Bravest Warriors Presents: Catbug’s Treasure Book Review

If you’re a fan of the Bravest Warriors animated series, chances are you’re also a fan of the cutest member of its cast, Catbug! Absolutely adorable with his squeaky voice and somewhat ADD personality, he now reveals all his secrets in Bravest Warriors Presents: Catbug’s Treasure Book!

Back Cover Blurb

Four teenage travelers traverse the universe saving those in need…though not always in the way you’d expect…in fact…never! Along the way they meet aliens, phantoms and other interdimensionals—including everyone’s favorite, Catbug. Sometimes…they even meet themselves!

In Catbug’s Treasure Book we see the world from his perspective. A kind of scrapbook, the pages are filled with memories and souvenirs of his adventures with the Bravest Warriors, along with his playtime imaginings. There are also allusions to past episodes (Danny’s eyebrows taped to a page, for example), and hints at secrets not yet revealed.

The Review

If you do not know who Catbug is, can’t identify all four Bravest Warriors, and haven’t the foggiest what an Impossibear is, do yourself a favor, and do NOT buy Catbug’s Treasure Book. At least not until you’ve acquainted yourself with Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors animated series. Prior to my taking this book off the Fandom Post review pile, my only exposure to Bravest Warriors was seeing my 21-year-old cousin in Catbug cosplay at Fanime 2013, and I can personally attest that giving a Bravest Warriors noob Catbug’s Treasure Book will only result in mass confusion. However, if you are a Catbug fan and enjoy his playful hijinks, silly interjections, and wild imagination, you can get plenty more in his treasure book.

The hardcover design of the book is very similar to a child’s storybook but don’t be fooled. If you’re expecting a single cohesive story with beginning, middle, and end, you won’t get it. Catbug’s Treasure Book is actually a kind of journal, the written record that would result if a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence transcribed all of Catbug’s thoughts. And since Catbug has the intelligence and attention span of a 7-year-old boy chugging Mountain Dew, the content of the book goes all over the place. Then again, it’s the sort of randomness that’s typical for Bravest Warriors.

Most of the book is presented as a dialogue between Catbug and the journal, the Futuristic Electromagnetic and Enigmatic Learning Encyclopedia X, (a.k.a. Feelex). Feelex does have a personality though it does take things a little too literally and seriously. As mentioned earlier, there is no plot per se, but over the course of their conversations, we get a few anecdotes about the Courageous Battlers and Bravest Warriors, the origins of Feelex, and a couple ramblings that go absolutely nowhere. The book is illustrated throughout and includes a few two-page spreads.

As you might guess from the title, Catbug is the star of this book. The four Bravest Warriors are relegated to supporting roles. Interestingly, Impossibear features predominantly and not just in the illustrations and Catbug’s stories. On nearly every page of the journal are “handwritten” comments from Impossibear (ostensibly jotted down when Catbug had him fill in the blanks for some Mad Lib style pages), and for me, Impossibear’s snarky remarks are the most entertaining part of the book.

In summary

Catbug’s Treasure Book contains pictures, anecdotes, and other Bravest Warriors-styled flights of fancy you won’t find anywhere else. However, be warned that it does not contain an overarching plot, and the four Bravest Warriors have relatively minor parts. But if you’re a big Catbug (or Impossibear) fan, this will probably be up your alley.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Little Monster Vol. 3

There’s the type of shojo manga where a girl really can envision herself as the heroine. And then there are those where the characters are constantly going off the deep end. My Little Monster falls into the latter category, and if your taste in high school romance leans toward the improbable and wacky, this title might be up your alley. Kodansha  has just released Volume 3 of the English translation, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Haru confirms his love for Shizuku after a talk with the class rep, Chizuru Oshima (who also has feelings for Haru!). Meanwhile, confused and unsure, Shizuku decides to eliminate her feelings towards Haru in order to focus on her studies. Will Haru be able to change her mind? The school festival brings chaos and rivalries as personalities clash!

The Review

I had dismissed Haru’s no good “friends” (the four that had been taking money from him in Volume 1) as mob characters that would disappear once Haru got integrated into high school life. Well, I was wrong. They’re back and apparently getting increased airtime. Not only has Robico-sensei given them names, but their leader, Yamaken, gets a connection to the Yoshida brothers and Shizuku. We only get a hint of his relationship with the Yoshidas, which dates back to elementary school. As for Shizuku, improbable as it is, they’re classmates in the same cram school (they just never noticed each other in class until Chapter 10).

