Monday, July 28, 2014

The Five(ish) Fangirls Podcast: Episode 8 - It's Fandom Christmas!

It's Fandom Christmas and we have been very good fangirls this year! San Diego Comic Con treated everyone to casting announcements, trailers, sneak peeks, panels and interviews with our favorite casts and creators, release dates, and Robert Downey, Jr. giving everyone roses! (well, in Hall H, anyway). Though your humble correspondents watched the action from the comfort of our computer screens (and sometimes from the floor when we squee so much we fall out of our chairs - okay, maybe that was just me), there's still plenty to enjoy!

Also - news not out of SDCC, plus a way to support the Five(ish) Fangirls and help us get on iTunes!

Full show notes and an mp3 download link can be found here:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blue Eyes Smiling In the Rain

SPOILERS for Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 2: Ami, Sailor Mercury

Oh. My. Sweet. Henshin. Yo. (or something). Sailor Mercury’s episode nearly left me in tears (but in a good way).

This episode does deviate a bit from the manga storyline. Not too much - the Crystal Seminar and the girls getting their transformation pens from the Sailor V game is still there. But somehow, Ami is specifically targeted to donate her energy to the Dark Kingdom because of her intelligence, where in the manga it was more focused on everybody in the Seminar being brainwashed (that still happened, but only peripherally). But there are a few changes in the details and they go a bit deeper into the characters, especially with Ami. I don’t remember them spending so much time on Lonely Ami in the manga, to be truthful. But I’m glad that’s the direction they went for reasons I’ll get to here in a bit.

The opening is very much focused on Ami. There are random, nameless, faceless students talking about how much of a genius she is - how all she does is study, even during her free time. They whisper in hushed voices around her, never reaching out to talk to her or even trying to get to know her. One poignant moment comes when a group of boys walk behind the bench where she’s sitting while they’re talking about her. They notice that she’s there and they hurry away so they don’t have to talk to her.

And then there’s the point that nearly killed me emotionally. Ami is walking back to the school building alone and sees Usagi and all her friends laughing and having fun together. And this moment, I think, encapsulates why Ami Mizuno is my favorite Sailor Guardian. I mean, it seems everybody loves Rei for being fiery and outgoing or Makoto for being girly while also being the tough tomboy. And, I’ll be honest, I love those two for those reasons as well (especially Mako-chan - try being the gawky, freakishly tall girl in your seventh grade class sometime). But Ami has just always been the one that I gravitated toward - the one I felt like I could look up to. She’s quiet, reserved, loves to learn new things, has a passion for what she does, and simply wants a few true and honest friends, but isn’t quite sure how to go about finding them on her own. And she’s often scared of speaking up for herself, especially when people are saying mean things about her. But then she finds her niche as Sailor Mercury and ends up with a group of friends that have stuck with her since before she can remember - and that means the world to her. It even helps her find the confidence to stand up for herself and her friends - she feels like she finally has a purpose outside of her own goals and ambitions (which, her ambitions are many. That’s probably the only place where she and I differ - I can’t do math to save my life and I never had any intention of going into a medical field. But those are superlative traits - the basics are there).

Back to the scene - Ami sees this group of bubbly, happy girls, one of whom doesn’t do so well on tests at school - Usagi is even kind of bragging about it. And she’s going this look on her face (and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but you bring your own interpretation to the reading, as they say) that says “I wish I could be carefree and happy like that. But that’s impossible.”

And then “Moon Pride” blasts across the screen with its pitch-perfect tone for what all these girls are about.

Honestly, I could not have asked for a more perfect introduction for Sailor Mercury. Visually, I feel like the animators got Ami’s persona down to a science (pun not intended). She’s smart and confident in her intelligence - in fact, that’s her greatest asset. But she also has a sense of whimsy about her that often gets overlooked in this bubble of scientific logic she’s created for herself. The scene where Luna jumps out of the tree in front of Ami and Ami starts cooing and petting this strange cat - Usagi sees this interaction and runs up to introduce herself to Ami. And Ami says that she thought Luna was an angel, but immediately blushes at the ridiculousness of the statement (and I admit here - something might have been lost a bit in the translation from Japanese to English and there might be some deeper cultural meaning here that I’m not familiar with). But Ami is a little surprised at her own audacity to suggest something so fanciful - this is a side of her she probably hasn’t shared with other people and she’s not sure how they’ll react to the Genius Girl from Class 5 spouting off fairy tale nonsense. But Usagi smiles and laughs appreciatively at Ami’s comment, which gives Ami permission to smile at herself too. Usagi invites Ami to go to the arcade with her and, dear ones, we have just witnessed the first renewed friendship between the Sailor Guardians in Sailor Moon Crystal.

(It’s a beautiful moment - I’d say I’m gonna cry, but I think I’m way past that at this point).

To the arcade! I totally love everything about this scene (this was also in the manga as well to some degree). The Mercury Pen that Ami gets from the Sailor V game at Crown Arcade. Now, that scene where Ami kicks all manner of ass in the Sailor V arcade game on her first try did happen in the manga, as well as the game giving her the Mercury Pen (keep an eye on that game, by the way). It also give Usagi her Moon Disguise Pen (when she nearly beats the poor machine in... oh, Usagi-chan...) But I adore the scene the next day at school where Ami has her new blue pen in the front shirt pocket and Usagi also has her new pen in her front shirt pocket. Usagi points out that they both have their new pens and Ami grins about it - also recognizing that Usagi’s been calling her “Ami-chan,” which I wonder if anyone’s ever done that outside of Ami’s family (okay - I’m starting to see the draw with the glut of merchandise because now I want a Mercury Pen - which is actually a functioning pen!)

I love how this pen is already one of her prized possessions.
And Ami keeps using her pen while she studies! I’m sure that Ami probably has a bunch of simple-yet-functional writing implements to help her practice math problems and what-have-you, but she just keeps going back to that pen she got at the arcade. Even saying “I should use my new pen for this.” It’s more than it’s just a pretty new accessory - it’s a symbol that Ami has a new friend. Someone invited her to go do something fun. Something she enjoyed and excelled at that people were impressed with without being snooty about it. I mean, beating a video game isn't exactly getting into Johns Hopkins Medical School (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is) - but damn if Ami doesn't feel a sense of pride at winning the game. Or even that she doesn't love Usagi’s praise and adoration at the end.

Ami has a friend! (if you didn't feel anything at all in the scene, you're wrong).
So, yeah, the Mercury Pen is more than just a pretty accessory for Ami. Even before she learns its true power - it’s already a powerful symbol of hope and friendship for her.

So - Crystal Seminar. Yeah, pretty much a front for the Dark Kingdom to go after the Silver Crystal (just assume anything brand new with “Crystal” or “Dark” in its name is going to be bad news from here on out). From what gets established early on, this “cram school” has actually been around for a while, but up to this point it was difficult for students to get into. Until they basically throw open the doors and say “Everybody come in and study!” (real subtle there, Dark Kingdom) (you learn quickly that villains in Sailor Moon have zero concept of subtlety. What’s surprising is how often the good people of Tokyo keep falling for this crap).

