Anime Review: Konosuba 1 & 2

If you like it when your sides hurt, this show is for you. 4.5/5.0

When season one of Konosuba ended, my wife and I were excited to see a second season was already in the works! It’s taken us a bit of time, but we’ve finished with season two, and we’re hoping for a third to come, a third that seems highly likely if rumors are true.

If you haven’t seen season one yet, I won’t be throwing any spoilers in this post. To sum it up, the story is about a Japanese teenager named Kazuma who dies in a rather silly way and gets the chance to be reincarnated in another world as himself (Same age and everything) and with one item or skill of his choosing. The goddess Aqua, who greets him on the other side with mockery and derision, learns the hard way that Kazuma is, if nothing else, rather vindictive. He chooses her as his “item” and both of them are thrust into a fantasy world oppressed by an as-yet-unseen demon king, with the mission of defeating him if either want to go back to their respective worlds. They then add two new members to their party, and hijkinks ensue (  Hijinks ensue. (Hi-jinks? High jinks? It’s an odd word).

Behold, the face of a masochist!

Season one was hilarious, and season two is just as good. The humor is mostly a result of the interactions between the four main characters as they attempt to accomplish whatever quest they’re dealing with in that particular episode or episodes. Kazuma’s party couldn’t be more different. Kazuma is more-or-less the straight man for the show, though he has his moments. Aqua is an amazing healer, but she’s dumb as a box of rocks and always ending up in debt. Megumin is a magician obsessed with only the most powerful spell in her discipline (Think Meteo in the Final Fantasy universe). And Darkness the Paladin is a bit too interested in being a damage sponge, to the point that she’s useless with her sword.

There’s almost always a complication, and those complications are almost always caused by one or more of the team members. For instance, a recurring issue for Kazuma is a rival hero who came to the world much like him, only he chose some mystical, legendary sword for slaying evil. When the two end up facing off against each other, Kazuma steals the sword with his special ability and then sells it. Funny at the time, but there are several instances throughout the show where that hero and his sword would have come in handy, but now Kazuma and his party of misfits are on their own. And then there’s a general of the demon king’s army who sets up shop in a nearby castle and is content to leave the heroes’ city alone until a certain explosion-obsessed magician decides to go and blow his castle up. Every day. For weeks:

For those seeking a good laugh, this show has it all. I will warn that there is also a fair amount of fan service in it, especially with Darkness’s character. Lots of bounciness and some “might-as-well-be-naked” moments. Even then, it’s done in a way that parodies other shows.

New Month, New Work Routine

All right, so we’re a few days into the month already, but today’s the beginning of a brand new work routine. My day job has officially gone full-time, and while this may sound like it could put a damper on writing, it could actually help. My schedule will be a steady 40-hour week from here on, and that little bit of rigidity will allow for a better writing routine. 7:00 AM – 3:00 PM, then writing until close to bed time. Before I would have some weeks that were 30 hours of work with a lot of time for writing followed by other weeks that would be 60+ with little to no time for writing.

The goals for the next few months are set, and all that’s left is to get to it. I’m not sure if any of you struggle with setting – and then following through on – goals, but for me those first couple weeks are the worst. If I can stay on task, then the routine will become a habit, and once a habit’s established… Well, it’ll be a lot harder to break.

For any who are wondering, the goal for February is to write the rough draft of the first Necrolopolis book. It’s a tall order, but I’ve got most of the critical scenes planned out, as well as the main and supporting cast. Some of the minor scenes and characters are hazy, but that could prove to make things a bit more fun and allow for a little bit of discovery in the drafting process. Again, as long as the core plot points are maintained and hit, I can be flexible with some of the in-between stuff.

And for those wishing to do better with their own goal planning, an article I just came across today is timely, to say the least: “Effective Goal Setting: Practical advice for setting, measuring, and hitting your goals.” One of the main keys is focusing on smaller goals. This allows you to see more immediate results, even if the overall goal is a long-haul one. For my particular goal this month, that’ll be mostly word count goals. Each day, write X-amount of words. It seems like common sense, but for me it really does help. So, set some goals, and keep at it!