Robico-sensei seems like she’s trying to set Yamaken up as another romantic wrench in the Shizuku/Haru relationship. However, Yamaken makes an even weaker leg for a romantic triangle than Oshima. At least the shy class rep realizes she’s crushing on Haru, even if Haru can scarcely remember her name. With Shizuku and Yamaken, both would be the first to deny the existence of any kind of attraction between them so Yamaken’s inexplicable fascination with Shizuku seems forced. As such, Yamaken, like Oshima, mainly ends up as the catalyst for misunderstandings in Shizuku and Haru’s push-pull relationship.

Robico-sensei uses yet another popular manga setting, the high school festival, as an opportunity to throw all her misfits together (in fact, I think the entire cast makes an appearance in that arc). Predictably, Haru has his freak outs, and Shizuku gets punched by him (again), but readers can at least watch characters play out the chaos in their haunted house booth costumes.

Extras include bonus four-panel comics and sketches after each chapter, an afterword from the mangaka, and translation notes. I should note that the translation notes included two typos, although I’m not quite sure if they’re to make fun of Natsume’s error-riddled blog post.

In Summary

For a romantic comedy, there’s not a whole lot of chemistry brewing between our main couple. Robico-sensei increases the interest that Oshima and Yamaken have in Haru and Shizuku respectively, but with Haru/Shizuku/Shizuku’s studies remaining the predominant love triangle, these alternate pairings aren’t much to get excited about. Mostly, the involvement of these other characters serve to add to Shizuku’s and Haru’s emotional instability, and in the context of a school festival, it is entertaining.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Words For Pictures: The Art And Business Of Writing Comics And Graphic Novels Book Review

For writers, there are lots of books on the subject of writing fiction and screenplays. For illustrators, there are lots of books about drawing, manga-style and otherwise. However, there’s not a whole lot about scripting for comic books around, and Brian Michael Bendis’ Words for Pictures aims to fill that niche.

Back Cover Blurb

Arguably the most popular writer in modern comics, Brian Michael Bendis shares the tools and techniques he uses to create some of the most popular comic book and graphic novel stories of all time. Words for Pictures provides a fantastic opportunity for readers to learn from a creator at the very top of his field. Bendis’s step-by-step lessons teach comics writing hopefuls everything they’ll need to take their ideas from script to dynamic sequential art.

The Review

I was confused by this book’s title at first. After all, if it’s about comics, where visuals often take the place of blocks of text, shouldn’t it be Pictures for Words, not the other way around? As it turns out, the title does fit the book as it is not so much about all roles in the industry but specifically focuses on the writer.

So there are a lot of references to art and artists, and many contributors, including Bendis, went to art school and drew for part of their careers. However, Bendis’ intended audience are those aspiring to create the scripts most comic book readers never see. For those unfamiliar with these scripts, they’re the all-text documents used to tell another person how to draw the actual comic book, much the way screenplays guide filmmakers in making films. (In fact, Bendis writes his scripts using Final Draft, which is what my LA screenwriter friends use to write their scripts.) Not that this book can’t be useful for the writer-artist who’s writing out of his own head, but it’s definitely biased toward the situation where the writer is part of a much larger team.

Bendis introduces the “Full Script” and “Marvel Style,” which delineate the two ends of the scripting spectrum. However, from what he describes, scripts wind up in all places in between the two styles, morphing as collaborators figure out what works best for their particular team. In his example of a Full Script, he includes notes that address artist Sara Pichelli by name before getting into the dialogue. (The script also contains a couple grammatical errors, and I’m not sure if that’s an indication of what is acceptable in the industry or an oversight of the book’s editor.)

Because there are no hard and fast guidelines for scripts, Bendis discusses them in broad terms, stressing teamwork, communication, and the need to remember that comics, unlike film, is a static medium. He does touch on topics like story beats but so briefly that other guides, like Save the Cat!, would probably be more useful even if they are not specifically geared towards comic books. Bendis’ advice comes predominantly in the form of anecdotes or Q&A with various artists, whose preferences for script styles run all over the place.