I have no reason for this cap, except for the fact that Usagi has an iBunny laptop.
One huge deviation from the manga here is that Ami, while she does attend Crystal Seminar and does receive a Crystal Disk in the manga (upgraded here from a 3” floppy to a CD-ROM - which is still used in some educational institutions, so it works), she never uses. Or, she uses it once, but it gives her a headache so she stops, citing that she can study better on her own and she prefers it that way. In Crystal, Ami does use the Crystal Disk and she does wind up getting brainwashed by the Dark Kingdom - though her brainwashing comes more at the hands of the monster in charge of the Seminar (I didn’t catch her name and I’m a bit too lazy to look it up right now - maybe later), but it was started by the Disk. Honestly, I’m fine with either version. Manga!Ami is totally in character, but so is Crystal!Ami as well. Perhaps the Crystal Disk is much more powerful in Crystal. I’ll buy that for a dollar. But what makes this change work in Crystal is that Ami’s newfound friendship with Usagi helps her break out of her trance.

The ending battle at Crystal Seminar is about the same as the manga (more or less). Usagi sneaks in with her Disguise Pen disguising her as a doctor (honestly, that’s one of the tamer ideas she has for that thing). She finds where Ami’s being held by the Dark Kingdom’s monster. She transforms into Sailor Moon and starts fighting the monster, but gets pinned down.

Okay - I lied about this sequence being the same as the manga. Because of the deviation with Ami actually getting brainwashed, there is a moment of tension where Ami’s memories of being friends with Usagi have to fight against the Dark Kingdom’s programming. Even to the point where (before Sailor Moon shows up) that Ami just has to use her pen during her studies, even though everything’s on the computer. She runs after it after the monster knocks it out of her hands - keep in mind that this Crystal Disk programming is supposed to force you to keep your focus on the computer. After she scoops it up, that’s when Usagi shows up and transforms into Sailor Moon - and that’s when Ami’s Mercury Power/Avatar Spirit/Inner Soul Thingy (fandom’s a little fuzzy on what to call this, but that’s all right) kicks Ami out of the brainwashing. The Mercury symbol appears on her forehead, Luna tells her what to say, and Ami transforms into Sailor Mercury.


And, yes, again the transformation sequence is very much a CGI-and-traditional-animated blended update of the transformation sequence from the original 90s anime. I imagine this will continue to be A Thing with Crystal. And I imagine I will continue to have zero complaints about this.

While the transformation sequences seem to be standardized (as is tradition in magical girl anime), the attack sequences are not. Which, I am most intrigued by this. It seems like the girls’ attacks are going to be integrated into the action within the episode, but it’ll still look awesome and pretty and cool. Like, last episode the Moon Tiara Boomerang went one way, but this time it went another. And Mercury Aqua Mist was Sailor Mercury in the Seminar classroom, but she was sending water and ice and mist at the monster. AND IT WAS GLORIOUS!

Anyway, the girls win, the monster gets blasted back to the depths from whence it came, and Sailor Moon has A Moment with Tuxedo Mask (doki doki, indeed). Afterwards, Ami calls an impromptu meeting of the Sailor Guardians (HA!!) and we’ve got ourselves a TEAM.

And then... the moment the rest of fandom is going to scream about...


(oh boy oh boy oh boy!)

And because Hulu doesn't have it (I have no idea why) - here's the preview trailer for Episode 3 that aired on NicoNico -

(Question - How come Mars gets her full-on henshin in the preview for her episode? Doesn’t that seem a bit spoilery? Dear Marketing Departments Around the World - Please get your stories straight).

Anyway - Ami’s here, she’s happy, Usagi’s happy, I’m happy. The world is a beautiful place.

BONUS - I'm guessing this came out soon after Act 2 was released, but Momoiro Clover Z also released their music video for "Moon Pride" (the opening theme for Sailor Moon Crystal). It's an extended version of the song featured in the show with brand new animation (I figure there are some spoilers for future episodes of Crystal, so warning on that. But it is SO worth it!) Like I said on The Five(ish) Fangirls Podcast - it's an adrenaline rush laced with glitter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Five(ish) Fangirls Podcast - Episode 7: Dumbledore's Army

This week on the Five(ish) Fangirls Podcast, We Solemnly Swear We Are Up to No Good! This week, we're all about Harry Potter. We discuss how we each came to Potter, our experiences in fandom, discussion of various characters and storylines, how the world of Potter has stayed with us since the publication of the final book and movies - which also delves in the phenomenon of Pottermore (and we divulge our Pottermore usernames, so come find us!)

Also, discussion of the week's news including Marvel Comics announcements, Doctor Who Series 8 trailer, music video for Sailor Moon Crystal, ABC announces their fall premiere dates - and more!

Download the mp3 of the episode and find full Show Notes here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Darker, Grittier, Spikier (But Also With DINOSAURS!)

I'm behind on EVERYTHING lately. I just realized I never posted the full-length trailer for Doctor Who, Series 8! Let me just fix that now -

I'm intrigued at the new direction the show is going. Doctor Who is probably the only show (that I'm aware of, at least) that you can make such a huge tonal shift and the audience continues to accept it. When Peter Capaldi was first announced, we all knew (theoretically) that he was going to be so different from Matt Smith. And I think we got a good glimpse of that in this trailer. Certainly, he's going to have some goofball moments (what Doctor doesn't?) but I think I'm going to enjoy this slightly darker, spikier Doctor that they're showing us here. And it'll be interesting to see Clara's initial uncertainty about this new Doctor and then slowly accept him as her best friend (we all know that's going to happen at some point - it's how that will happen that is going to be fun to see).

(Also - a T-Rex in London!)

Still excited for Series 8! Eagerly counting down the days to August 23!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Review of "Not My Type" by Melanie Jacobson

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on October 17, 2011**

Title: Not My Type: A Single Girl's Guide to Doing It All Wrong
Author: Melanie Jacobson
Publisher: Covenant Communications
Date: September 2011

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
Twenty-three-year-old Pepper Spicer is not living the dream. She ended her engagement at the last minute because her fiancĂ© — a musician and soon-to-be reality TV star — wanted her to sacrifice her own career ambitions for his.

Now she's stuck at home sharing a room with her little sister, trying to pay off massive debt for a wedding that didn't happen, and spending Friday nights Facebook-stalking everyone who has a better life. Her therapist father urges her to choose her career dreams and count her blessings by writing weekly thank you notes, but gratitude is a tall order when she botches an important job interview and has to settle for writing an undercover dating web-zine column — the

last thing in the world she wants to do. Still, as Pepper (byline: Indie Girl) chronicles her bizarre and hilarious blind dates, she gives her father's challenge a try and slowly finds herself leaving self-pity behind. Life takes a major upswing as Pepper's column hits the big time and she tastes the exhilarating thrill of success. But there's one tiny problem: the intensely hot man she's falling for is having issues with her job (again). Will Pepper trade her personal ambition for another chance at love?

My Review:
I have had a very rocky relationship with LDS fiction over the years.  I blame Jack Weyland and all his soapy-sappy-Sunday-School-watered-down versions of "realistic" (ha!) LDS fiction where it takes someone dying of some rare disease to give the lovable-yet-misguided protagonist their "Come to Jesus" moment and suddenly everything in life is wonderful.  I thought I had another one of "Those Books" on my hands when "Not My Type" floated across the automated check-in system at work.  Didn't help that the main character's name is "Pepper Spicer" (I wish I could say that this name is just something cutesy the author made up, but I would not be surprised if there is some poor unfortunate BYU co-ed with a name like that. I don't know what kind of ill wind is blowing down in Utah County that people name their children such weird things).  I was pretty well ready to blow this one off as another sappy Jack Weyland-knock off about a poor girl whose best idea of rebellion is to read the Salt Lake Tribune and hang out in Sugar House with all the people who fancy themselves hippies, yet could only get their liberal club cards punched as far as the east side of Salt Lake City (poor things. You almost have to feel sorry for them).

