing an explosion in genre films throughout the 1980s. All it was was a battle of good and evil with really good guys and really bad guys. It was straightforward and it was honest. But Star Wars isn't that anymore, Rogue One even went out of the way to destroy that aspect of the series, and Disney is milking the nostalgia for all its worth. Something new needs to arise.

The 1980s brought out action movies, and before that were westerns and film noir. All of which brought in audiences and made a killing. But they quickly went out of fashion when their cycle was up. No problem, the creators and audience moved on. We still have those stories, and there was always a chance those genres could make a comeback.

But as has been said over and over, Hollywood currently has nothing at all. They have soppy victim complex dramas, lame comedies, and loud, crude kids movies, and that's pretty much it. Audiences are sick of all three. So what is working, then? John Wick was a hit, but it still hasn't caused any imitators to pop up, which rules out a return of real action movies. Pixar has been hobbled in a never-ending cycle of sequels, for some reason. And as already mentioned, superhero movies are yielding less and less returns. So what else is there?

This post is going off the rails here, so please stick with it. The following is just speculation.

Maybe we have reached the end of pop culture. People are more fragmented than ever before, whether by location, by situation, or by taste, and there are no real universal values that bind them anymore. Radical individualism has caused an untold number of offshoots of taste, and it doesn't look like they are ever to link to the whole again. The last link people had to each other in the (post)modern age, was pop culture. The turnabout on nerd blackface has been a long time coming, and that ancient pop culture youth the bazingas constantly speak of to soothe you and your childhood acquaintances into a soft trance is no longer working. It's wearing off.

Nobody needs to go to the movies anymore. Nobody needs to buy a Big 5 published book anymore. Nobody needs to go to a music store anymore. Nobody needs to buy Marvel comics anymore.Heck, to be pedantic, there are many people who don't buy anything anymore. There's nothing there to bond people anymore. Pop culture as a whole might be over.

That might be an insane proposition, but it isn't that crazy. The world gets more fragmented and divided everyday, and that is not set to change anytime soon. In the past pop culture was a way to help relate and share values among each other and remind the audience that they were a community. It was a way to unite. Pop culture apart from the culture destroys any reason for it to exist. How can there be popular culture if it's not popular and there's no culture to relate to it?

We may be witnessing an unforeseen change in the entertainment world. Things might never be the same again.

Whether that is good or bad remains to be seen. But it doesn't look as if the major studios and companies will be part of this new era. And that is good. Dead weight should always be cut so the survivors aren't left to drown.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Double Review ~ Delicious in Dungeon #1 and Nekogahara #2

Check it out Here!

This is the strangest thing you'll read all year.

Adventurer Laios and his party venture into a dungeon and get wiped out by the dragon at the bottom. His sister is swallowed by the beast, but not before casting a spell to send Laios and the res of the party back to the surface. Despite her sacrifice, she still lives, but there's a time limit until she is digested. Now without money and supplies, Laios and his companions have to make it back through the dungeon in order to save his sister.

So far so good you might be saying. What's weird about this?

Well, in order to save on supplies, Laios comes up with a scheme to cook the monsters. You see, he's been absolutely fascinated with what monsters taste like for years. Now he has an excuse to cook everything in sight.

And he does.

As can be guessed, Delicious in Dungeon is a comedy and parody of Dungeons & Dragons. Laios is the leader who leads with his stomach before his head, Marcille is the wizard elf who finds monsters repulsive, Chilchuck is a halfling thief that has a thing about teamplay and goes along to get along, and Senshi is the new recruit Dwarf who has lived off of cooking monsters for years. It's this foursome that fight and puzzle their way through the dungeon while dealing with some bizarre situations and sources of food.

Normally I'm not such a fan of Dungeons & Dragons inspired stories for many reasons, but Delicious in Dungeon manages to pull off a sense of dark humor without malice and goofy characterizations without being grating. It's a unique series not like anything out there. Where else are you going to read about the intricacies of cooking living armor or find out the right place to stab and kill a slime? I was a bit skeptical when I picked it up, but those fears quickly melted away by the end of the second chapter.

It's lighthearted and charming, despite the subject of the humor, with great characters that don't grate on you. There's a tendency for a lot of modern parodies with dark humor to turn the characters into obnoxious hateful jerks who constantly point out how detestable the source material is. Here each character has a skill set and a personality that meshes well with every character that never bothers to berate the source material. The set up is played straight and the story is all the better for it. It's refreshing to read something dark without it being nihilistic.

And, to be fair, it's not entirely dark. The world is a just and moral place, not painted as pointless or drab, and none of the characters have ill intent. It's the situations and reactions that arise from it that can edge toward being dark, and that's how it should be.

As a whole, however, this is a great fantasy manga. It's never not entertaining. If you've been looking for a fun fantasy comedy then this is for you.


Check it out Here!

Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai volume 2 is a step up from the first volume, which I also enjoyed a good deal.

Volume 1 was a lot of set up showing how Norachiyo was not a hero and was closer to being a villain. He encountered many situations where it looked as if he had the upper hand only to rub it in as crassly as possible. It was funny, but it would get old eventually. Did the second volume continue in this direction?

Thankfully, no.

Volume 2 continues showing that he is not to be looked up to, however it goes beyond that. Most of this volume is centered around two separate events occurring at the same time. One of them is incredibly intense with a conclusion that really hits the mark. This volume also fleshes out the other characters that tried to kill Norachiyo in volume 1 and how they might need to put aside their grudges to fight a deadlier enemy. Basically, everything here is about pushing the story forward and making sure it doesn't fall into a very easy rut. And it was close to perfect.

Not beating around the bush, this volume was excellent. It was hilarious with a particularly funny naked gag, the action was even more detailed with some phenomenal double pages, the characters are more well rounded, the art is even better than volume 1, and the old school pulp comic feel survives unscathed. Everything here is a step up.

Norachiyo's struggle is revealed to be one of guilt and failure. The parallels in volume 1 of his relationship with his master to being like a father, or God, is carried over. Humans are treated as possible divine creatures, and despite him having killed one, it doesn't erase the pain of how he lost his own and cannot live without him. Norachiyo is disgusting, but following the more hedonistic take in volume 1, his behavior is treated as self-destructive and a dead end for him. In fact, the volume ends with an encounter that has him tilting between self-awareness and growing madness.

I'm still not entirely sure where the story is going, but after tentatively endorsing volume 1 despite not being certain of Takei's direction, volume 2 is a lot easier to recommend. It continues with the themes that most resonated in the first, while dialing back the immoral elements or showing them for what they really are. For a bloody 1980s-style action comic, it shows a level of depth that most audiences don't associate with pulp. But it is well in line with what the pulps aspired to be with a strong moral core. It does aim for higher things in surprising ways.

Hiroyuki Takei was an assistant to Nobuhiro Watsuki, the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, and this is the first work he's made where you could see the connection. In fact, this is shaping up to be his best work to date.

If you're a fan of old manga and anime, you need to give this series a shot. You won't be disappointed. This series is a surprising treat.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Shonen Tribute ~ Why Anime Eventually Broke Overseas

"Mazinger Z" by Go Nagai

For a lot of people, anime has been a refuge from the collapse of the mainstream entertainment market over the last two decades. Since the 1980s, as mainstream books, television, and movies, slid into political correctness, obvious formulas, and post-modernism, a subculture of entertainment ballooned out from the underground and ended up nearly taking control of the world in the process. Anime in the '90s and early '00s filled a hole in many people's hearts as their local industry had begun to fall apart. It was truly big.

Not only was anime big, but it influenced everything at the time from French and American cartoons to comic book art styles to Joss Whedon shows. It was inescapable. Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! alone were everywhere from the TV to card games to video games to toys and even films. For a while it looked as if anime would rule the world. It was almost inevitable.


Fast forward over a decade later, and anime is even more underground than it was in the 80s. It's already been posted time and time again how that happened, but that's not what this post is about. This is instead about how it appealed to so many the first time.

