Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Anime review: "Shingeki no Kyojin"

Well, this hasn't happened in a long time: that I finished an anime season in a day. I watched first two episodes at Friday evening, and spent whole Saturday watching until I finished all 25 episodes!

"Shingeki no Kyojin" (or officially "Attack on Titan", which doesn't make sense) is a shounen action anime. The story places as in future, where humanity has been reduced to medieval level by appearance of non-sentient, human-eating humanoid giants called Titans (imagine giant nude zombies). Humanity is currently behind tall walls place in several concentric rings, enjoying relative safety for last hundred years. It all changes with appearance of a Colossal Titan and an Armored Titan, that together are able to penetrate the walls at one place and release other Titans at people. During this fatal defeat, we are focused Eren, Mikasa and Armin, three kids living in town where the breach happens. After managing to stay alive, but witnessing Eren's mother being eaten alive, Eren vows to slay all the Titans. This brings the three of them to join the training for the Survey Corps, only people that still fight against Titans on their own territory...

My first impression was that good, because I like vivid and strong colors in anime. Next I thought how the anime was a bit over the top with imagination and not very consistent (flesh-eating giants, 100 years of solitude). I was especially off-put with the claim about walls being set in circle with 250km diameter, when you could obviously see the other side of the wall! But then things started to unravel slowly, and I was hooked.

So, even though "Shingeki no Kyojin" is primary an action anime, it has a large dose of mystery. And not the type where character finds solutions which no one would ever realize, they solve them gradually by getting more information. Also, the setting reveals very gradually (there are some info-dumps, but not too clumsy), so almost every episode you learn something new. There was a few surprising reveals (especially the last one!), but they were done nicely and consistently. What I did dislike were too long intros and recaps of last episode at the start of each.

There is really a bunch of characters and you will sometimes have trouble to know who is who. They are typically shounen, so don't expect miracles, but they are pretty solid and interesting. The good thing is that they grow much during the show. I really liked how the author was not afraid to kill them.

And this brings us to the atmosphere of "Shingeki no Kyojin", which is the best part of it. This is a very brutal anime, with lots of tragedy, death and sorrow. I didn't expect so much pain in shounen anime. There are nice changes between fast action pace and slow reminiscence and melancholy. It is compared much to "Claymore" - I agree with this comparison, even though the anime is original enough. Action is pretty good, if you can suspend your sense of mechanic. There is even some comedy, and pretty good one (I really liked Sasha).

I've read some comments about this show having horrible design and animation, but I disagree. I admit that it is simple and not beautiful, but I think it goes great with the atmosphere. I really like the discrepancy between Titan's look and behavior. Voice acting and sound were OK, but OPs were terrible. I didn't even try to listen EDs.

All in all, I really enjoyed "Shingeki no Kyojin". It simple enough for shounen fans, but with enough details for other to enjoy, with great dark and violent atmosphere and lots of mystery. I can't wait for the next season.

Book review: "War Master's Gate" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Well, I am going onward with "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I finished the ninth and so-far last book in series, "War Master's Gate", which means that for the first time I have to wait for sequel to come out. This is too bad, because the series became great in last few books!

"War Master's Gate" is the first book in series that breaks the usual pattern, but the things have come to a level where everything is epic and you can't separate magic and technology storylines. It continues the events immediately after last book, "The Air War". This means that the war for Lowlands and Collegium continues where it stopped, minus the focus on air duels - even though they still play a large role in this book. General Tynan tries for the second time to conquer the Collegium, but Warmaster Stenwold Maker has his own trick to throw at them, and this time, the air supremacy in on Bettles' side. Up north, General Roder was on a way to attack Sarn, but he is stopped by direct order and appearance of Empress Seda, who has personal interest in the forest that hides the Mantis holds Etheryon and Nethyon. Sarn also has a new Tactician, who will prove a menace for both Sarnesh enemies and allies. And in the forest itself, Cheerwell and Seda confront directly, in race to conquer the old and dark power, not suspecting that this power is there to guard something even more terrifying...

It's good thing that I read the previous book not so long ago, because the series has progressed so far that you really need to be familiar with rich setting and large cast of characters. Even so, some references to past events were blurry to me. As I said, the book continues immediately after the events in the last one, and it feels very much like it. Again we have a big focus on military, sieges, defense, air machines and so on. There are no much new inventions, but Tchaikovsky uses marvelously what he brought so far, and makes a very consistent and unique setting. On the side of magic, here we have as large upgrade as we had with technology in "The Air War". We learn much about history, see some direct uses of Moth and other magic, and see first evidences of a new player to come.