However, I was not prepared for the character development Melanie Jacobson had in store for her heroine. Or her loving-yet-honest (and very refreshing) take on Utah culture - especially the dating scene.

Pepper lives with her parents and works full-time in an effort to pay off a wedding that never happened.  Her ex-fiance, Landon, broke off not just one wedding, but two, because his music career came first.  So, Pepper is living with her parents (sharing a room with her seven-year-old sister) and working a crappy full-time job at a sandwich shop in order to pay-off the debt from the second wedding that never happened.  Needless to say, Pepper is not happy about where her life is and the book begins with her making everyone else miserable because she is miserable.  Her dad, in an effort to administer tough love, gives her two choices - (1) find a new job and a new attitude (for the latter, Dad assigns Pepper to write a thank you note once a week to someone who's done something nice for her) or (2) find an apartment, pay rent and take longer to pay-off the wedding debt.  Luckily for the story, Pepper chooses Option 1.

The weekly thank you notes are key to this being an enjoyable story because Pepper's attitude does change and she does find joy in the weird circumstances she winds up in.  She does find a better job writing for an upstart online magazine for the twenty-somethings.  Her column: "Single in the City," where she goes on dates with guys she meets online and writes about the dates and how disastrous they are (all under a pen name, of course - because who would go out with a girl who's going to write about the date and post it to the internet?)  However, Pepper's newfound change-of heart conflicts with her desire to make fools of these boys... plus she ends up meeting a really nice guy (through a rather hilarious chain of events.  Well... I thought it was funny. I won't spoil it for you, dear reader. Seriously - did not see that one coming).  She also adjusts her career expectations for the better and it's wonderful to see her shift from the whiny, heartbroken sandwich shop manager to a self-assured, happy reporter.

As with most LDS fiction, there are certain elements of Utah culture that are fun to see (considering Utah isn't a place that's featured in a lot of mainstream fiction writing).  I especially loved how Jacobson included the abject idiocy and, quite frankly, pants-wetting the local media engages in when someone from Utah gets on one of those stupid American Idol shows (it's kind of embarrassing, to be truthful).  There are a few scenes that are Church-related, but nothing too doctrinally-heavy gets explored, which is nice for people who aren't familiar with the particulars.  And anything else that's unique to our culture that other people might not fully understand is either explained enough for the purposes of the story or the reader can figure it out well-enough that it doesn't ruin the narrative.  Honestly, I think anyone - LDS or no - would enjoy reading this book.

Bottom Line: All in all, a nice fluffy romantic comedy where the characters just happen to be LDS.  Some lovely character development and lots of witty dialogue makes for an enjoyable read.  It's refreshing to see something even halfway decent come out of the local publishing companies and I'm glad I picked this one up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A New Spin on an Old Favorite - Review of "Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 1: Usagi"

Sailor Moon Crystal Review - Act 1, Usagi

Phew - I’m here for this finally!

I wasn't sure how I was going to properly review something like Sailor Moon Crystal. It’s got a lot of nostalgia for me and I wondered if I’d be able to critique it properly, or if I’d crack good-natured jokes about it at random times, or if I’d just end up fangirl flailing all over the place.

Actually - I think I’m going to end up doing some combination of all three. You all know me - if I love something, then by damn I’m going to LOVE ALL OVER IT! and totally ignore all the little ticky-tack hang-ups that most fans let themselves get blocked with (why let little nit-picky details ruin your fun? It’s just kind of sad to me that there are so many fans that are saying “Well, if they do X then I won’t watch” or “If they do Y wrong, it’s total deal-breaker for me!” Seriously, guys - give the series a chance to get going!) There’s is plenty to squee and get excited about, so hold onto your tiaras - we’re heading in!

Sailor Moon Crystal premiered on Saturday July 5, 2014 at 7:00 pm Japan Time, with concurrent digital releases all over the world through distributors like NicoNico, Crunchyroll, Neon Alley, and Hulu. Which meant that it would be available for me at 4:00 am Mountain Time. To set up some background of Where Were You When... - I was visiting my family for the 4th of July weekend. I was sleeping on a couch in my parents’ basement with two of my younger sisters sleeping in adjoining rooms. I knew many Moonies were planning on watching the first episode pretty much as it went out (for the North American English speaking fans, that meant Insane O’Clock In the Morning). I figured if I was awake at that time, I would join the festivities. But if not, it’d be there in the morning, which is usually when I catch up on my Hulu Plus viewing anyway (I have an odd TV watching schedule, by virtue of my unorthodox work schedule. It’s just something that works for me).

Well, my internal clock was more excited than I was, for I achieved consciousness precisely at 4:01 am. I just kind of woke up and thought “Hm - wonder what time it is?” Checked my phone and, sure enough, it was time. And it wasn't like I was in the groggy half-awake state. Oh no - I was alert and ready to get up and go (well, I was alert enough to want to check my phone, at least). So, I pulled up the Hulu app and looked to see if the episode was live - yes, indeed it was. And there I was - in the basement, in the middle of the night, unbeknownst to anyone, with the volume turned down low (well - I had my headphones on), with my sisters in the next bedroom, watching Sailor Moon (which is something I used to do Back In The Day - except it involved sneaking out of my room with a manky recorded VHS tape of the Sailor Moon R movie and turning the TV volume waaaaaay down low so my sister in the next room wouldn't wake up and find out what I was doing. It was easier than watching it in broad daylight when my family would inevitably wander in and give me dirty looks and snarky comments about what I was watching).

So, I pretty much had the nostalgia factor covered. What did I think about the actual episode?

First off - I had no illusions that this would be anything like the original anime. Which I am eternally thankful for. Not that I don’t love the original '90s anime - trust me, I adore the original Sailor Moon anime! (even the English dub that seems to get so much vitriol for simply being a product of its time. Good grief, people!) Now that Viz has been re-releasing the remastered episodes on Hulu Plus, that’s the first thing I do on Monday mornings anymore! But I wanted Crystal to be it’s own thing. There have been several adaptations of Sailor Moon throughout the years - the anime, live action, musicals, video games. You can even throw in fan-created media if you like (though it is certainly unofficial). And just from looking at the initial promo pictures and animation in the trailer - I thought Crystal looked absolutely gorgeous. I mean, the original anime had a comedic quality to it and that was reflected in the animation styles. Sure, there were serious and dramatic moments, but at its core, the original Sailor Moon anime was about fun - it didn't get bogged down in the drama as much. Which was totally fine - people love that. Hell, I loved that!

But with the promise that Crystal would follow the tone and style of the original manga, I knew we would be getting something totally new. If you've never read the Sailor Moon manga, the story is much darker, but also possesses a more ethereal beauty. The story deal with princesses of the planets in our solar system who also become superheroes and fight against dark forces in the universe. It deals so much in contrasts of light and darkness, hate and love, ordinary people learning to achieve their utmost potential - whatever that might be. There are some deep and thought-provoking themes in this story that - I will be 100% honest - I think the only season that came close to doing full justice to those themes is the Sailor Moon S season, when one of the Sailor Guardians’ most deadly enemies is actually someone who should be a friend and ally. But the rest... yeah, they don’t really reach that level of depth (this is NOT a bad thing! It’s just different).