Movie Review: Cardcaptor Sakura – The Sealed Card

A fantastic bridge between the old series and the new. 4.5/5.0

The last couple years have been great for theater-going anime fans, at least in the United States. Last year we saw, in no particular order, Sailor Moon R’s re-release, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, Your Name, lots of good stuff. And this year, we’ve already seen two films in theaters: Fandango’s release of “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” and now Crunchyroll’s release of “Cardcaptor Sakura – The Sealed Card.” It is being shown in theaters around the country for one more day, 02/04/18.

This is actually the second Cardcaptor film, but it serves as the closure of the original series. In it, Sakura has one last challenge to face as the cards she spent the entire series capturing are disappearing, and she has to figure out why. And once she discovers who – or what – is doing it, it’s time to fight and the whole city is at stake.

For a film released in 2000 it holds up really well. The animation quality and production values are top-notch. It was released in its original Japanese language, and from what I could tell the translation held up well. I’m no expert, but I’ve listened to enough subtitled anime to know when something sounds a little off.

The movie itself is paced well. We’re treated to introductions for most of the main and supporting cast early on, we learn that Sakura’s personal goal is to someday admit her feelings for a special someone in her life (Hint, it’s the guy next to her in the video down below), but things quickly get derailed as a new enemy appears that she and all her friends spend the rest of the movie battling. It’s funny, it’s action-packed in the latter-half, and watching Sakura master her feelings will make anyone who’s gone through a similar romantic journey just a bit nostalgic. It’s recommended, even as a stand-alone feature. Though, you’ll be a little lost just in the beginning as there are a lot of inside jokes and quirks that you won’t fully appreciate unless you’ve seen at least some of the series.

“How many versions of our show are there?”

This is being shown to celebrate the launch of the new Cardcaptor Sakura series, “Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card.” We’ve seen the first two episodes of it, and we love it. I may do a review of it once we’re a few more episodes in, but so far it’s as good as the original. And, if you haven’t seen the original and like magical girl shows, Crunchyroll has both the subbed and dubbed versions.

 

To sum it up, we loved it! 4.5/5.0. I only docked a half point because I wish the final battle had been a little more involved. The way it ended was satisfying, but abrupt. Still, it has me even more excited for the rest of the series. And for the experience of seeing it in theaters, we give that a 10/5. Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Fathom have been doing a lot of great things for us anime fans! Looking forward to more coming out.

Audiobook Review: “A Man in the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts”

If you’re the least bit interested in the space program – especially NASA’s early years – then you’ll love “A Man in the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts” by Andrew Chaikin. The audio book comes in at exactly 23 hours, and covers the Apollo program from the Apollo 1 disaster all the way through the final Apollo 17 mission

Part biography, part debriefing, Mr. Chaikin skillfully weaves interesting character portraits and anecdotes of the astronauts with the missions themselves. I loved getting to know more about each astronaut and his reasons for joining the space program. Some wanted a challenge, something even more exciting than being a test pilot, which most of the early astronauts were. Some like Jim Lovell had always dreamed of exploring space and landing on the Moon, and that makes his Apollo 13 mission all the more tragic. Twice he got to fly around the Moon – first on 8 and then on 13 – but he never got to set foot on it. And there was at least one who just thought it sounded like a decent job and he was going to be the best astronaut he could be, though I forget which one that was.

While all of it is worth listening to, the first half is by far the most exciting. Book-ended by two disasters – Apollo 1 and 13 – the meat of the first half is a triumph of firsts. The first Lunar orbit, Apollo 8, was a race against the Soviets. Apollo 9 was the first time a Saturn V rocket carried both the Command Module and the Lunar Module, and this was the first time the docking procedure would be performed. And the main event, the first landing with Apollo 11, was a near disaster when Neil Armstrong missed his landing zone and had to improvise to avoid boulders and craters with his delicate lander.

The latter half of the book has more of a focus on the scientific achievements of the Apollo program, and they are quite extensive, especially from a geological standpoint. Apollo 15’s discovery of the Genesis Rock is one such achievement that stands out in my mind, along with the many health and mechanical challenges faced on that mission, the first of the J-Missions (The longer stays on the Lunar surface). The book doesn’t delve into too much of the nitty-gritty details of the science, which may or may not be a turn-off for some. As someone who is more interested in the people, it was a relief for me. There’s a reason I don’t really enjoy techno-thrillers, except in rare cases.