So, anime is not popular anymore. But there are series that still sell in high numbers and attract mainstream attention in both the anime and manga worlds and outsell remaining sellers in the declining US market. Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Fairy Tail, Speed Racer, Voltron, Rurouni Kenshin, Fullmetal Alchemist, Tokyo Ghoul, My Hero Academia, Attack On Titan and even underground hits like Fist of the North Star, Gintama, Space Adventure Cobra, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and City Hunter, all have one thing in common.

They're all Shonen series.

"Ushio & Tora" by Kazuhiro Fujita

What is responsible for the overseas popularity anime and manga is credit that goes to the Shonen demographic and the artists that wrote for them. Boys Adventure is once again responsible for another movement. This means the reason you got Cowboy Bebop, Trigun (which started as Shonen), Record of Lodoss War, Planetes, and every other favorite you have brought over to your country is because of the success of Shonen. That is what opened the door.

Sure anime had underground hits in the 80s and early 90s (as "Japanimation"), but it wasn't until Shonen made its mark that anime hit critical mass.

The translation for Shonen Manga is read as Boy's Comics, and it is aimed at the 8-18 age demographic. It is essentially Japan's version of Boy's Own Adventure and teamed with light novels is almost entirely responsible for every Japan to US hit. There was a lot of crossover appeal at the time that still resonates now.

Manga had been around for centuries beforehand, but it was only brought into magazine form by the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. They weren't really aimed at any demographic in particular until the post-WWII era. The entertainment industry slowly began to change.

At the same time superhero comics were exploding in the US, Shonen Magazines were getting off the ground. They were seeing a lot of crossover influences in what made comics work: myths, legends, heroes and villains, and epic scope. From the beginning there was always a hope that both audiences and markets could co-exist.

The very first magazine was Shonen Sekai which ran from 1895-1914 but it wasn't until 1959 when Weekly Shonen Magazine by Kodansha, and Weekly Shonen Sunday by Shogakukan hit the scene and changed the game. They only started with a few series, but as they added more manga, they got more popular and sales only went up. This burgeoning popularity lead to 1968 when the current king of Shonen was finally released by Shueisha. This was the year Weekly Shonen Jump was released, and it is still Japan's top selling magazine to this day.

"Hajime No Ippo / Fighting Spirit" by George Morikawa

The first issues of Shonen Jump were so focused on their demographic that they ran translated comics of Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon, and Secret Agent X-9 in their pages to fill up the issue. That's right! Shonen Jump, which is responsible for Dragon Ball, Fist of the North Star, and Rurouni Kenshin, ran pulp. They even ran Flash Gordon in its first issue. This ties Shonen to pulp and the audience Shonen is aimed at: lovers of adventure, action, and romance.

These magazines focused on action adventure stories. Sometimes they had comedy series, and sometimes they ran romance series, but it was always built around hooking the young male demographic. And they always sold the most of every other demographic for it. It was what the people wanted.

This is reflected in how rough most of the art styles for Shonen tend to be. While Shojo (for young girls) is typically drawn in a soft style with prettier characters, Shonen emphasizes intensity and impact and their characters can look like and be anything.

There is no real limit to what a Shonen story can be. It can be a mecha series like Mazinger Z, a fantasy series like Saint Seiya, a sci-fi adventure like Captain Harlock, a romance like Kimagure Orange Road, a mystery series like Detective Conan/Case Closed, a sports series like Ashita no Joe, a comedy like Ranma 1/2, or an all out mind trip like Space Adventure Cobra. All the story has to be, is fun.

It was post-World War II Japan where the formula was tempered and forged and eventually became what it is today. It is fairly odd that as the Western world began to throw away the pulp ethos and decry them as childish and unneeded, Japan was embracing it and being rewarded with what is easily Japan's #1 entertainment export next to video games and one of their most important industries to this day. Both the manga and light novel industries were built off the back of these pulp-like series. As book sales sank in the west, they increased in Japan, peaking in the 1990s with sales of Shonen Jump issues featuring Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Slam Dunk selling over a million just as their anime were setting record ratings. Japan might be the only area in the world where their entertainment industry could consider the 1990s as their Golden Age.

"City Hunter" by Tsukasa Hojo

These same series that were selling gangbusters in Japan slowly made their way to the West during the late 80s and through the 90s, eventually cracking the market here by the tail end of the latter decade. What was there to compete with them? Cartoons had thrown away adventure series, and comedies were getting more base and less like Looney Tunes. Dragon Ball found a crack where adventure had been left hanging, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! hooked kids with simple action stories they had been denied, and Rurouni Kenshin, Bleach, and Naruto brought in more adults and teens than the US market had ever seen. Then there was the underground hit called Samurai Pizza Cats, and weekday afternoon cartoon controversy known as Ronin Warriors. Anime was everywhere. And they were all Shonen.

At the same time, non-Shonen series made their way over with Sailor Moon, Gundam (though Wing and G have considerable Shonen influence), Cowboy Bebop, Slayers, Escaflowne, Trigun, and the Toonami action block, all managed to hit when they were needed. It's easy to forget, but there were no Western equivalents to any of these shows when they met huge success. The last serious Western show was Gargoyles, and the DC animated universe run by Bruce Timm was the only non-comedy shows kids and teenagers could get their hands on at the time. Anime had a clear line to make their entry into the Western market, and they took it hard.

This was what lead to the manga industry finally booming, and even US shows like Teen Titans or Ben 10 began adapting an anime-influenced art style. It got to the point that the "anime" aesthetic was as hated as the poor use of flash animation. Anime and manga were unstoppable.

Until they weren't.

But, self-sabotage aside, Shonen was responsible for it all. This is why there is any anime market here at all. Boy's Adventure stories were what led to this invasion and why you see so many moe anime avatars on Twitter or JoJo's Bizarre Adventure references on Tumblr. This is why so many younger authors and artists have so many strange anime influences and style in their works that the old farts just don't get. While the West was sleeping, Japan came in, ate their lunch, and left their mark.

"Kimetsu no Yaiba: Blade of Demon Destruction" by Koyoharu Gotouge

And it still sells.

Weekly Shonen Jump is still the highest selling magazine in Japan, and the only US manga magazine left, and its series are still some of the most popular series in Japan, and overseas. They still outsell the fads, and they still get stocked in the brick and mortar stores.

There's a lesson somewhere in there about respect for your roots, and giving the audience what they want, that the dying Big 5 publishers, cable TV networks, Marvel Comics, and Hollywood, could learn. In the end, the audience gets what they want, or nobody does. Because otherwise there will be nothing left. The cynical side in me is suggesting that it might the point, but that is neither or here nor there. The point is that action and adventure is what the audience wants. It's what they've always wanted. Romance and intrigue. Heroes and villains. Good and evil. It's what they're always going to want.

So the next time you're watching your moe series about a pathetic turd attracted to his grade school mother, remember that those inferior pleb Shonen series you hate is what got them here in the first place. Then, wake up, turn that crap off, and put on an episode of My Hero Academia instead. It'll do you good.

"Kyo Kara Ore Wa! / Today it's My Turn!" by Hiroyuki Nishimori

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Angels Amidst Demons ~ A review of "Path of Angels" by Dawn Witzke

Check it out Here!

*Note: Ms. Witzke has aided me putting together the cover design to a previous book of mine. This has no bearing on the following review.*

I'm not a big reader of Young Adult fiction these days, despite writing my own, though it might not be for the reasons you would think.

The genre started properly with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton when publishers created a category just for it and those that spun out from it. This was because the elite didn't want this filthy book written by a peasant teenage girl to rub shoulders with its adult masterpieces. After all, if people want to read it without being forced to, it can't be a good book. But over the years, many missed what made Hinton's works so good (aside from That Was Then, This Is Now which very much reads as a paint by numbers YA book) and worthy of so much attention.

Now YA is filled with the same junk that made people abandon standard fiction in the first place. Stories reveling in death, drugs, sex, and nihilism, are not appealing to the majority of people. But that's what they were given over and over.

The appeal of YA is about coming of age stories between childhood and becoming an adult. The catch is that becoming an adult has to be something the teenager should aspire to become. When you believe the world is meaningless and empty you cannot write a story in this genre. You will miss the point. Most YA today completely misses this point.

And this is why I dislike the genre.