Again - this is NOT a rant about “This Thing Is Better Than That Thing and That Thing Sucks.” There has been plenty of that going around fandom and I don’t want to get dragged into that. But I do want to talk about what I loved about Crystal and a big part of that is how much of the spirit of the original manga story shines through here.

So, personally, I’m thrilled to get to see a new side of Sailor Moon in an animated version. And episode 1 did not disappoint.

Most of the different versions of Sailor Moon start out with the same storyline with very little variation - Usagi being very late for school, tripping over a mysterious cat with a crescent-shaped bald spot, getting to school, having to stand in the hallway as punishment for being late, getting a 30% on her test, being pissed about said test, going to her best friend’s mother’s jewelry store where Ultimate Evil is lurking, then going to the arcade to play the Sailor V game, being followed by the cat from earlier, still being pissed about her test, chucking it away where it hits a handsome stranger in the face, said handsome stranger gives her grief about it, she yells at him because she’s frustrated, but gives him a second glance Because Reasons, she goes home, her mother finds out about her test, kicks her out of the house, she cries until her mother lets her back in, the cat from earlier jumps in through the window and gives her a Magical Item that turns her into a Pretty Guardian for Love and Justice, she uses her newfound powers to discover that Ultimate Evil has attacked her best friend’s mother’s jewelry store, she cries because being a superhero is hard, her crying defeats bad guys (mostly), she gets encouragement from a mysterious figure who may or may not be associated with the handsome stranger from earlier, she defeats Ultimate Evil, and the next day the school is all hyped up about a robbery and assault being foiled by a young girl in a sailor suit using magical powers to defeat her enemies.

That’s it. That’s the show.

The Final Frontier (wait...)
In those broad, sweeping strokes, Sailor Moon Crystal follows the same formula there. However, there are small things that set it apart and, while most of that is design, there are two key scenes that are obviously setting up for future plot points (these plot points are well-known to longtime fans, but this will be a big-time spoiler for anyone who isn’t familiar with the story, so proceed with the appropriate caution). The first scene is at the very beginning where we see SPACE and planets and all manner of pretty things in the galaxy (accompanied by lots of beautiful “OOOOHHH-ey” music). Little by little, the focus moves into our solar system and eventually to the moon and earth where a beautiful young woman is secretly meeting a handsome man and they’re obviously in love and I’m certain this a completely innocent and sweet occurrence and nothing bad is ever going to come of this.

(all you long-time Moonies know I’m being sarcastic).

Turns out, that little sequence was a dream that Usagi was having right before her mother calls up the stairs that she’s going to be late for school. So, already we've had the “pretty, ethereal” side of Sailor Moon followed up immediately by the “hey, I’m living in the drudgery of reality where I have to go to SCHOOL” appearance of the clumsy-yet-endearing crybaby Usagi Tsukino.

Our Heroine, everybody
I've got to talk about the choices they animation team made in the character design, but to do so, I have to fly the SPOILER flag since I have a theory about this that deals in some pretty hefty reveals that are coming later. If this is your first foray into the world of Sailor Moon and you don’t know the backstory, I would advise you save this part for later because That Reveal is pretty incredible and what I wouldn't give to experience it brand new all over again. So - SPOILERS - proceed with caution!

I feel like Crystal balances both sides of Usagi quite well (again, SPOILERS if you don’t know the story). On the one hand, she’s an ordinary girl who (in the grand tradition of protagonists in magical girl anime) is a crybaby klutz who is hopeless in academic pursuits, but has a good and kind heart and loves everybody she meets. On the other hand, Usagi is the reincarnation of the princess of the Moon Kingdom who is absolutely gorgeous and perfect and beautiful and everyone loves her (except for the Dark Kingdom, who despises everything beautiful and good, so they just hate her on principle). With this is mind, the animation style coupled with the voice acting and the writing captures the essence of Usagi’s character. She is a mess, she’s all over the place, she hates school, she cries because her mother’s mad at her for not studying harder and the class nerd rubs her face in her failures. All this time, she has the pretty, pretty princess look that is a bit of a nod to her future destiny. Personally, I think that’s a bold and brilliant move on the part of the animation team and that design is going to fold in beautifully when they get to the part of the story when the Whole Big Backstory Reveal happens (and, yes, I get that not everyone is enamored of those stylistic choices and I’m probably going to get some flack for suggesting this theory of the Whys and Wherefores, but that’s okay).

[SPOILERS are over. You’re safe now]

I have no reason for including this, other than it was funny
Enough theorizing - Sailor Moon Crystal, episode 1 was about establishing characters and plot and get things set up for the remainder of the series. Some have called this a shot-by-shot recreation of the manga and, to be perfectly honest, I am 100% on board with this. Don’t get me wrong - I love the original anime. But when I discovered the manga for the first time, I was immediately enchanted by it. For me, Sailor Moon was all about the romance. Yes, the friendships were fun and I enjoyed the Sailor Senshi (Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury is my favorite character, for crying out loud!) But damn if that Miracle Romance plotline wasn't compelling as hell. I can’t even really put my finger on why I love it so much, but I do. And that was front-and-center for most of the manga storyline, so when it comes down to which adaptation I love the most, the manga’s going to win that battle (unless it’s also in the live-action one, which... yeah, I haven’t mustered up the gumption to subject myself to that. Not yet). So, with this promise that Crystal is going to follow the manga pretty closely - you’re damn right I’m excited about it!

I believe in it. *cheesy grin*
(What can I say? Destiny’s kind of a fun thing to play around with. The idea of having big life choices already mapped out for you sort of appeals to me. I mean, you get the big stuff handled, but then you have to deal with the mid-sized/smaller issues that arise. So it’s not like you get off scot-free. Besides - you’re off saving the world. Wouldn't it be nice to have built-in loved ones already set up so you don’t have to deal with the messiness of dating and relationships and whatnot?)

(I probably just pissed off a huge swatch of the fandom that’s all “F*** This Romance Shit!” Which is their prerogative - but it’s funny when they get all indignant about it. I just enjoy poking that particular fandom bear).

I have to gush about the Dark Kingdom - at least, where I think they're going to go with the Dark Kingdom. Even though the Dark Kingdom scenes were brief and didn't contribute more to the plot than "New superhero needs villains to fight!", there was a lot packed in that scene for those who cared to look for it. This version of the Dark Kingdom is going to be so much, well, darker than in the original anime. I feel like there's a more sadistic twist to these bad guys and we're going to get to see that. Without going into spoilers - there is some evil, twisted stuff that comes out of the Dark Kingdom

Let me talk about Usagi's transformation sequence. I love it! Now, I'm not really "hip" to all the latest and greatest anime style and techniques, so I really don't know how CGI has factored into the anime industry as a whole, though I'm sure it's used just as much as in any other field of animation (and we would be foolish to think that Sailor Moon Crystal wouldn't use CGI at all). As far as updating a recognizable sequence that we fans know and love, I think it looks quite good. Um... yeah. Those are my deep and insightful thoughts on a visual medium. I know what I like. (If you'd like a direct visual comparison of the original vs the Crystal version, go here)

We're pretty, we're leggy, we're girly, and we're here to kick your ass!
The opening theme song is stellar (ha ha - I made a funny). It's a nice blend of the old stuff while also giving it a bit of an action-y sort of edge - plays into the characters' personalities that (I felt) were inherent in the original manga. The ending is quite beautiful too - great visuals with some gorgeous soft music that lets you come down off the non-stop action of the episode (I can only imagine how that contrast is going to feel after some of the heavier episodes that no doubt will leave even us veteran Moonies with our jaws on the floor).