As such, most chapters wind up being a kind of showcase of different ways various creators got into the industry or get their craft done. Fortunately for those wanting something more concrete, there are Chapter 4: The Editors’ Roundtable and Chapter 6: The Business of Comics Writing. If you’re aiming to pitch to any of the editors in the roundtable, which include six former/current Marvel editors and one Dark Horse editor, their responses are definitely worth a look. So is the spotlight on Marvel VP C.B. Cebulski. However, Diana Schutz’ five-page guide to editors will prove the most valuable section to those wanting to get into the industry but have no idea where to start. As for Chapter 6, it’s not a comprehensive guide to managing your creative work as a business but provides a good start and contains a handy glossary of contract terms.

Because it is a book about the comic book industry, it includes comic book art, mostly from Marvel titles, which isn’t surprising since Bendis writes for them. Some pictures are used to illustrate a point; most simply decorate the pages. They are vibrantly reproduced though. And though the focus is on writing, it includes interviews with artists David Mack, Alex Maleev, and Michael Avon Oeming. So if you’re not a writer but have an interest in those artists, you’ll have decide for yourself if that material’s enough to justify the book’s $24.99 cover price.

In summary

The cover flap touts the book as the “complete toolbox needed to jumpstart the next comics-writing success,” but it isn’t quite that. To be sure, anecdotes from Bendis and a host of writers, artists, and editors provide a fairly good look into the industry. However, Bendis treats comic book scripting in such general terms that I would call Words for Pictures a nice tool for a writer but hardly the complete toolbox.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Bravest Warriors: The Search For Catbug Art Book Review

If you’re a fan of the Bravest Warriors animated series, chances are you’re also a fan of the cutest member of its cast, Catbug! Absolutely adorable with his squeaky voice and somewhat ADD personality, he’s now the star of an art book: Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug!

Back Cover Blurb

Four teenage travelers traverse the universe saving those in need…though not always in the way you’d expect…in fact…never! Along the way they meet aliens, phantoms and other interdimensionals—including everyone’s favorite, Catbug. Sometimes…they even meet themselves!

Featuring more than 25 artists, this is a new one-of-a-kind art book in the style of a classic seek & find from Perfect Square featuring the Bravest Warriors.

The Review

The Search for Catbug is a collaboration between Cartoon Hangover and Viz Media. What they’ve done is take the cast of Bravest Warriors, twenty-eight artists, and a simple prompt and created a book that’s part game, part art collection, and part Bravest Warriors merchandise.

This hardcover opens with a two-page intro in comic book format that lays the premise for the rest of its contents. In short, Catbug eats foodstuff cubes from Chris’ dreams, which cause him to lose control over his jump abilities. The Bravest Warriors can’t let him go careening through dimensions so they take off to find him.

What follows is not so much a cohesive story as it is twenty-eight separate graphic interpretations of what the Bravest Warriors’ search might look like. Each drawing is presented as a two-page spread in full color. Those looking for a collection entirely rendered in the cartoon’s style may be disappointed. Character designs and art media are as varied as the artists participating, ranging from Leong’s anime interpretation to Kuhn’s CG illustration to Hillburn’s watercolor candyland to Monlogo’s Escher inspired piece.

However, two things unify this collection. Every illustration features the four Bravest Warriors, and each has Catbug hidden somewhere in the details. And of course, the game is to locate Catbug in each picture. It’s very similar to Where’s Waldo?, but unlike the Where’s Waldo? illustrations which hide Waldo among crowds of people, these artists use a variety of tactics to hide Catbug, ranging from making him super tiny to placing him against a backdrop of ladybugs.

That aside, the artists don’t appear to have had any constraints with the subject matter. Most depictions include other characters, objects, and places from the animated series, and several feature the foodstuff cubes that caused Catbug’s uncontrollable jumping in the first place. Some have the Bravest Warriors in battle mode, while others are more pastoral. In keeping with the tone of the show, the pieces are generally fun with a heavy dose of randomness. And for those who search and search but just can’t seem to locate Catbug, the book includes a handy answer key in the back along with artist credits and their self-portraits.

In summary

The Search for Catbug can be summed up as a playful artist tribute to Bravest Warriors. If you are completely unfamiliar with the Cartoon Hangover series, this book probably isn’t the best introduction. While the artwork is entertaining and it is possible for newbies to have fun locating the Bravest Warriors’ cute little mascot, this collection will be best appreciated and enjoyed by those who are already fans.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 22

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartan warriors wore their hair long.

It was as much a part of their military look as their standard issue red cloak. Primping isn’t something we associate with readying for battle, but when danger loomed, Spartan warriors would take particular care of their long locks and decorate their weapons and clothes as well.