I approached this book with a little trepidation. The Hunger Games being a weaker Battle Royale and carrying all the weaknesses of Twilight and, despite all this, still being considered the cornerstone of the genre sours me on this. All mainstream YA follows the same pattern nowadays.

But then I remembered this was an indie book and all those worries faded away. Path of Angels, not being bound by the fads of the genre, or the obnoxious tropes, is able to tell a story that both males and females can fine enjoyment in without having to hit those tiresome tropes publishers just love. That's not to say it's perfect, but it is good at what it does.

The story takes place in a society where the world has been cleansed of its warts and true utopia has been achieved. Pesky religion has been disposed of, and the state is able to take its place, controlling every aspect to make sure things don't go out of hand. Oh, did I say utopia? Maybe to some people this is one. For most anyone else, it's clearly a dystopia.

A member of the underground church, seventeen year old Aadi, embarks on a quest to deliver a holy relic to a far off town. She is joined by her friend, Mischa, who is secretly looking to leave town for his own reasons. Along the way the pair face an adventure of roving psychos, Red Guards, and the elements themselves, as they learn more about the society they live in, and each other. Path of Angels is an adventure tale which means it's fixated on the journey and how easy it is to lose your way.

The very first thing that hooked me in the story was that the very first chapter starts with an intense action sequence. It was so jarring for what I expected out of this sort of story that I had to check if I was reading the right book. This is a good thing. Modern YA takes so long to get off the ground that this was exactly what was needed to snap me out of my built-in cynicism for the genre. This isn't a full-on action story, but this explosion of chaos kept me on edge for the rest of the story that something similar could happen again.

Another aspect that got me was the theme of faith against hopelessness. There are many times in the book where things look bad for the characters, and there are times when things go very, very wrong for others. In most other books of this type, the author would revel in this type of attitude and emphasize how pointless it all is, but in this story, perseverance and luck are intertwined and highly valued almost as much as faith. There isn't much time for whining or moping when you could be executed at a moment's notice, and the characters know this. It's a hard trick to show hope in the face of hopelessness, but Dawn Witzke pulls it off.

I suppose I could mention that there is a love triangle, but it is not quite what you would think. Aadi's old boyfriend, Thad, is now a priest, and in many ways he represents her religious side. In contrast, Mischa is very much her childhood friend, and first crush, and represents her emotional side. Thad is replaced by God in their relationship, just as He has replaced Aadi in a way--they're still friends but everything has changed. She has to deal with these changes in order to grow up and face the world, but it is not so much about choosing between two hot guys like most YA novels are. There's actually a very clear answer, but not for the reasons you would think, and it involves a real moral choice. It takes a lot to get me invested in triangle style relationships, but it is pulled off well here.

There are a few personal complaints I could point out. Outside of the first action sequence, there weren't really many others quite as intense, and those that are there are pretty spread out, but this also isn't an action story so it is understandable. On the other hand, I would liked to have learned more about Thad, but he isn't in the story much. There was also a scene where Mischa should have beaten another man to a pulp for what he did, but just left the location with Aadi instead. Aadi's cousin's motivation for a certain thing she does to Aadi is unclear, especially since we never see her or her husband again. I could probably guess what it was, but it should have been spelled out in big bold letters.

This was a great YA story by Dawn Witzke and I look forward to seeing what she has coming next. If you once enjoyed YA, but were chased away by either the nihilism or the sex obsession, then this book is exactly for you. If not, well, this is definitely one of the better ones to come along in a while. This has the makings of an intriguing series.

Hopefully this is the start of something better for the genre. This isn't Salinger; and thank God for that!


Thursday, 6 July 2017


Having just returned from my trip (it was great!) I thought I would mention a find. You see, I wasn't expecting to do so, but I stumbled upon a used book store far better than any around where I regrettably live. I ended up grabbing far too many books, but I regret nothing.

Don't judge me. You know you've done it, too. Sometimes you see so many great stories that you just can't help yourself. And I barely managed to contain myself.

My haul was as follows.

Deathlands: Neutron Solstice by James Axler
Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber
The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Classic Tales of Horror by Edgar Allen Poe
The Lovecraft Compendium by H.P. Lovecraft
Fallon by Louis L'Amour
Kilkenny by Louis L'Amour
Conagher by Louis L'Amour
Science Fiction Classics (Hardcover) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • The Chessmen of Mars
  • The Master Mind of Mars
  • Pellucidar
  • Tanar of Pellucidar

On top of it I also got two non-fiction books, one about Arthurian Legends and one on Celtic Saints.

Needless to say, I bought far more than I really should have, but with a haul like that, can you blame me? I could hardly turn down any of those finds.

There's a lot out there to dive into, both in the past and in newly released works that it is hard to keep up. My love of Action Adventure can hardly keep up, especially considering how strong its sub-genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror can be.

Why should I waste my time with modern dreary fiction when there is so much out there that aims to inspire and instill fantastical images instead? All the best genres of fiction are about different forms of action that it depends on what the reader feels like experiencing. Action Adventure is the genre of choice for those of us who want to travel to far off lands, discover strange inventions, mystical lands, and horrifying secrets-- sometimes all in the same story! Why read stories about a depressive staring into a cracked mirror when you can discover something truly wondrous instead?

Today is the best time to be a lover of the fantastical, the exciting, and the wondrous. While the modern world implodes, the regressives are silently (and some not so silently!) revisiting the past, connecting with it, and producing their own content on top of it. It is like a return to a timeline we were supposed to have abandoned long ago.

But nope, we haven't.

As I mentioned in this video on the Pulp Revolution, we are very much alive.


The past and future! Together again like so much chocolate and peanut-butter!

And as much as I would like to keep going on about it, I have my own work I need to get back to doing. I'm also craving some Reese's Pieces for some unfathomable reason. Anyway, back to the reading and the writing.

And I'm quite excited to be doing so!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Signal Boost ~ "A Pius Man" by Declan Finn

Fresh off the press is the newest (technically) book by author Declan Finn. This is an earlier book that has been reedited and re-released by Silver Empire Publishing and finally given the treatment it deserved.

A Pius Man was originally conceived by Mr. Finn as a response to Dan Brown's execrable anti-Catholic thrillers, only done much better than those wastes of ink and paper. This book has a conspiracy involving the Vatican, just like Brown's books. The difference is that this one uses real historical events and not pants-on-head gnostic conspiracy idiocy to steer the plot. It is also, like all of Mr. Finn's novels action packed.

The description is here:

"As the head of Vatican security, Giovanni Figlia must protect a new, African Pope who courts controversy every other day. The Pope’s latest project is to make Pius XII, “Hitler’s Pope,” a saint. Things haven’t gotten better since the Pope employed American mercenary Sean Ryan. 
"Then a body fell onto the Vatican doorstep.

"Mercenaries, spies, beautiful women, international intrigue and ancient secrets – The Pius Trilogy has it all!"

I actually did read and review this book before, possibly before this blog was conceived. I can heartily recommend this one to read from experience. My only quibble with the original was the sometimes spotty editing, but, since this is re-edited, that complaint might already be addressed. Either way, this is a high-octane thriller worth your time.

Declan Finn writes his books with an energy most modern writers lack. This book is no exception to that.

In unrelated news, I'm going to be out of town for most of next week, so there probably won't be an update on this blog. I've been a bit busy with real life recently, as well. I'll try to have a bigger post ready for when I get back.

Thanks for putting up with me!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017



So what have I been doing?

It's been a while since I wrote a good old fashioned update post for the blog. There's been a lot of things going on recently so I never really get to post about my work as much.

This update can be summed up into four points:

First: I have two short stories currently being sent out. No, they are not for Cirsova. They don't quite fit the mood that magazine is going for. I'm hoping to here word back on them within the next few weeks. These stories are great and were a lot of fun to write. If you enjoyed my story in volume 3 of the Crossover Alliance then you should dig these. I hope you get to read them sooner than later, but that is mostly out of my hands at this point.

Second: I am near completion on a novella I have been working on for some time. It's an off-kilter story with a lot of action that was a different sort of experience to put into words. More on this when I have it all hashed out and ready. I'm hoping the folks in the pulp revolution crowd will like it as much as I do.