Anyway - the idea of an animated version of the original manga is lots of fun for me. No doubt, they will throw in some new twists and details to make Crystal its own unique thing, but as it stands right now, I’m quite pleased with the story we got. And I quite eager to see where this all ends up going - if they truly will stick to the manga story or if there will be enough deviations to make a completely new storyline (the major elements will still be kept, I’m certain). We've only had one episode so far, so it’s way too early to tell, but I’m as excited about this as I was in July 2012 when they first announced Sailor Moon was getting a brand new anime series.

THERE'S my girl! (I hope Crystal gives you more reasons to smile, my friend)
Saturday is Sailor Mercury’s introduction episode (YAY!) so I may have that recap/review thingy up sooner than I had this one.

(Credit: All screencaps from Sailor Moon Screencaps)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Heroes Don't Get Happy Endings

Review/Recap of 24: Live Another Day, Episode 12: 10:00pm-11:00 am - SPOILERS!

(no, that's not a typo - they actually do skip 12 hours at some point).

"He said I'm a villain, and that villains don't get happy endings. You believe that?"
"I hope not. Or we've wasted our lives."
           - The Evil Queen and Captain Hook
             Once Upon a Time, 3.01 - "The Heart of the Truest Believer"

Dear 24 People - When I said "Don't kill off Chloe, that wasn't a go ahead nod to kill off AUDREY you idiots!"

I don't even have the energy to flip the table over this time, so Disapproving Tyrion will have to do.
I had this whole *dance party* thing prepared because Kate "Badass" Morgan was going to save Audrey from Cheng Zhi's Sniper Dude of DOOM and she succeeded because she's Kate "Badass" Morgan - but then you had to go and sneak in a second shooter.

Well, I suppose that there was one last 24 trope they needed to slip in before the end. That of the silent clock tick when a main character dies.

Seriously - this has sucked all the funny out of me. I had jokes prepared about Chloe still out hitchhiking and how I hope she didn't get chased around by a mountain lion (do they have those in England?) I was ready to call for an awesome video game where one or two players act as gunmen and one other acts as stealth tactical like Chloe because I want to run the infrared scanner and hack into the satellite wifi signal and send orders to my shooters on the ground that are going to blow shit up and I made them do that. Even the President being introduced to the CIA ("Mr. President, the CIA. The CIA, Mr. President") had dry humor potential.

But nope. You all went and sunk my ship. For good.

And the heartbreak doesn't stop there. For you see, Kate feels a mighty need to call Jack WHILE HE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF APPREHENDING THE GOOFBALL RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL THIS to tell him that Audrey is dead. And if Kate's continued apologies and speaking-through-her-tears wasn't heartrending enough... look, Jack doesn't cry very often. Usually he's the one making the bad guys cry. But when Jack Bauer is moved to tears... ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. My heart. Ow. Thanks for ripping it out and stomping it on the floor. Not like I was using it for anything else, you know.

But then something rather remarkable happens. In that Jack's tears are often followed by BERSERKER MODE MAJOR. In which Jack proceeds to forget all stealth and tactics and completely rips through the bad guy's minions like they were toilet paper. And then, he captures Cheng. He still has the presence of mind to contact the President and the CIA to verify that Cheng is alive so they can prove to the Chinese that the Americans really didn't send that nuclear missile to their aircraft carrier. With war averted, there is only one thing left for Jack to do. Jack Bauer, the man who asked for a hacksaw in Season 2 to cut up and dispose of a suspicious looking body, takes a katana off the wall of the ship they're on (a katana on a cargo ship? Well, sailors end up with some crazy stuff - I won't judge) and ritually beheads Cheng.

Well, they did say "Viewer Discretion is Advised."

I'm not even gonna talk about the scene where President Heller gets news of his daughter's death and passes out from the shock of it. Nope. Not happening.

The heartbreak and life-ruining continues. For you see, Jack lost contact with Chloe when Cheng and his mooks discovered someone was pirating their wifi (I guess Redshirt #427's Netflix stream wasn't working as well as it should have been. He was missing Orange is the New Black). So after Jack comes off his BERSERKER high, he goes back to check on Chloe. Who is now missing.

Excuse me.

All right, I'm back.

Coming back from commercial, we FINALLY get the promised time-skip to twelve hours later. Inside the CIA, Mark Boudreau is being escorted in handcuffs to a plane that'll take him to wherever it is that they take traitors who forge the President's signature (I'm trying to decide if all this was Mark's fault or not - I would really love to pin the blame on that asshat). And... Kate Morgan, my dear lovely badass girl-crush Kate Morgan, is so torn up about Audrey getting killed while she was tasked with getting her to safety that she resigns from the CIA.

Elsewhere, Audrey's casket is being escorted onto Air Force One (that didn't take long). Prime Minister Stephen Fry returns to express condolences (right decent of him) and President Heller gives this (ow my heart) farewell monologue about how he was once looking at a photo of a beautiful woman on his desk, but he couldn't for the life of him remember her name. After about 15 seconds, he remembered it was his daughter Audrey. And soon, he won't even remember that he had a daughter or that she died in such a horrific way. Heller goes up the flag-draped casket being carried by a group of soldiers and places a hand on the casket as he walks alongside it.

So - remember how Chloe was missing? *makes another Grand Canyon run* Jack got a phone call right as he found out she was gone. He agreed to meet whoever was on the other line, presumably to trade his life for Chloe's (strangely enough, we don't hear the voice of the other party on the phone). So now we cut to an abandoned construction site (or something) where a black helicopter is waiting and a car is driving up. Jack gets out of the car... and a bunch of Russians get out of the helicopter.

So, Jack trades his life to the Russians so Chloe can go free. Which means all the bullshit about Mark signing the rendition order and getting busted for that and Jack beating up on the Chinese to stop a war and sneaking into the Russian diplomat's house WAS FOR FREAKING NOTHING???!!!! In the end, Jack got shipped off to Moscow, which I hear is NOT rather lovely this time of year, but not before Chloe promises to check up on Jack's family when she gets home (home to what, we're not sure since that dinkhead Adrian Cross had her husband and son killed!!) And the final scene of 24: Live Another Day is NOT Jack enjoying a presidential pardon or riding off with his True Love Audrey into the sunset and Kate Morgan being made Head Chief of the CIA and Chloe becoming their Best Analyst Ever - but yet another promise of a foreign prison cell with much torture and ouchie time.

I hate this damn show (I hope they make another miniseries).

(In the meantime, I'm off to scour Tumblr for any more set reports from the Once Upon a Time season 4 filming. Because dammit I need something happy!)

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Five(ish) Fangirls, Episode 6 - Fandom News Flash!

News dominates our discussion as San Diego Comic Con news came in hot-and-fast all this past week. Plus, casting news, trailers, a new Harry Potter short story (seven years after the end of Deathly Hallows - holy cow), and the possibility of the return of a certain internet cartoon that's been missing from our computer screens for quite some time.