And that concludes this series on the Spartan citizens! For those interested in learning more about them, these are some sources I used in my research:

The Spartans, documentary hosted by Bettany Hughes

Spartan Reflections by Paul Cartledge

The Spartans by Paul Cartledge

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #12

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has recently released the twelfth volume of this series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

Back Cover Blurb

To obtain a map of the northlands, Lawrence and company leave the Kingdom of Winfiel and return to Kerube. Seeking out a silversmith of notorious reputation, they are introduced to the beautiful Fran Vonely who offers to provide what they seek. However, Fran’s map comes with a price-in exchange, the party must travel with her to a village where an angel is said to have alighted and discover the truth behind the legend. But what of the rumor that a witch lives in that very same village?

The Review

Lawrence and company leave the island kingdom of Winfiel for the port city of Kerube. It’s only been a matter of days since the narwhal incident, but that misadventure seems a distant memory with Kieman pleasantly greeting Lawrence at the Rowen trading house with news of Eve’s latest profit-making success. However, the one our travelers have returned to seek in Kerube is not human but a being of Huskin’s kind.

Holo’s encounter with the Great Sheep of Winfiel in Volume 10 brought to the forefront an aspect of Holo of which Hasekura-sensei hitherto only gave brief glimpses. Volume 12 continues delving into the particular dilemmas of legendary spirits with Huskin’s fellow sheep Hugues. Unlike Huskins, who survives in the fields as a shepherd, Hugues has made a life for himself in town–as an art merchant.

It seems a strange occupation for a sheep, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. After Holo has her fill of teasing the faint-hearted Hugues (who has nowhere near the fortitude of Huskins), he shows the three travelers his merchandise. The paintings are ostensibly of saints and other religious figures, but the true subjects of his collection are the backgrounds–ancient forests, hills, and waterways. Most of these landscapes, where spirits like Holo and Hugues once thrived, no longer exist, and those that remain are rapidly being destroyed by human activity. In commissioning such paintings, Huskins strives to preserve a small piece of the world that once was, and it is a reminder that Yoitsu, as Holo knew it, might not exist.

Even so, she’s determined to find her homeland. Through Hugues, they meet the silversmith Fran Vonley with whom they strike a peculiar deal. She agrees to draw them a map to Yoitsu if they travel with her to investigate a village’s seemingly conflicting stories of an angel and a witch.

Once the setting changes to the village of Taussig, the story very much takes on the flavor of their sojourn in Tereo. A search for clues put Lawrence and company in the midst of a village contending against outside forces, and Fran, like the clergywoman Elsa, is the determined young heroine who has a mission she must see through.

Some of the text is confusing. Like many previous volumes, there are sections of dialogue where it is unclear who is speaking. In a couple places, it seems like wrong names were inserted. As such, understanding the Taussig conflict, which is predominantly a religious/political one, requires some mental effort and a bit of rereading. Fortunately, it is much easier to comprehend than the narwhal deal in Kerube and does manage to come to a tidy end. In addition, Hasekura-sensei also lays the groundwork for future stories with the rumors swirling about the north. Before, Lawrence and Holo traveled with the Church/pagan struggle in the backdrop. Now, the powerful Debau Company is emerging as a player looking to profit off the northern lands, and it seems like it will only be a matter of time before their activities directly affect Col’s or Holo’s homelands.

This light novel includes the title page, four illustrations, and the table of contents printed in color as well as seven black-and-white illustrations and a world map.

In Summary

Though a new merchant gets introduced in our Spice and Wolf world, this volume is less about the marketplace and more about man’s impact on an all too quickly changing world. As Holo continues to seek to Yoitsu, an encounter with another ancient spirit forces her to consider what she might find at the end of her journey and her options in a world dominated by humans. Speaking of humans, their search for Holo’s homeland leads not only to the unraveling of a legend’s mystery but also presents a commentary on the very best and worst of humanity. So there’s not much of an economics lesson, but we do get to witness the desperate measures people resort to when major forces clash.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 21

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartans were very superstitious.

Most of these superstitions were tied to warfare. Their business might have been exclusively war, but they weren’t so reckless as to charge into a fight without the backing of the gods. After all, if anyone knew the cost of war, they did. In fact, in 432 BC, King Archidamus hesitated to declare war against the Athenians. (He eventually got outvoted and led the campaign himself).