Third: Book 2 of Knights of the End needs a heavy rewrite. I had written it a while back since before the first book was even published and I've learned a lot since then. I've also had a few epiphanies regarding that world. So you can hopefully expect this by the end of the year, God willing.

Fourth: All of those things happening is contingent on events currently unfolding in my personal life. As it is, I will most likely be out of town on the first week of July. So the likelihood of any of this coming out soon relies on forces outside of my control. Thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.

And that's basically where I am at right now.

As I write it out it actually feels like I'm a lot further along than I initially thought. Despite what I've got going on I'm still pushing ahead and writing what I want (and from what I've heard, what my audience wants) and doing it at a pretty solid pace.

Thanks to everyone who reads and links to this blog, including Brian Niemeier, Jeffro Johnson, and the Pulp Revolution folks. I've been having a blast writing and reading all this stuff I didn't know existed, or was even certain it could have. But things are changing, and I hope to be a part of that change.

Rev it up, everyone!

Friday, 16 June 2017

A Review of Cirsova #4 [Part 2]

Check it out Here!

A friendly reminder that Cirsova is still taking submissions for off-kilter science fiction and fantasy stories. And with that done, we now return to our regularly scheduled post continuing from last week.

For those who missed it, I reviewed the first half of the issue here. This post will cover the remainder of issue four.

. . . Where There Is No Sanctuary by Howie K. Bentley is next and it is a real punch in the face. This might be my favorite story in the issue. A werewolf warrior cuts his way through a demonic tower that has fallen out of time. Lots of action, horror, and imagination. This is the type of material that I read Cirsova for.

But then we have another turn. Dust of Truth by Joyce Frohn is about a group of barbarian women looting and pillaging before a wedding to her subservient man. And that’s the whole story. There aren’t any twists or turns or real sense of danger. Events transpire around the main character, and then it ends. There is also no reason given for the sex-flipped roles, and it is distracting. This is easily my least favorite story I've read in any issue of Cirsova.

Thankfully, it was a one-off. The Priests of Shalaz by Jay Barnson is another great tale. This one is about a border between worlds and involves the British Empire, magic, and giants. It’s very much in the vein of Burroughs and sets the pace again after the last story's bump in the road.

It’s followed up by The Last Dues Owed by Christine Lucas, a story about an assassin that finds himself trapped in a plot that involves Egyptian magic, a battle between assassins, and his possible family(?) on top of it. This was another solid read.

Then we have the second and final novelette of the issue, Shadow Vision by Preston Dennett. This was right up my alley. A boy with a strange gift travels through a shadow fog with his companions and meets some . . . interesting obstacles along the way. This is pure Fantasy Adventure.

As we near the end we reach The Ride by Edward McDermott. This is about a man escaping pursuers into a mountain cave system and facing what lies in the dark. It's creepy, unsettling, and action packed. The issue has really turned around since Dust of Truth. This story is very much what I enjoyed about Cirsova the most.

The last story in this double-stuffed issue is The Phantom Sands of Calavass by S.H. Mansouri. This was about an investigator landing on a desert planet and looking into some strange murders. Naturally, because this is Cirsova, things go south very quickly. This was a good story to end the issue though it took a while to get moving and the ending was not quite satisfying enough for me. This was another solid tale.

At the end we have an essay by Liana Kerzner called The Feminine Force Awakens about that recent Disney fanfiction Star Wars movie with a similar title, though it is really about women roles in science fiction and fantasy and how said movie gets credit for doing something it should not be getting credit for. If you want to know the real history of women and their place in the history of the genre you could do a lot worse than this. As an example, you could be reading mainstream blogs that vilify everything written before 1980 in another pathetic attempt at revisionism.

To sum it up, this was not one of the best issues of Cirsova. Issues #2 and #3 are still the ones to beat. However, it still offers a good amount of bang for your buck, and a few of the stories (as well as the poem and essay) are some of the best they've yet put out. If you're new to Cirsova, I recommend any of the earlier issues, but if you're a fan then dig in.

We need more magazines like Cirsova, reminding us jut how inspiring and jaw-dropping speculative fiction can be. In an age of grey fog, it is the lighthouse shining the way back home. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are not reading this magazine.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Homesick for the Future

If the universe were to randomly cease existing tomorrow (we've been waiting billions of years, what's the hold up?!) I imagine one thing would happen with 100% certainty. Before being erased from existence, one man will speak. He will wear a smirk on his face before stating to the terrified: "It's really not so bad. You're just nostalgic for your childhood. This is fine." Then the universe ends and we all swirl into the void.

It is a fascinating mentality to have. Imagine being so dismissive and scared of the past that one can't admit there were aspects of it better than where we live in the present. Now there is something to be said about being obsessed with a time period in one's life, but it is much different today. This type of "forward" thinking is now one step away from being cultism.

A long time ago, there was a saying. It was a line used to excuse degrading standards and subversion of classic properties in a way to dodge all legitimate criticism. It is not used so much today though the spirit is very much alive.

The motto went like this:

Question: What is the Golden Age of *insert subject here*?
Answer: Age 8 to 10.

This was the original nostalgia argument used to shut down any criticism of a newer product from the time of the 1970s and '80s, and earlier. This argument can be found looking in old letter columns from the era. However, nobody uses it anymore. It is easy to puzzle out why it has. Because this claim falls apart on closer inspection and has been proven wrong with, ironically, the passage of time.

Time has passed, and many fans of different entertainment mediums have not had the benefit of being 8 or 10 years old when Superman's first comic was released or when The Moon Pool was first run. So then, how can there be people alive today who prefer that older age in comparison to what is currently being put out? It is unclear, according to these types. How can one prefer action movies of the 1980s when they were born in 1994? That should not happen. And yet another individual who grew up with those very same movies is apparently only able to enjoy them due to a nebulous concept called nostalgia. That simply cannot be the case, at least not in every example.

The fact is that different eras consist of changing aesthetics, different morals, and, sometimes, varying quality. Film grain used for a TV set in the 1980s is different from the HD widescreen contraptions of the modern era. Black and white is different from early colorization. This begs the question of how would one argue that the preference of one over the other is due to what each individual experienced in their youth.

Better yet, how does one prove this is the reason for the preference?

This accusation requires a heavy duty dose of projection from the accuser, as it otherwise has no real bearing on a discussion centered on taste. And what it tends to lead to is the revelation that the accuser is really a member of The Cult of the New.

"How can you possibly like this old thing better than this new thing! This was made more recently, therefore it must be better. All the progress we've made in history dictates this! Clearly, you must only like this inferior relic is because you are pining for a long lost youth and are simply out of touch with what the standard is now."

The trick in this accusation is that it can't be argued against. Reasons for taste and preference cannot be proven. Therefore The Mists of Avalon is an objectively better book than Le Morte D'Arthur because of the centuries of progress since the latter. Stories of knights are simply better because they must be. How can one argue against it? Progress dictates it must be so. Taste is absolutely no factor here.

However, it is.

It always is.

As a personal example, my favorite video game is Super Mario Bros. 3 and it has been for many years. Many gamers seethe at this revelation. I have been confronted with the nostalgia argument because there simply can't be any reason I could prefer an old action game to the cinematic scripted hallway shooters of today. Clearly, I must be deficient, otherwise how can I possibly prefer anything old? Old things are always inferior to new things, remember. I must be shunned. This way the narrative of New is allowed to persist. This is how the cult operates.

The problem is that I am never asked why it is my favorite game. I have no special memories regarding the game. It was not the first entry in the series I played. It was not released on my favorite video game console. I prefer the art-style of 16-bit and 32-bit sprites over 8-bit. There is no nostalgia attached to my preference.

If anything, my nostalgic attachment should be to Super Mario World, which falls into nearly every criteria above, and is not even close to one of my favorite games on the system it was released for. I could beat the game in less than ten minutes in my youth, and yet I don't really care much for it these days. Any sentimental attachment I have for it is divorced from my opinion of the game's quality.

But if this situation were to flip, one could find the same issue with The Cult of the New. Every new release is showered with aplomb and gusto before being forgotten within months. We live in a throwaway culture.