As always, complete show notes and MP3 download of the podcast can be found here. Enjoy!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Days of Magic and Belief - Review of "Rise of the Guardians"

I know, I know, I'm late to the party on this one. Shush.

The fun things about visiting my parents over holiday weekends is that they have satellite TV. The other fun thing is that sometimes during these weekends, my parents go out to do business things and my siblings and I get the run of the TV. And over the 4th of July weekend, we found some great stuff to watch on TV. Like ABC Family running a whole DreamWorks marathon that Saturday. I kind of popped in and out all day (the brand new Sailor Moon Crystal was too much of a draw to sit there the whole time - that review is coming, never fear), but the one movie that drew me in the most was Rise of the Guardians.

I mean, I've seen a lot of the DreamWorks movies. Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, The Croods (that one was surprisingly adorable - I didn't think I'd like it as much as I did) - but I'm not all over those like I am the Disney/Pixar movies. I don't rush out to the movie theater to see them. I guess I have so many things that I'd like to see, but there are only so many hours in the day to see them. And sometimes, things aren't worth the time I carve out for that. But after watching Rise over the weekend, I borrowed my sister's DVD of the movie so I could watch it again and pay proper attention.

The movie starts with the main protagonist, Jack Frost, being awakened by the moon and (it seems) being given powers over ice and snow. Initially, Jack is ecstatic about his new abilities, except when he wanders into a nearby town, he finds that nobody can see him. Over time, he accepts this and simply becomes a trickster with the power over winter weather. The phrase "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" becomes a reflection of the myth that Jack has become. And, overall, he seems to like it that way.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to other mythological characters from childhood - all of whom are part of the order of Guardians of Childhood. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. I adore the design and personality of all of these characters. I mean, Santa and the Easter Bunny have their own traditional personas, but I love that this movie didn't stick to those traditions so rigidly. For starters, Santa Claus is a bit of a Russian badass with a soft spot for toys and cookies. The Easter Bunny is a boomerang-chucking, spring-loving, Australian-accent-speaking, not-kangaroo (that joke was pretty good, you have to admit) who takes just as much care with his Easter egg decorating (c'mon - you have to admit that Hugh Jackman's tough-guy hero voice coming out of a fluffy bunny rabbit is pretty cool). And the Tooth Fairy - well, we all have our own images of the Tooth Fairy, which is probably something along the lines of the fairies from Disney's Sleeping Beauty or the traditional image of Tinker Bell. But this Tooth Fairy is part-hummingbird, part human (and I wonder - why has no one ever thought of this before?) and she has her own army of tiny hummingbird fairies (nicknamed "Baby Teeth," which of course they are) to help her on her rounds every night. Then you have the Sandman, which, I didn't know what to expect from him, but I like his design and character well-enough. This Sandman is charged with making sure children have pleasant dreams at night with the help of his golden sleep dust. He doesn't speak, but he does have some great facial expressions - the scene where he's trying to get the other Guardians' attention while they're engrossed in their discussion is fantastic.

Anyway - the Guardians are warned by the Man in the Moon that Pitch Black (the Boogeyman) is at large again and is determined to destroy the dreams of children. And since this threat is so serious, the Man in the Moon has chosen a new Guardian to join their group. That Guardian (to the dismay of Bunny, since his winter antics often wreck the start of spring) is Jack Frost.

Jack is kind of so-so about his new appointment. On the one hand, he's happy that he finally has some kind of purpose, rather than just being this invisible entity that has so much fun playing tricks on people, but no one really sees him or even believes in him. On the other hand, he's not terribly thrilled about all the pomp and ceremony and responsibility that goes into being a Guardian. But he is effective against Pitch's nightmare monsters. He's even really good at helping Tooth with her nightly rounds after Pitch kidnaps all her Baby Teeth (with the exception of one that Jack manages to rescue).

This movie is about two things - the magic and belief of childhood, and the power of finding a place and purpose (and how sometimes that purpose isn't always what we think nor do we imagine we could fulfill that purpose at all).  First off - the magic and belief of childhood, which could also translate into remembering the good things over the bad. I guess I get tired of hearing how, when you become an adult, you have to throw away all the things that made you happy when you were a kid. Grow up, get married, have kids - even though you still feel like a kid yourself. I'm a bit of a rebel in that regard - I've never really grown up. Oh, sure I have a steady job and I take care of my responsibilities there and I have bills to pay and I have to start eating old people food because my body doesn't like processed junk food stuff anymore (Raisin bran? Are you kidding me?) And don't get me started on dating... *shudder* I'm still putting that nonsense off as long as I can. And then there's that whole schlock about having to keep up with the news and current events in order to be an *puts on deep, pompous tone and flies the air-quote fingers* "informed contributing member of society" when really, all they ever do on the news is either fake sympathy while they're shoving a camera in some grieving person's face or try to chew each other's heads off  over some issue or another (seriously - adulthood hasn't given much to commend itself to me. Other than having my own money to spend as I choose - but even then, I don't get to make those choices for myself).

But there are times when I can revert back to my old childhood loves even for a few hours and, you know what, life is pretty good. The stories and characters and things that fueled my imagination are still there, waiting for me to join them in the fun. And those are times that I'm glad I don't have teachers interrupting me with math problems or my mom calling for me to take the trash out or whatever. Heck, I can set up my laptop in the kitchen while I'm cleaning and watch a movie or listen to an audiobook and my chores become that much more entertaining and fun.

The other thing that Rise does so well is the idea of finding a place and a purpose that does fit in with who you are. Sort of like Wreck-It Ralph, where Ralph thought he had to be a certain way in order to be happy, even though that "certain way" was totally not in his character at all and he just ended up making a mess of things. Jack goes through this in that he doesn't leave gifts for kids like the others do. Even the Sandman helps keep children's fears away by giving them good dreams. All Jack really does is play tricks with winter - he likes doing things like making a patch of sidewalk icy so someone will slip. But he does love kids. He even orchestrates an impromptu snowball fight between a bunch of kids at the beginning. As be progresses, he learns that his contribution to the Guardians isn't necessarily to give physical gifts, but instead to create a sense of wonder and enchantment. I mean, when I was a kid, I loved all the cool frost patterns that formed on the windshield overnight before my mom had to defrost it so she could drive us to school. Wintertime always felt homey and cozy and snug (unlike summer, where you feel like you have to be loud and obnoxious because it's warm outside, thus SUMMERTIME IS PARTYTIME! HOLLA! YOLO! ugh... punch me in the face, but I hate that). The darkness of winter always felt like something magical could happen because magic doesn't proclaim itself like a great big brass band demanding attention, but more like a quiet little shadow slipping by unnoticed except by those who know what to look for. In so many ways, Jack Frost is the embodiment of What Could Happen, even when the adults in the room tell you there's no such thing and you're silly for still believing in such things.

That's what I loved about this movie. And I can now understand why there were so many parallels drawn between Jack Frost and Elsa from Frozen (even some crossover fan fiction being written - which, now that I've seen both movies, I want to find some of those fics).

So - don't cast aside childish things. Not completely, anyway. Remember and embrace them. Those were good days. Days of magic and belief. Days that this cynical world could use more of.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Review of "Matched" by Ally Condie

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on September 14, 2011**

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Date: November 30, 2010
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

My Review:

Before I begin my review, I have something to say: I want all of you book-summary-writing people to pay close attention.  No, even closer than that.  That's right - right into the computer screen...