The narrator, Bronson Pinchot, does an excellent job of bringing the story and people in it to life. I don’t know if Bronson himself is much into NASA’s history and space travel, but he could’ve fooled me with his performance. Some of the astronauts – from Buzz Aldrin’s awe-inspired description of the Moon as “Magnificent desolation” to Pete Conrad’s lighthearted first words as he followed in Neil and Buzz’s footsteps onto the surface – are delivered with quite the range of emotions. I’ve listened to him read David B. Coe’s “His Father’s Eyes” and he did a great job there, too, so it’s no surprise he’d deliver well here.

In all, I loved this book and can’t wait to read more about the space program. Between this and the Jim Baen Memorial Award book from Baen, I haven’t been this interested in space travel since Space Camp back in 5th grade, and that’s saying a lot!

I bought this with my own, hard-earned Audible Credits. If you’d like to purchase it or other books from Amazon, I’d appreciate if you used the affiliate link here or in the image above: “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts.” It helps keep the site running, and it keeps me stocked in audio books for more reviews. It is appreciated!

Getting Ready for the New Year

Woah, the new year is almost here! When did that happen? They need to put that on a calendar or something. Wait a second…

Our pastor began his sermon today with an acknowledgement of the year ending and how his e-mail inbox is getting flooded with “Start the year with a new workout/diet/financial planning/whatever” advertisements. If he’s like me, he’s been deleting them every time they pop up, but they do have an effect, at least on me. While I have no desire to buy into some fad program, I do want to take the time to figure out what went right and wrong over 2017, and how I can do better in 2018.

If you’re like me, it’s very easy to get sidetracked, even with a New Year mindset. “This week I really need to get this written or that finished up, but I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday and my car needs to go in the shop on Thursday, and so-and-so is coming over Friday…” Looking back on my goals for 2017, I can see every single instance of where I let my plan get derailed. And, with rare exception, they were “good” excuses: things that needed to get done, or people I needed to visit or spend time with for whatever reason.

The problem is: there will always be good and valid reasons to not write or work on whatever side project you have going on. You – and I – have to work past that. The writers and entrepreneurs who go from “want-to-be” to “presently-am” are the ones who carve out the necessary time to get done the things they need to get done. Larry Correia, for instance, wrote his first book while he was laid off and between jobs, then once he was working again he wrote late into the night, slept the minimum number of hours he needed to function at his daytime job, then got done what he needed to do. Even after he was making enough that he could quit his day job, he kept at it until he was successful enough to have first Sunday off, then Saturday. That’s where I’d like to be in a few years, but I’m not going to get anywhere unless I carve out the time now and finish what needs doing. And the same applies to you in whatever endeavor you’ve got going.

I recently started following retired Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and his SOFREP TV channel on YouTube, and one of his videos was an hour-long discussion on New Year’s Resolutions and how goal-setting can really improve one’s success rate for the year. It’s long, but worth listening to if you have the time. I’m blessed with a day job that allows me to listen to audiobooks and podcasts and whatever else I want to while I’m working. If you are so blessed, then enjoy:

At the very beginning of the video, he recommends coming up with a list of goals, broken down by personal, professional, and friends/family goals. I won’t go into all my goals, but below are a few:

Personal:

  • Personal fitness – get into an exercise routine that keeps me in shape and doesn’t take up too much of my day.
  • Bible reading – get one of Audible’s versions of the Bible (The KJV) and listen at least an hour per day.
  • Audiobooks – one per week, reviews and posted on site (Semi-professional, but also personal)

Professional:

  • Daytime work – complete XX hours per week.
  • Novel writing – write four books.
  • Short story writing – write four short stories.
  • Blog posts/reviews – five posts per week.

Anyway, just some food for thought as the new year begins! Now, back to making some black-eyed peas. It’s a bit of a tradition where I come from, for good luck or some-such. I eat it because it tastes good, and this particular recipe from Carnal Dish is a bit of work, but well worth it.

The Jim Baen Memorial Award Collection is Here!

If any of you know me, you know I don’t read as much science fiction as I do fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good space or cyberpunk jaunt. I’m also interested in writing more science fiction of my own, and what better way to do that than with a contest motivator?

Enter The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade. It is a collection of winning short stories from the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest that William Ledbetter and Baen Books host every year, in honor of positive science fiction and the late and great Jim Baen.