Take the Avatar film by James Cameron. It was showered with praise upon release, made more money than most filmmakers can dream of, and critics were hounded, insulted, and spat upon for daring to point out any flaws it might have had. Now you will struggle to find anyone who cares one whit for it, or is looking forward to its sequels. Video games also have this problem. BioShock Infinite was hailed as an unparalleled masterpiece, as was Uncharted 2, and any game Guerrilla Games has ever made. These products are bathed in a tsunami of attention at release, and then forgotten in a year. As a prediction: by November there will hardly be anyone still talking about Prey instead of the newest holiday releases.

Which group has the shallow attachment to the product?

It happens on a wider scale, as well. Any criticism of the legion of faceless, interchangeable modern popstars is met with held noses while few garden variety music fans, if anyone, purchases said artists' work or could name a song by them if confronted. Hollywood can still do no wrong in the face of so many people, yet those same members of the audience will admit that much of what Hollywood puts out is of lackluster quality when confronted. It is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. The entertainment industry has been around so long, and constantly "improving" from the terrible old days, that surely they must be leading the way to a brighter tomorrow. After all, that is what they have been promised.

And yet, it is a facade. Television ratings are in the toilet and Hollywood serves up warmed over remakes every week in the theater. If a member of The Cult of the New is confronted with this, they will cop to it. Yes, the entertainment industry is not in a good place right now. It's stagnant, sterile. It looks as if the entertainment industry worldwide has connived together to create bland formless grey goo to get the audiences trained. Get them on gruel, and they'll stop expecting steak.

Most know this, and yet will continue to insist that new is objectively better than old in every case. They must continue to hold these contrasting ideas in their head that current art and entertainment is lackluster and old works are critically flawed and clearly are not worth any attention, otherwise they will need to face the truth. What they are saying, and do not even realize, is that everything is lackluster. Entertainment is lackluster. Art is lackluster. Everything ever created is lackluster. Therefore, life itself is lackluster.

One has to wonder if the current epidemic of depression and suicide has anything to do with this mentality. That is, if they have the time to reflect before the next product Hollywood wants them to consume is put out. That will keep them good and distracted!

If one can only like the old because of an intangible itch in the heart, then where does that leave those who worship the new because of an intangible itch in their heart?

What is The Cult of the New hoping for? Are they looking to the future for a perfect utopia that they are certainly owed? But this very idea is dependent on tearing down the old, and abandoning the new at a faster and faster rate with every passing day. This is merely hedonism at breakneck speed. Consume, consume, consume. Don't think! There is a new product on the market. It's totally original and brand new! What do you mean it has been done before? You're just being nostalgic. This is better because it has perfected and sanded off all those problematic old things. Quickly now! Get it before it's gone!

And before they know it, they are old, alone, and with a shelf full of useless junk that they indulged in once and never give a second thought to. Just like a lemming coming off a sugar rush, the consumer is left broken at the bottom of the cliff wondering how they got there and why they feel so empty. One who only ever looks forward is doomed to miss the road falling out from under their feet-- looking down, up, and backwards, is an important tip to keep awareness!

This is a generation that does not indulge in dealing with the old. It will do them good to remember this thought process when they are living out their latter days in a retirement center, depressed and alone. Grandma is old. Grandma is outdated. Grandma is useless. Grandma is dead. Why are you still thinking about her, are you some kind of nostalgic? Keep your eyes forward and on the glorious future ahead. Don't think about it. Don't ever think about it. Don't look down. Hey, look, a new Star Wars movie!

Forget yesterday. Forget today. Forget tomorrow. Is history--is the world so easily disposable? This is the world the cult is creating around you at this very moment.

Yes, there are Baby Boomers who think the 1960s were perfection and untouchable for purely selfish reasons. Yes, there are Gen-Xers who think Nirvana is the best thing to happen to music. Yes, there are Millennials wishing that old Disney sitcoms were still around in a non-ironic way.

They might all be wrong, but at the very least their preferences are not steeped in a cult like belief of blindly charging down a dark train tunnel toward the light while ignoring they whistle blowing at the other end. Hey, if it's at the other end of the track, it must be better than the starting position. Progress dictates it is!

Nostalgia is a drug, but it is not a proper argument against enjoying the old. This is a conversation killer for a reason. Nostalgia is also not nearly as dangerous as the opposite is proving to be.

At the end of the day, it's really about taste. Aesthetics, design, content, and character, are all dependent on what the individual prefers.

What is not about taste is the blind belief that the road ahead is smooth and the sun so bright one needs to wear sunglasses. To believe something like this is less about any of the above qualities and more about about an empty and desperate hope that those who dare stop along the road to destiny and look back are simply mistaken and fundamentally flawed thinkers. This is about projection and reassurance to the cult member, not taste.

If it weren't about the forceful acceptance of new, revisionism wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is. Sure, the reason you've never heard of an author like A. Merritt must be because he is old and his stuff wasn't that good. It certainly can't be that he has been slandered, purposely let out of print, and scrubbed from history despite his popularity when alive. If you believe that, then you're either already part of the cult or you aren't paying attention. You're homesick for a place that does not even exist.

But you don't have to be. You can simply like things for what they are regardless of when they were made. It's not all that difficult.

You just have to stop, think, and look around.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A Review of Cirsova #4 [Part 1]

Before I continue on, there is something readers should know. For those interested, Cirsova is open for story submissions. Have a Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction tale? Then send it in to them. More information on submissions can be found on their site.

In the meantime, here's a review I've been meaning to get out for awhile.

This review took a while to get off the ground. Not only was I away from blogging for a while where this fell on the back-burner, but this issue of Cirsova is twice as big as a normal issue. There is a lot to cover.

With 18 pieces to go through, I decided to split this up into two posts. I hope you will indulge me in this since one long post would clutter everything up.

First up we have Wall Wardens by Lynn Rushlau. This is a fantastical story set in a dystopic world where a warden is framed with one of the worst crimes imaginable. This was a great start to the volume since it slides the reader into a world that clearly screams that this is a pulp magazine. Quite enjoyed this one.

The Lady of the Amorous City by Edward M. Erdelac is next. Two boys are tasked with slaying a monster in absence of a proper knight to take the quest. But things might not be quite what they seem. I have a bit of a weak point when it comes to stories of honorable knights so I already have a bias for this. Great characters and a simple, but engaging, plot. The ending was also my favorite in the issue.

In the third story, The Unfolding of the World by Harold R. Thompson, Captain Anchor Brown is tasked with mapping a river and is enveloped in an adventure when he ends up over his head. This tale features some exciting duels and plenty of adventure to go around. The ending is a bit quiet for my taste.

Then there’s The Sands of Rubal-Khali by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. This one is about a slave girl on a distant planet desperately trying to win her freedom and find her sister. I wasn’t much of a fan of the ending as it stopped short without resolution; it just missed feeling satisfying.

Next is The Witch of Elrica by Jennifer Povey. This one was about a teenager and a witch getting together during an arranged marriage party. This wasn’t really my type of story, and the ending didn’t do much for me, but it was well told.

The Vault of Phalos by Jeffrey Scott Sims is the first of two novelettes in the magazine. The start was really slow as it was used to set the world up. It took far too much time before we even got a main character’s name. However, it eventually all comes together to a phenomenal final encounter making the wait worth it. It just could have stood a bit more trimming overall.

Ever wonder what a more fantastical Jason Bourne story might be like? The Bubbcat by Sean Monaghan might be what you’re looking for. There are a lot of quick cuts to other locations and times which can make the story disorienting at times, but it works well in the frame of the story. There seems to be a bit of unresolved story revolving around the brother unless I missed something. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best stories in the issue.

After that we come to A Suit of Haidrah Skin by Rob Lang. This was a really imaginative story that was so bleak I thought the pages were turning a shade darker as I read along. This was a fascinating read, but not really my sort of story.

The ninth story is Lost Men by Eugene L. Morgulis. It was a meta take on Peter Pan and I really didn’t like it. I saw the ending coming far too soon in the story. If you like these sorts of stories you will most certainly like it more than I did. The prose was splendid.

The third part of My Name is John Carter by James Hutchings followed, and it was a pleasant breather from the last two stories. I’m no expert on poetry but I do appreciate this series as they attempt to retell the John Carter story. If there is a reason to collect Cirsova issues beyond the excellent stories, it’s for material like this.