Seriously! The jacket summary makes Matched sound like it's the dystopian version of Twilight or just another version of Uglies.  If I were Ally Condie, I would take exception to those comparisons, because Matched has so many things that neither Twilight nor Uglies do not (starting off with interesting characters and a coherent plot).  Actually, if you want a decent summary of Matched that gives a good overview of the story, I would suggest the one on the Wikipedia page:

"For Cassia, nothing is left to chance--not what she will eat, the job she will have, or the man she will marry. In Matched, the Society Officials have determined optimal outcomes for all aspects of daily life, thereby removing the "burden" of choice. When Cassia's best friend is identified as her ideal marriage Match it confirms her belief that Society knows best, until she plugs in her Match microchip and a different boy’s face flashes on the screen. This improbable mistake sets Cassia on a dangerous path to the unthinkable--rebelling against the predetermined life Society has in store for her."

Jeez - some dork from Wikipedia can do your job much better than you can!! (or if you are that Wikipedia dork, why did you not do that better job in the first place??)  Marketing FAIL!

*deep breath* Okay, on to the review.

Just so you know, I listened to the audiobook of this because the wait line for the book at the library was horrendously long.  I don't have the actual book and searching for details in the audiobook is cumbersome (and my Google Fu is failing me), so some details will be fuzzy.  Sorry if that bothers you.

I have read reviews that Matched is basically an extended version of The Giver (which is one of my favorite books, period).  My response: Yes and No.  There are similarities to the Community in The Giver (the Society chooses your job, your mate, watches every little move you make and dictates when you will die).  However, Matched goes further than The Giver does - it explores the Society a lot more than The Giver does, even looking into different sections of the Society and its citizens much more closely.  This works in favor of Matched, because the main character is working things out on her own - she doesn't have a wise mentor like in The Giver. This is not a bad thing nor does it take away from the effectiveness of The Giver as its own story.  They are two very different stories set in similar circumstances (and written for very different audiences).  In fact, I would call Matched "The Giver meets The Hunger Games."  And you will hear no complaints from me on this.  This is what Uglies was supposed to have been and failed at.

Matched starts out with Cassia Reyes on the night of her Matching Ceremony.  She and scores of other kids throughout the country who have turned 16 in the past month have gathered in their respective City Halls where they will learn who the Society has Matched them with, based on genetic compatibility and the likelihood of such matches producing quality offspring.  This is genetic and societal engineering gone mental, but the book never says it outright.  Mostly because this is from Cassia's point of view and she doesn't have a word for this sort of thing. - the calories in the food are monitored as they are distributed, which means that the Society can and does give its citizens smaller portions if it chooses to do so (as it does to Cassia - SPOILER!)  But when Cassia gets her microcard with information about the lucky boy she's Matched with ...[insert jacket summary here].

So, the impetus for this story is that Cassia isn't sure who she's supposed to be Matched with.  But separate and apart from the only-for-teen-angst love triangle, the story also deals with the deal of Cassia's grandfather.  Now, I compare Grandfather in Matched to Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated TV show, not the movie).  Grandfather has been raised in the Society, but he also has the benefit of being among the first generations who lived under Society rule.  One imagines that he remembers a little of life before the Society (some details in the book led me to that conclusion) and he becomes a bit of a rebel.

The beautiful thing, however, is that Grandfather was very quiet about his rebellion.  Even his own family has no idea of the rules he has broken.  On his 80th birthday (which is the day that the Society decrees that all citizens must die - before they become too old and useless, you know), Grandfather gives Cassia a compact as her one allowed artifact and he shows her how to open a hidden compartment where he has hidden finds two outlawed poems - "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas and "Crossing the Bar" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  She reads the poems and the words of those poems make her realize that she can think for herself (it doesn't happen overnight, but the process of her character development is AMAZING!  "Pants," Cassia is not).

Oh, by the way, there are only 100 poems allowed in the Society.  Also, there are 100 showings (which I think are supposed to be movies), 100 history lessons, 100 songs, 100 books, 100 paintings, etc.  Everything that didn't make the lists of 100 gets destroyed.  I don't know if Condie has made up the exact lists in their entirety, but the few examples from the story suggest that the 100 whatevers were chosen to placate and pacify the masses  and lead them to accept Society rule - not kick them up into a rage or anger them against the Society.  But the two poems Cassia finds in her compact do exactly that - she begins to rebel within her own mind and question everything she's known in her life.

For the most part, the love triangle takes a backseat to the main plotline (DEAR SWEET GALLIFREY, THANK YOU!)  The first third of the book is made up of Cassia learning from the poems Grandfather gave her.  For a long time, I forgot why the book was called Matched because Cassia spends so much time deciding if she will go gentle into that good night or if she'll rage against the dying of the light.  But then the boy she was faked-Matched with, Ky Markham, sees Cassia reading the illegal poetry.  Ky has his own set of unique problems (and a whole list of reasons why he shouldn't be Cassia's Match - which I'll let you, dear reader, discover when you read the book).  Cassia and Ky don't so much fall in love as they team up to teach each other about new words, learn how to create things and more or less become a couple of little rebels.  Seeing Cassia learn how to create words of her own is a fascinating scene and it makes me think about how lucky I am that I can do that all on my own.  And I think about in the past and the present who don't have that ability.  They are told what to do and what to think - whatever benefits the Society they live in.

Really, that's the whole horror of the Society - nobody has a choice.  Well, we all know that's the point of a dystopia.  But Matched one step further - it highlights the fact that nobody gets to create anything.  Everything from birth to death is mapped out for a person to follow.  It is the ultimate Cradle-to-Grave society.  Everyone has a place and if you step out of that place, there will be Consequences-with-a-capital-C.  Nobody will be remembered (unless they perfect that cloning thing - which I think is going to turn out to be a sham) and nobody has an impact on the world.  It's a collection of people living not for themselves but for the Greater Good (tm - Hitler, Mao, Grindelwald) - working for the government machine and nothing else.

Bottom Line: If you want an engaging, thought-provoking, interesting dystopian story that's not as violent as The Hunger Games, then Matched is a great choice.  The next book in the series, Crossed, is due out this November. My prediction is, where Matched was more cerebral and we spent most of the time with Cassia learning about her new paradigm, Crossed will be more action-oriented and physical.  I can't say too much without spoiling it more than I already have.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Regrets, I've Had a Few

Review/Recap of 24: Live Another Day, Episode 11: 9:00 pm-10:00 pm - SPOILERS!

We're down to the last two hours... and still no time-jump to make this 12-episode mini-series cover a full 24 hour period. Well... maybe some things just aren't meant to be.

Last time, Cheng Zhi made his grand reappearance in 24-land to remind us all how malodorous the Chinese are (at least, where Jack Bauer is concerned). At the same time - in a seeming random chance - the Russians suddenly decided that Jack is on the menu. While Jack is in the middle of a covert op to get to the Chinese.

All this because Mark Boudreau is a jealous husband and is threatened by Jack and he needs to assert his male dominance by committing treason to get Jack hauled away by the Russians. For many episodes now, I've been predicting that Mark is thisclose to getting popped by the Russians - or at the very least losing his job as Chief of Staff and being locked away in some dark federal penitentiary.