I’ll be enjoying, then studying, these stories over the next few weeks, so expect at least a few posts about it, including a review of the book overall. I’m impressed with what little I’ve skimmed so far. I regret to say I don’t recognize many of the names off the bat (Again, not really the genre I’ve spent much time reading in recent years), but I do recognize Brad Torgerson. I loved The Chaplain’s War, so I’ve high hopes for his short story “Gemini XVII.”

Blade Runner 2049: Where are the Flame Towers?

Seriously, where’d they go? Throughout this sprawling, 160 minute epic we get shot after shot of the near-future LA skyline, and none of the flame-spitting spires from the original film are anywhere to be seen. I don’t even know what those things were for, but they were everywhere in 2019. What changed? Maybe the locals learned they were just there for atmosphere and decided to quit wasting money on them.

Well, aside from that gross oversight, the movie was great. We seem to be living through a time of sequel fatigue with Hollywood audiences, but this one was a worthy follow-up to the original Blade Runner. LA is still gritty and full of crazies, the Replicants are still trying to find their own place in society, and the movie ends up leaving plenty of unanswered questions while answering the ones that matter to the here-and-now.

Fans of the original should love this film. If you’re looking for a straight-up action sci-fi, this probably isn’t for you. The fight scenes are intense, but are few and far between. The main focus is Officer K (Ryan Gossling) trying to solve a mystery after he “retires” a rogue Replicant at the beginning of the film.

There are a pair of badass heroes, a pair of badass villains, and a whole lot of CG that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the film. It’s all blended in nicely, and has the look and feel of the original film. About the only thing missing from an atmospheric standpoint was the creepy vocal track that would play throughout the first film. I just rewatched the original Blade Runner a couple days ago in preparation for this film, and now I know where Ghost in the Shell gets it from.

Overall, a 4.5/5.0 from me. I had to deduct something due to the whole flame tower thing. It’s iconic, man!

“A Salt on the Rise” is Published

“A Salt on the Rise” has now been published, as part of OnThePremises.com’s 30th Issue. It is the Guest piece, and the tag line the editors came up with for it is a “speculative story about a problem-solving bureaucrat in a particularly complex afterlife.”

I should probably introduce this world a little bit, as it is where most of the stories I’m currently writing take place in, as well as the book I’m going to have finished by the end of the year.

“A Salt on the Rise” takes place on a secondary world similar to our own, but one where magic and fantasy races abound. In this world, one of two things happens to people when they die:

1. Their souls leave their bodies, enter the River Styx, and make the journey straight to the afterlife.
2. Their souls linger, either in their bodies or in some physical object they’re attached to (Rings, swords, etc) and they become part of the undead.

The undead are cursed to wander the earth until they either resolve whatever is keeping them on this side of the veil, or they are exorcised and their suffering souls are utterly vanquished. To keep the undead from becoming a menace on the living and to protect them from the fate of non-existence, the God of Death created a city that sits at the point where the River Styx crosses over to the other side. This is Necrolopolis, a sprawling city of some four million restless souls of various types: ghouls, skeletons, ashlings, mummies, free-floating spirits, even two distinct groups of vampires. All are waiting for their chance to meet with the God of Death to determine what is keeping them here so that they can resolve it and cross over.

But, the wait time is long, and the undead are quite restless. To keep the peace, the God of Death depends on two people: his half-human daughter Grimina, and her full-human assistant Adelvell, a necromancer with a knack for getting caught up in other people’s messes. He may have poor luck (And an even poorer disposition), but this dead-end job in this dead-end town is all Adelvell’s got, and he’s got bills to pay.

This is the first published Necrolopolis story, but it is not the first published Adelvell story. If you enjoyed “A Salt on the Rise” and would like to get a glimpse of our hero prior to his tenure as Grimina’s assistant, check out “Lost in the Mail” in Third Flatiron Publishing’s anthology Astronomical Odds. Also be on the lookout for other announcements. I had several short stories making the submission rounds, and if/when any stick I will let you know the where and when.

The Writer’s Lexicon: A Treasure Trove for the Editing Writer

I received a copy of Kathy Steinemann’s The Writer’s Lexicon last month in order to provide an unbiased review for it. Kathy must’ve broken into my schedule planner, because she offered it up right at the time I needed it most. I had four short story deadlines to try and meet by the end of September, and that meant a lot of editing.