There's still more to go, but for now I'll end it here. Tune in next time when we finish off the issue with some great (and not so great) stories to go over.

Oh, and if you have a story you're looking to sell, be sure to check out Cirsova. They'll be open for submissions from June 1st  to July 15th.

Until next time!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

100 Accessible Anime Guide for Fans (Part 4)

And with this post, we reach the end of this short series on anime.

This last list of 25 was the most difficult to compile. After 2004, the pickings got slim, and between 2007 and 2015 the industry was hitting lows in breadth of series and in general quality. I've already covered this many times by now, so I'll skip it here. You already know the last ten years of anime has not been the most accessible for older fans or your garden variety genre or cartoon fan.

But it's not all hopeless.

By 2015 the industry began to offer more content for the audiences they'd been neglecting. This later came to light that 1 in 4 studios are currently losing money (it was 20% between 2011 and 2014) which obviously means a change in focus is needed. The industry has been skrinking by design since 2007, and it has been proven a bad direction.

Despite that, there were some great series during this period, and I'm going to try to point out as many as I can. As always, if you have any other suggestions, please let me know.


76. Gungrave (2003)
Genre: Action Fantasy
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Yasuhiro Nightow (creator, original concept), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Toshiyuki Tsuru

PlotGungrave opens thirteen years after Brandon Heat is betrayed and killed by his best friend Harry McDowell. He is reborn through the use of necrolyze as Beyond The Grave, and begins a quest of revenge against the crime syndicate. The series then backtracks to Brandon's youth, and follows him and Harry as they rise through the criminal underworld, detailing the circumstances that led to their eventual falling-out.

Opinion: Featuring most of the Trigun staff (sans the director who was busy with Hajime no Ippo), Gungrave represents one of the few adaptions of a video game property that surpassed the source material. Partially because of the Trigun staff's involvement, Gungrave turns into a reflection of that series from the perspective of innocence to corruption and the possibility of redemption from the point of no return. Fans of Trigun would do well to see it, but it stands well enough on its own.

77. Last Exile (2003)
Genre: Steampunk
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Gonzo
Writer: Koichi Chigira
Director: Koichi Chigira

Plot: The story is set on the fictional world of Prester, where its inhabitants use aerial vehicles known as vanships as a means of transportation. On this world which is divided in eternal conflict between the nations of Anatoray and Disith, sky couriers Claus Valca and Lavie Head must deliver a girl who holds the key to uniting the two factions.

Opinion: This really popular steampunk series received a lot of attention back in the day. It was one of the few that was promoted heavily in trying to get younger audiences into anime overseas. That was back when companies cared about that. The series features a lot of questions before it starts providing answers and might turn of the impatient. However, those that are willing to wait will be rewarded. This type of unabashedly old school design was already becoming rarer by 2003; there is little chance a series like this would thrive today.

78. Planetes (2003)
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Makoto Yukimura (original manga), Ichiro Okouchi
Director: Goro Taniguchi

Plot: The story of Planetes follows the crew of the DS-12 "Toy Box" of the Space Debris Section, a unit of Technora Corporation. Debris Section's purpose is to prevent the damage or destruction of satellites, space stations and spacecraft from collision with debris in Earth's and the Moon's orbits. They use a number of methods to dispose of the debris (mainly by burning it via atmospheric reentry or through salvage), accomplished through the use of EVA suits.

Opinion: If you didn't know any better, I could tell you this series was written in the early '80s and you would believe it. This is par of the course with Makoto Yukimura who wrote this science fiction manga that felt equal parts adventure and philosophy lesson. It focuses on the wonders of life and hope while introducing a cast of characters you can't help but root for in a future bordering on creation and destruction. This was an anomaly back in 2003, but it in a good way. Unfortunately it's out of print these days and goes for for quite the penny. Here's hoping for a re-release.

79. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Genre: Drama
Length: 92 minutes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Satoshi Kon, Keiko Nobumoto
Director: Satoshi Kon

Plot: One Christmas Eve three people, a middle-aged alcoholic named Gin, a former drag queen Hana, and a dependent runaway girl Miyuki, discover an abandoned newborn while looking through the garbage. Deposited with the unnamed baby is a note asking the finder to take good care of her and a bag containing clues to the parent's identity. The trio sets out to find the baby's parents. The baby is named Kiyoko, literally meaning "pure child" as she is found on Christmas Eve.

Opinion: Satoshi Kon movies are very hard to recommend due to how oddball and off kilter they are. This one is different. Essentially, Satoshi Kon was trying to make a Frank Capra movie, highlighting the importance of traditional families (as aggravating as they can be) and how we are all connected by coincidences we can't always understand. This is a film people who might not like Kon's works could even enjoy. If you haven't seen one of his films yet, this is the best one to start with.

80. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 51 episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Hiromu Arakawa (original manga), Sho Aikawa
Director: Seiji Mizushima

Plot: The series follows the adventures of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are searching for the Philosopher's Stone so they can regain the bodies they lost in a failed attempt to bring their dead mother back to life.

Opinion: Fullmetal Alchemist is an adventure manga about the laws of nature and playing God (or pretending to act in His stead) that was the progenitor of two different anime. I'm not going to get into the other series, but this one came first and is the one most people talk about so I will list this one here. The original series goes in a different direction than the manga, but it is nothing to shake a stick at. Needless to say, FMA was a phenomenon 14 years ago for a reason. It would be a long time before an anime exploded this big in the west again.

81. Monster (2004)
Genre: Thriller
Length: 74 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Naoki Urasawa (original manga), Tatsuhiko Urahata
Director: Masayuki Kojima

Plot: The story revolves around Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon living in Germany whose life enters turmoil after getting himself involved with Johan Liebert, one of his former patients who is revealed to be a dangerous psychopath.

Opinion: Monster is one of my favorite manga series, and this is a perfect adaption of that story. A doctor is pushed to his breaking point and does a good deed that ends up causing horrific events years down the line. Monster is a battle against good and evil with a cast of memorable characters and twists that never stop coming. The only trick is to find this legally. It was dubbed entirely in English and yet the full series was never fully released over here. The manga is much more easily available, but the anime is still a great watch. If you can find it, give it a shot.

82. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)
Genre: Music, Slice of Life
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Harold Sakuishi (original manga), Osamu Kobayashi
Director: Osamu Kobayashi

Plot: Beck tells the story of a group of Japanese teenagers who form a rock band and their struggle to fame, focusing on 14-year-old Yukio "Koyuki" Tanaka, who until meeting guitar prodigy Ryusuke Minami was an average teen with a boring life.

Opinion: This is a show made by rock fans and for rock fans. The original manga was known for making the music have impact on the reader without sound, but the anime adaption really adds a whole new layer to just what the bands are actually playing and how it shapes their lives and relationships with each other. Beck is a tale about how music affects as all in ways we can't always understand. It's a pretty unique show that hits every mark.

83. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (2004)
Genre: Science Fiction Drama
Length: 24 episodes
Studio: Gonzo
Writer: Alexandre Dumas (original novel), Shuichi Kouyama
Director: Mahiro Maeda

Plot: The story takes place in the far future of the 51st Century, during the year 5053. While visiting Luna for the festival, Viscount Albert de Morcerf and Baron Franz d'Épinay make the acquaintance of the Count of Monte Cristo, a self-made nobleman.

Opinion: This is like the book you remember, and not. The plot has many differences from the source material but it never shies from the main theme of the novel or the character's motivations. This is still The Count of Monte Cristo. That said, despite the differences, this is a fantastic adaption and one of the most unique. It was fairly popular back in the day, but who knows if anyone remembers it now. Give it a shot.

84. Paranoia Agent (2004)
Genre: Horror Thriller
Length: 13 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Seishi Minakami, Saotshi Kon
Director: Satoshi Kon

PlotParanoia Agent is about a social phenomenon in Musashino, Tokyo caused by a juvenile serial assailant named Lil' Slugger. The plot relays between a large cast of people affected in some way by the phenomenon; usually Lil' Slugger's victims or the detectives assigned to apprehend him. As each character becomes the focus of the story, details are revealed about their secret lives and the truth about Lil' Slugger.