Plot is very complex, mostly because it is shown from so many POVs. Constant jumps are maybe a bit tiring, combined with short chapters - but at the same time it forces one to read on. There were lots of surprises throughout the book, especially because they came as surprises to the characters themselves (the Hornets, for example; or Empress' orders for Spiders). The book ends in several cliffhangers, like the fate of Che and Seda. Similar is with Stenwold Maker - his part look a bit obvious, but maybe it is the exact opposite. The ending is very strong and emotive; especially between Tynan and Mycella, and Eujen and Straessa. A great part of the book is the epilogue, with afterlife in Collegium, and first appearance of the Worm.

Characters are also phenomenal, both old and new. We actually don't spend much time with most of them, but because of fast POV changes it feels like we do. The number of character in series has grown much, even the important characters. At the beginning of the book we have a superb scene with Che, her first impact on the Ants, Mantids and rest. Tchaikovsky became great in presenting all sides of the conflict without playing favorites. When the fight is told form Wasp's POV, you are rooting for Waps; but when the same battle is told from Collegium's POV, then they are your favorite. Also, he is not afraid to really kill the characters. The fate of Mantis race was a very sad and powerful scene, and it was masterfully told from several side: the sadness, the anger, the fear! Also, again a nice moral ambiguity with Collegium and Sarn turning themselves to Wasps to defend from Wasps.

I can honestly said that with last few books, and especially with "War Master's Gate", this series became one of my favorites. Great battle scenes, both technological and magical; powerful and emotive scenes from both sides of conflict; and revelation that will shake the plot so far. An excellent book.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book review: "Wings of Wrath" by C. S. Friedman

Last week I finished reading "Wings of Wrath" by C. S. Friedman, a second book in her "The Magister Trilogy" series. First book, "Feast of Souls" I have read during summer vacation and found it all right.

"Wings of Wrath" continues the story set in the first book, but focuses on another set of characters. While all the characters from "Feast of Souls" are here, this time two old characters, Rhys and Sideria. We follow Rhys investigating a disturbance in Wrath, where he comes into knowing Kamala, a main character of the series. The two of them will find out how Souleaters were able to come back and learn the unexpected story behind the Wrath. Sideria, the Witch-Queen, now left to die alone by Magisters she considered friends, is full of anger and bitterns. So when a mysterious stranger offers her a new source of power and life, she is eager to accept it. We also follow are old characters, Colivar, Ramirus and Gwynofar, but also a new characters Salvator, second son of High King Danton.

I must say that "Wings of Wrath" has a very interesting beginning. I was surprised with partial distancing from the plot of previous book and focus on new characters. This leads to new developments, although Friedman nicely closes the book with a parallel to "Feast of Souls". I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending because it felt much like "deus ex machina" solution, but globally it fits well. I liked the part with Kamala saving Rhys - it reminded be to a classical D&D story. There were few good surprises throughout the book, like with Petrana.

As expected, the middle book in series brings out the expansion of setting and a turnover. We learn more about the current setting, but also about what brought to it. And as is typical for the second books, we learn more about the other side and see them in different light. I wasn't very affected by Rhys' and Kamala's discovery inside Spears, but I presume that as religious fanatics they would be. As I said, the ending was a bit stingy with explanations, so I have a feeling that the last book will be rushed to be able to answer all the questions. Even though I like this game with Colivar and his "memories", will Friedman be able to pull it through?

As for characters, I must say I am very impressed by Friedman's Kamala. She is really not a classical main character. We actually don't spend much time with her. And when we are, she is reserved with her thoughts to reader. She has flaws and she is far from a typical "good" main character. And she definitely doesn't have luck in picking boyfriends... As for other characters, they are a mix. Colivar is a great and mysterious character, Ramirus, Sideria and Salvator solid ones. Gwynofar, on the other side, was neglected and different from the first book. I also found all Northerners not interesting.

As I mentioned in my review of "Feast of Souls", I wasn't very impressed with Friedman's writing. Her editors weren't best also: I found adverb "heady" three times in few pages, which was sloppy.

But in summary, I am satisfied with "Wings of Wrath". It was a solid second book, with advantages in setting and refreshed characters. We will see how the series will end with "Legacy of Kings", but so far so good (but not excellent).