At any rate, commanders did not lead the charge unless their priests received favorable signs, and every military army had a herd of sacrificial animals to discern the will of the gods at any time. Border campaign sometimes got stopped because of unpropitious sacrifices. Eclipses and earthquakes have also put an end to campaigns.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 20

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartan warriors were famed for dancing.

This might sound kind of odd because we don’t associate ballet with camouflage and semiautomatics, but in those days, fighting involved coordination that was often signaled by drums and pipes. Because dance is physical movement choreographed to sound, it became for the Spartans yet another means of military training.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Research Ramblings: The Spartan Citizenry, Part 19

As noted in my May 2, 2014 post, Spartan warriors were an interesting bunch, and I’m continuing my series on them with today’s fact:

Spartans killed those who got in their way but spared those who surrendered.

People nowadays often think of Spartans as bloodthirsty brutes, but if they could win without spilling blood, they would. Their fearsome reputation served them well in this respect, and many adversaries would simply take advantage of their mercy policy and not risk battle.

Tune in next week for more about the Spartans!

Haikyu!! Anime Fangirl Gushing

While I am a cosplay enthusiast, my miserly nature strictly limits my cosplay-related purchases. However, the instant I came across Haikyu!!, which began simulcasting on Crunchyroll last spring, Karasuno High School uniforms fell into the “must have” category. And now, both my husband and I can show our spirit for the Karasuno volleyball team in our latest outfits.

Haikyu uniform

My husband is a near exact physical match for Captain Daichi, but he insisted on Kageyama’s Number 9

For those unfamiliar with Haikyu!!, it’s a sports anime centered on a high school volleyball team. The story follows two freshmen: Shoyo Hinata and Tobio Kageyama. Hinata is the eager raw talent who couldn’t truly play the sport due to the absence of a boys team at his middle school. Kageyama, on the other hand, is a seasoned and genius player, but his high-handed attitude cost him the respect of his middle school teammates and a championship victory. The two wind up at Karasuno High School, and though they start as rivals, they learn how to work with one another and, more importantly, what it means to be a team.

Although the fall anime lineup remains to be revealed, I’m fairly certain that Haikyu!! will be my favorite anime of 2014. This is fairly unusual for me since my taste leans heavily toward shojo, fantasy, and historical, and Haikyu!! is none of these. However, even if you’re not into the sports genre, even if you dislike volleyball in real life (like me), even if you’re not really into anime, give Haikyu!! a chance. You’ll be surprised at how quickly it sucks you in.

For one, the cast is immediately relatable. Whether it’s Hinata’s nerves sending him running to the bathroom or discouraged ace Asahi’s reluctance to return to the sport, you definitely get where they’re coming from.

Haikyu jersey (621x593)

My Karasuno Volleyball Team jacket!

For another, the pacing is excellent. Volleyball requires a large group of people, but characters get introduced in a way that really establishes their personalities and how they connect with the rest of the team. The show also makes volleyball rules, strategies, and tactics comprehensible for the uninitiated. At times, explanations border on info dump, especially with faculty advisor Takeda-sensei referencing a “how to” guide for volleyball during practice. However, if you don’t know your wing spiker from your float serve, it’s quite helpful.

Another huge plus is that I can recommend Haikyu!! to viewers of all ages. The subtitles do include a few cuss words (though I think that’s more of a reflection of Crunchyroll’s translation choices than the content), but there are no giants eating people, no end-of-the-world devastation, no fan service. Yes, there is the one cute girl whom a third of the team is crushing on, but she is NOT a panty-flashing airhead, her breasts aren’t the size of watermelons, and she’s not a wacko sadist who can’t cook. What you get instead is an overwhelmingly positive vibe from a bunch of boys, each with his quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, as they go through ups and downs yet strive to bring out their best in the game. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with a cast like this. Even among Karasuno’s rivals, no one is truly hateful, and several are worthy of their own fan followings.

And while Team Karasuno’s goal of winning the Nationals is what drives the plot, there’s plenty of humor to be had. Between ill-aimed balls, snarky potshots, and hilarious visual metaphors (my all-time favorite is Kageyama holding the Hinata bazooka), Haikyu!! manages to be fun and inspiring and gripping all at once. Add to that cool character designs, excellent action sequences on the court, catchy opening and closing themes, and you’ve got one gem of an anime.

So check it out! Even if you don’t have a Crunchyroll subscription, you can watch the with-commercial version for free. And perhaps you’ll find yourself joining me among the ranks of the Haikyu!! cosplayers.