For anyone looking for a cheat sheet when editing or for those who want to improve their overall writing during any phase of work, The Writer’s Lexicon is an asset worth having. The book is broken up into a few sections: overused words and phrases (Let’s nod, smile, and laugh our way through life), overused punctuation (Exclamation points!!!11!!), taboos, and even a section on sensory words and touching on all the senses can really add depth to the writing and better ground the reader.

While editing these four stories, the two areas that helped me most were the sections on overused words and phrases and the use of sensory words. Before I got my hands on this particular book, I’d already had editors who wanted to publish a story of mine point out how often my characters nodded, smiled, shrugged, and laughed. Way too much, but in my defense: one of my favorite trilogies is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Go back and flip through that first book and tell me how many times Kelsier does all four of those things in a single conversation, let alone the rest of the crew. He ain’t hurtin’! Then again, I’m not Brandon Sanderson and you aren’t, either, so it probably pays to adhere to at least some rules to better touch up your prose. I also haven’t read much of his more recent stuff just because I’ve been too busy, so it’s possible he’s changed his style since Mistborn came out many years ago.

With that said, this book isn’t just a collection of proverbs like “Hey, try to keep your characters from shrugging so much” or “You know, it’s probably a good idea to have your character smell something wafting through the air every once in awhile.” That’s in there, but the coolest part of The Writer’s Lexicon is the substitutes for some of those overused words and lists of the many ways one can touch the senses.

For example, have a character who clears his throat way too much? Is it as annoying to read as it is to hear over and over again in real life? There’s a way around it, but we need to figure out his motivation first. Does he do it because he’s agitated or anxious? Is it because he’s embarrassed or afraid? Maybe he feels a level of guilt over something? Depending on what his motivation is, there are other physical tells you can use to show that off aside from just clearing the throat or coughing out of turn, such as nail biting when agitated or grinding teeth when anxious, shuffling feet when embarrassed, or staring at the floor when guilty.

No matter what the word, phrase, or taboo is, Kathy has several substitutes for them, each dependent on the emotion or state of mind trying to be conveyed. It’s helped me quite a bit, and I plan to go back to this book every time I sit down to edit.

Overall, The Writer’s Lexicon is a 5.0/5.0 for me. For a reference book, it’s top-notch. My only wish is that I had a paperback version of it, as well. Guess I know what’s on my Christmas list this year.

My HP Meter is Low! To the Inn!

Well, I knew I’d been pushing myself too hard lately, but I wasn’t quite sure how hard until the previous Monday (10/02) when I became sick as a dog. The weather’s gone from hot to cold to wet to dry to hot to cold very rapidly over the last week or so of September, and that usually affects my sinuses negatively. Drainage, sneezing, the like. Occasionally I can end up with an actual sinus infection with fever and chills and all that fun stuff, and that’s what happened that Monday night. Started to feel lousy in the evening, then worse by bed, then Tuesday I felt awful, and continued to all through the weekend.

I haven’t been sick in a couple of years, so I did the sensible thing and took it easy. Now, everyone recovers a bit differently. Some need lots of sleep, others need lots of bed rest, still others like to languish on the couch. And others just med up and keep going. That last option is usually me, unless I get really under the weather like I was this time. So, how do I recover? I get on the couch, and play video games.

Yep, you read that right. I can’t sleep during the day, and lazing about just reminds me of how miserable I feel, and that seems counterproductive. If I’m mentally miserable, that just adds to the strain the body is facing, or that’s how I look at it. So, I occupy my mind by picking a game off the shelf and getting to it. By taking my mind off the problem, I think I recover more quickly. At the very least, it’s a guilt-free time to play games and it serves as one heck of a morale boost to a sick person.

I may not have gotten much work or writing accomplished last week, but I did go a long way in saving the known universe in Rogue Galaxy for the PS2. I hear it’s out or coming out on the PS4. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good RPG with cool characters, great music, and tall ships in space. I haven’t seen any actual ship-to-ship battles like in Skies of Arcadia and I don’t expect to see that, but even without that it’s still a fun jaunt. I highly recommend it!

“Back to the adventure?”
“Let’s go!”