Opinion: Satoshi Kon's work is, as I said, hard to recommend without reservations. This TV show is probably the best distillation of his unusual style fleshed out to its fullest and best. Ostensibly about responsibility and the inability for the modern world to see things as they are, Paranoia Agent features a lot of strange happenings on top of its really odd imagery. It can also be surprisingly funny. There isn't anything else like it.

85. Honey & Clover (2005)
Genre: Romance, Slice of Life
Length: 36 episodes
Studio: J.C. Staff
Writer: Chica Umino (original manga), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Kenichi Kasai / Tatsuyuki Nagai

Plot: Yūta Takemoto, Takumi Mayama and Shinobu Morita are three young men who live in the same apartment complex and are students at an art college in Tokyo. One day, they are introduced to Hagumi Hanamoto, the daughter of a cousin of Shūji Hanamoto, an art professor, who has come to live with Hanamoto and has become a first year art student at the art school. This is when everything changes.

Opinion: It's hard to find genuinely good romance series in the anime world. Chica Umino is well known for being one of the best with this series and the currently running March Comes in Like a Lion, and it is mainly do with how well she develops relationships and attraction without having to fall into perversion to get the point across. If you are looking for a good romance anime, this is what you're looking for.

86. Gurren Lagann (2007)
Genre: Mecha, Space Opera
Length: 27 episodes
Studio: Gainax
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi

Plot: Gurren Lagann takes place in the future where Earth is ruled by the Spiral King, Lordgenome, who forces mankind to live in isolated subterranean villages. The plot focuses on two teenagers living in a subterranean village, Simon and Kamina, who wish to go to the surface. Using a mecha known as Lagann, Simon and Kamina reach the surface and start fighting alongside other humans against Lordgenome's forces.

Opinion: I'm not the biggest fan of Gainax around, honestly. I find a lot of their material too self-aware and fetishistic. However, this show is remarkably over the top and honest about what it is to such an extent that it's hard to really dislike it. If you're a fan of mecha anime and over the top action, Gurren Lagann might just be what you're looking for. This is a show that earned its status.

87. Summer Wars (2009)
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 114 minutes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Mamoru Hasoda (story), Satoko Okudera
Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Plot: The film tells the story of Kenji Koiso, a timid eleventh-grade math genius who is taken to Ueda by twelfth-grade student Natsuki Shinohara to celebrate her great-grandmother's 90th birthday. However, he is falsely implicated in the hacking of a virtual world by a sadistic artificial intelligence named Love Machine. Kenji must repair the damage done to it and find a way to stop the rogue computer program from causing any further damage while dealing with Natsuki's family.

Opinion: This was a film that came out of nowhere. Essentially part action adventure and part family drama, Summer Wars is the type of anime film you don't see too often. It was also the first in a long while I could enjoy that wasn't made by Studio Ghibli. While Hosoda went on to direct some pretty good films after this, I'm still of the opinion that this is his best work. Summer Wars is good for nearly the whole family.

88. Tiger & Bunny (2011)
Genre: Action Adventure
Length: 25 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Masafumi Nishida
Director: Keiichi Sato

PlotTiger & Bunny is set in a futuristic city where heroes fight crime whilst promoting real life sponsors, focusing on two superheroes, the old-fashioned Kotetsu T. "Wild Tiger" Kaburagi and the rookie hero Barnaby "Bunny" Brooks Jr., as they are forced by their employers to work together. But villains aren't always hidden in plain sight.

Opinion: This is a superhero buddy cop show like none other. Tiger & Bunny was a mega-hit in Japan. Superheroes, villains, and enough Silver Age to shake a stick at, this was clearly the best anime the year it came out and still works so much time later. This never got much exposure over here compared to Japan, but it definitely deserves more. The usage of CG for the suits is a bit awkward, but given how well it work with the comedy it fits well enough. Be sure to watch it. Now let's get season two already, Sunrise.

89. Psycho-Pass (2012)
Genre: Cyberpunk
Length: 22 episodes
Studio: Production I.G.
Writer: Gen Urobuchi
Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani, Katsuyuki Motohiro

Plot: The story takes place in an authoritarian future dystopia, where omnipresent public sensors continuously scan the mental states of every passing citizen. Collected data on both present mentality and aggregated personality data is used to gauge the probability of that citizen committing a crime, the rating referred to as that citizen's Psycho-Pass. Authorities are alerted whenever excessive ratings are detected, and officers of the Public Safety Bureau are dispatched with weapons called "Dominators", energy pistols that modulate their power in response to the target's Psycho Pass. The story follows Shinya Kogami and Akane Tsunemori among other members of Unit One of the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division.

Opinion: It had been a while since the last anime like this. This series was about due. Which makes sense, since the creators of Psycho Pass made it specifically because they wanted to create a series in the vein of Mamoru Oshii. You can expect similar types of themes and action from this show, but be wary of the second season which has a completely different writer and is more or less non-canon. Season 1 is what you want.

90. Kids on the Slope (2012)
Genre: Drama
Length: 12 episodes
Studio: MAPPA, Tezuka Productions
Writer: Yuki Kodama (original manga)
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe

Plot: The beginning of summer, 1966; because of his father's job situation, freshman high school student Kaoru Nishimi moves by himself from Yokosuka to Sasebo in Kyushu to live with relatives. Until then, Kaoru was an honor roll student who tended to keep to himself, but meeting notorious "bad boy" Sentaro Kawabuchi starts to change him. Through his devil-may-care classmate, Kaoru learns how much fun it is to play jazz and finds the first person he can call a real friend.

Opinion: Speaking of returns, it had also been a long time since we'd seen an anime series directed by the man behind Cowboy Bebop. This time he handled a coming of age story with plenty of music, religious undertones, and gut wrenching drama. But what I think really makes this work is the ending. I won't give it away, but it hits the mark in a way an anime had not in quite some time.

91. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (TV series) (2012)
Genre: Action Fantasy Comedy
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: David Production
Writer: Hirohiko Araki (original manga), Yasuko Kobayashi
Director: Naokatsu Tsuda, Kenichi Suzuki

Plot: The series focuses around the mysterious adventures of the Joestar family, beginning with an encounter involving Jonathan Joestar, his adoptive brother Dio Brando and a mysterious Stone Mask which all tie into the fate of their family line. This is the story of the ultimate fate of the Joestar family line.

Opinion: I'm going to be upfront, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is not for everybody. Basically, unless you like your anime wacky and insane while being clever at the same time, this might not be the series for you. I'm not the biggest fan of the franchise, but I have enjoyed what I've seen with Part 2 and 4 being my particular favorites. Each member of the Joestar line is a star of his own part, all of which have different approaches and styles to them, and this series contains the first two parts. Needless to say, it had been a long time since Japan put out a hotblooded action series. This was more than welcome. If you want to know if the franchise is for you, this anime is the best place to start.

92. Attack on Titan (2013)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Length: 25+ episodes
Studio: Wit Studio, Production I.G.
Writer: Hajime Isayama (original manga), Yasuko Kobayashi
Director: Tetsuto Araki

Plot: It is set in a world where humanity lives in cities surrounded by enormous walls; a defense against the Titans, gigantic humanoids that eat humans seemingly without reason. The story initially centers on Eren Yeager, his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman and childhood friend Armin Arlert, who join the military to fight the Titans after their home town is invaded and Eren's mother is eaten.

Opinion: This is only on here because this is a gigantic series with a lot of appeal to a lot of people. I'm not one of them. But if you like dark fantasy with crazy giants that eat people like zombies while flying around a lot, this is for you.

93. My Love Story!! (2015)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length: 24 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Kazune Kuwahara (original manga), Natsuko Takahashi
Director: Morio Asaka

Plot: The story follows Takeo Gōda, a tall and muscular student who doesn't have much luck with women. Every girl he likes ends up falling for his best friend, Makoto Sunakawa, who is charming and good-looking. This all changes when he saves Rinko Yamato, a petite shy girl who, above all other expectations, falls in love with Takeo, beginning a unique love story.

Opinion: The funniest part of this series is how it was touted as being something subversive. It's actually very much not. This is a series about how a manly man who doesn't understand women and a girly girl who doesn't understand boys meet and are attracted to each other by their corresponding traits. Neither are treated as inferior, but complementary in how they influence the relationships of everyone around them and how their relationship becomes something to aspire to. Forget modern anime romance, this is better than anything you'll see out of modern Hollywood.

94. One Punch Man (2015)
Genre: Action Comedy
Length: 12+ episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: ONE (original manga), Tomohiro Suzuki
Director: Shingo Natsume

Plot: On an Earth-like super-continent planet, strange monsters and supervillains have been mysteriously appearing and causing disasters. To combat them, the world's superheroes have risen to fight them. Saitama is one such superhero, hailing from the metropolis of City Z and easily defeating monsters and villains with a single punch. However, he has become bored with his power and only gets truly excited when fighting strong opponents that can challenge him. Over the course of the series, Saitama encounters various superheroes, supervillains, and monsters. He gains a disciple in the form of the cyborg Genos and eventually joins the Hero Association in order to gain official recognition.

Opinion: Another supposedly subversive work, One Punch Man is a superhero story about a superhero who is too strong, but still maintains the heart of a hero. There's much comedy that can come from this, but there's still a lot of drama in just how the villains will be stopped or if Saitama will even make it in time. ONE is an indie manga writer with traditional sensibilities where no matter the joke, the bad guys are always bad and they always lose in the end, and good guys are always those to aspire to be. With season 2 on the way, hopefully more will begin to see that side of the series.

95. Ushio & Tora (TV series) (2015)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 39 episodes
Studio: MAPPA, Studio VOLN
Writer: Kazuhiro Fujita (original manga), Toshiki Inoue
Director: Satoshi Nishimura

Plot: Ushio & Tora centers around the travels and battles of Ushio Aotsuki, who is constantly being stalked and aided by a gigantic, supernatural, and sometimes invisible, tiger-like monster named Tora.

Ushio's family maintains a temple in Japan, where 500 years ago, his samurai ancestor battled Tora to a standstill, and eventually trapped him against a rock using a cursed spear called the "Beast Spear", which grants strength, speed, and endurance to the wielder in exchange for his soul. Ushio accidentally unsealed the cave Tora was trapped in which attracts monsters from the far corners of the world. Now they have to fight the oncoming darkness together.

Opinion: I've written a bunch about this series on this blog, but it really is as good as all that. From the director of Trigun comes an action series of light against dark in the ultimate battle to save the human race. There's plenty of action, adventure, and comedy to be had along the way, but there's also quite a few excellent plot turns on the way. Again, I'm biased. This is one of my most favorite anime series. There are few series as unabashedly bright, big, and positive, without reveling in irony or self-awareness as Ushio & Tora.

96. Blood Blockade Battlefront (2015)
Genre: Action Fantasy
Length: 12+ episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Yasuhiro Nightow (original manga), Kazunao Furuya
Director: Rie Matsumoto

Plot: The plot revolves around a young photographer named Leonardo Watch, who obtains "The All Seeing Eyes of the Gods" at the cost of his sister's eyesight. After the incident, Leonardo moves to the city of Hellsalem's Lot to join an organization known as Libra to fight several monsters as well as terrorists in the hope of finding a cure for his sister.

Opinion: Speaking of Trigun, here's the newest series by the creator! Blood Blockade Battlefront is a buddy cop show with supernatural battles at the edge of eternity. This series is better to watch dubbed so you can concentrate on everything going on, but it is one wicked ride to the end. And that ending is pretty close to perfect as you can get. Imagine an '80s police procedural meets urban fantasy meets serious theological concerns and you come close to what this series is. With a second season on the way, I can only hope for more of the same.

97. Erased (2016)
Genre: Thriller
Length: 12 episodes
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Writer: Kei Sanbe (original manga), Taku Kishimoto
Director: Tomohiko Ito

Plot: The story follows Satoru Fujinuma, a man who somehow possesses an ability that sends him back in time moments before a life-threatening incident, allowing him to prevent it from happening. When his mother is murdered by an unknown assailant, Satoru's ability suddenly sends him back eighteen years to when he was still in elementary school, giving him the opportunity to prevent a kidnapping incident that took the lives of three of his childhood friends, two classmates and one young girl studying at a school nearby.

Opinion: I still can't believe what a pleasant surprise this series was. It's a thriller about facing the past to shape the future with a surprising love of life, second chances, and a big focus on hope. I don't find the mystery all that mysterious, but the resolution at the end is well worth the entire trip. This anime was a blast.

98. Mob Psycho 100 (2016)
Genre: Fantasy Action
Length: 12 episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: ONE (original manga), Hiroshi Seko
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa

Plot: Shigeo Kageyama is an average middle school boy, nicknamed Mob (means “background character”) for lacking a sense of presence. Although he looks like an inconspicuous person, he is in fact a powerful esper. As he grows older, Mob realizes that his psychic powers are strengthening and becoming more dangerous. To avoid his power getting out of control, he constantly lives a life under an emotional shackle. Mob wants to live a normal life just like the others, but a barrage of trouble keeps coming after him. With the suppressed emotions growing inside Mob little by little, his power threatens to break through its limits.

Opinion: ONE once again knocks it out of the park. This is based on his long running online serial of the same name, and carries much of what people enjoy about One Punch Man including the over the top action, the unexpected comedy, and the surprising superversive themes in face of what could easily be a subversive bore. A series about the importance of family, friends, emotional control, mental and physical health, growing up, and good over evil, Mob Psycho 100 is as great as the animation is incredible. Now for the wait for season 2.

99. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (2016)
Genre: Drama
Length: 25 episodes
Studio: Studio DEEN
Writer: Haruko Kumota (original manga), Jun Kumagai
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama

Plot: A man is released from prison and becomes the apprentice of a famous rakugo performer. The story focuses on the backstories of the performers and their struggle to gain popularity. Whilst learning he befriends another performer who has a completely different style.

Opinion: I'm still not sure how to properly explain this show. It's a drama about regret and the end of an age, in more ways than one, involving the ancient art of Rakugo storytelling which is also dying. I'm not only surprised this got an anime (with hour long episodes at that), but that it got two complete seasons to finish the story. There are few dramas like this out there, so if this looks like your thing, give it a go.

100. My Hero Academia (2016)
Genre: Action Fantasy
Length: 13+ episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Kohei Horikoshi (original manga), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Kenji Nagasaki

Plot: Izuku "Deku" Midoriya is a regular middle school student in a world where 80% of the people are born with superpowers known as "Quirks", and he is completely quirkless. However, he still dreams of one day becoming a hero. One day he meets his personal hero, and the greatest in the world, All Might, and Midoriya's fate takes a sharp turn.

Opinion: Speaking of Trigun (again), the anime for this hit manga is currently being penned by the writer behind that anime. My Hero Academia is the ultimate superhero anime. The team behind this show knows the main appeal of the source material and bring it out with big direction, bombast writing, grand music, bold colors, and larger than life themes. This series is a celebration of heroes as a concept and a truth. I couldn't think of a better series to end this list with than a series that emphasizes all the best of what came before. The sincerity of how the series treats the best thing about any story (the heroes) is pitch perfect. Here's hoping the currently running second season improves on the first just as the manga did. My Hero Academia is a classic in the making, and should be watched by any anime fan, past or present.

And that's everything. I decided to end this with 2016, since 2017 is still going and no series have ended yet. But there look to be a few good shows coming down the pipe later this year.

Anyway, the point is that anime has a lot to offer any fan of entertainment. It's not just boob jokes and wish fulfillment. There are genuinely great dramas, fantasy series, SF tales, thrillers, and action pieces on par with anything else aired on television or in the cinema. Especially these days.

So there you are. That's 100 examples of the best anime has to offer. Seen them all? Never seen a single one? Well, here's your chance. With online streaming so easy, there's never been a better time to get into it. If you're a lapsed fan then you have even less of an excuse! Go catch up on what you missed!

The industry might be having trouble, but there's still a lot to look forward to, and a lot in the past to learn from.

Here's to Japan for using animation to such a scale and ambition that few other countries have tried. And here's hoping they don't forget what they've accomplished.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have an episode of My Hero Academia to catch.