But before we can get to "What Did Mark Regret Doing Today?", there is some Important Stuff to clear up. First off - Chloe is an ingenious little IT hacker and finds a way to prove that Cheng is the one orchestrating the whole Doomsday Device thing. With a simple cell phone recorder trick, she alerts Jack to this vital piece of information and Jack has a momentary Heroic Blue Screen of Death (which, Jack's Heroic BSODs would never be experienced by a normal person. Because a normal person would be vaporized before they got that far). Jack shakes it off and finds out that the Russians were tracking him using the CIA code thingy in his cell phone that only the CIA and Mark Boudreau would have known. Now, the CIA has been cleared of all Rotten Mole People, so who does that leave to face Jack's wrath?

I was praying for Jack to punch Mark in the face - simply as a cathartic experience. But what I got instead was GOLD (I had to watch it twice AND get screengrabs simply because it was THAT GOOD)

Jack gets to the US Embassy and gets Mark and the President in an impromptu meeting where Jack promptly points a gun at Mark's head (I'LL TAKE IT!) Jack reveals that Mark's been working with the Russians, Mark insists that he's not really, but he did forge President Heller's signature on a rendition order to turn Jack over to Russia WHILE JACK WAS HELPING SOLVE THE TERRORIST PROBLEM, IT MUST BE NOTED in order to keep Heller's political credit in good standing. His excuse? The President needs to stay squeaky clean, but the Chief of Staff can afford to do bad things.

It would have been a believable excuse (if still a very poor one) - except the scene before Jack gets to the embassy, he calls Audrey. Unbeknownst to Jack, Audrey was in the room when Jack was on speakerphone with the President telling him that Cheng was still alive and behind the latest crisis. And the reason Audrey paid a visit to the Land of Catatonia was because she once went looking for Jack when he was imprisoned in China, but she got caught by the same gang of thugs that held Jack - the same gang that Cheng was working with. So... it's not so much the name "Jack Bauer" that affects Audrey, but the name "Cheng Zhi." With this information in mind, we return to Jack and Audrey's phone call. Before Jack can say much, Audrey says "Kill him" (referring to Cheng). And, by damn, that is probably the most romantic thing Audrey could have said in that moment.

Back to Jack, Mark, and the President. Because there are some WONDERFUL facial expression in this. Some of which I was able to screencap and I will now share with you all.

First off - Heller doesn't have to say ANYTHING - 

I quite enjoyed Jack's line of "He's a covert intelligence operative, you idiot!"

And then there's Mark's realization that Jack's been living under bridges and probably dumpster diving for his meals in the past four years, but he knows more about foreign policy than the freaking Chief of Staff does (with bonus added Internal Dialogue Subtitles because you know that was there)

And then - the most glorious moment of all - Jack says "If we go to war with China, who do you think benefits?" To which Mark mumbles his reply as if he's a ten-year-old competing in the Hayville County School District's Geography Bee: "Russia." (and if I knew how to make my own animated .gifs, I would have giffed that entire exchange, because it deserved Epic Giffage. As it is, you're just going to have watch the scene on Hulu or whatever you preferred method of rewatch is).

And all this time, this is me:

BUT IT GETS BETTER! Because Jack insists on using Jack to get to Epic Russian Mustache Guy. On the way to ERMG's house, Jack tells mark what he wants to have happen. After the exchange, Mark asks "What happens when bullets start to fly?" Jack doesn't respond right away, but gives us another expression for the scrapbook -

Which I translate as: "You're gonna get hit with one."

But Jack is a (generally) nice guy and he and Audrey are about to sail off into the Mediterranean sunset here in a few hours after Mark either gets shot or arrested, so he offers the erstwhile Chief of Staff some words of encouragement: "You're gonna want to try and stay low."

Always the cheery sort, our Jack Bauer.

MEANWHILE - Ms. Audrey Boudreau (probably gonna wanna change that last name soon, I'm sure) is not just sitting back and letting the grass grow beneath her feet. OH HEAVENS NO! Because Audrey has contacts with the Chinese office. And they have contacts with the Chinese Office of Misinformation (whatever they call that crap these days). So Audrey takes it upon herself to reach out and use her influence as best she can to convince those peeps that it wasn't an official order to fire on a Chinese aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean (which begs the question - what in the hell were the Chinese doing clear over there???) Audrey may not carry a gun or hack into SOOPER SEKRIT government agencies, but she is just as talented and useful in these situations as Kate or Chloe (we oughta start calling these ladies "Bauer's Angels.")

Jack, Kate, and Mark make it to Little Moscow and Mark goes in as the bait. Epic Russian Mustache Guy bites and Jack and Kate sneak in, taking out the Comrades as they go. Unfortunately, ERMG gets sprayed with super-sharp glass and starts bleeding out on the carpet. Jack tries to stop the inevitable, but no amount of "DAMMIT!" will help in this instance (but Jack's iteration of "DAMMIT!" has been known to cure certain cancers, so there's that). So... one hour left - no leads on Cheng, no proof to the Chinese that the US hasn't suddenly started firing missiles at random aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean (again - WHY??), oh, and Chloe's sort of unconscious on the side of the road (having beaten the shit out of her Chinese captors with a lead pipe. Which is something Jack Bauer can't say). But she did give the most heartbreaking sadface while she was in captivity - 

Chloe, honey, you're killin' me.
Oh, and Audrey's Chinese contact that's going to buy some extra time? Yeah, she got sniper-shot right after Audrey gave her the thing. Along with Audrey's security detail. Along with Audrey's White House issued hacker-free phone that Cheng suddenly knows the number to - WHAT THE CRAP IS THIS SHIT??

Whatever. I'm still planning on booking a romantic vacation for two for Jack and Audrey. I hear Venice is nice this time of year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Anti-Heroes, Anti-Villains, and Fairy Tale Madness - Why Elsa Belongs in Storybrooke

NOTE: The 24 stuff is coming, don't worry. But a lot has been happening on the Once Upon a Time front and I've had some of my own theories and ideas that I want to pose before Stuff Starts Happening to make it obsolete. After all, as I said on our most recent Five(ish) Fangirls podcast - part of the fun of fandom is theorizing and speculating. And filming on Season 4 starts tomorrow, which brings the requisite set reports and spoilers, which will probably render all my ideas moot anyway.

(SPOILERS for Once Upon a Time - all aired seasons)

A little over a month ago, I squee'd myself silly over the Season 3 finale of Once Upon a Time (for those shenanigans, go here). I thought those two episodes closed up this initial character arc for Emma Swan perfectly, plus it opened the doors for some further exploration of other characters, while also adding to the Once mythos, which is what the show needs to do to stay fresh and interesting.

Also - I've gushed about Frozen in the past as well. For various reasons, Frozen has become my newest favorite Disney movie in a way that Disney has not captured my attention in recent years. I mean, I loved Tangled and Meet the Robinsons and a few others besides - but nothing took me back to the beautiful and enchanting Disney movies of my youth (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King - just to name a few). Not until Frozen, at least. I love Elsa. I love that she's conflicted about her powers and that she has to go through so much in order to learn how to live a full life and find goodness in something that is so much a part of her, even though her family and others see it as a major problem - something to be hidden away and protected against. And as wonderful as Frozen is, I felt that we were missing some core backstory from Elsa's point of view. There is some deep and interesting stuff the writers could have gone into with Elsa - but, this being a Disney movie, room must be made for reindeer and snowman antics so the kiddos can be sufficiently entertained. (seriously - look at the teaser trailer. I mean, it's cute and all, but would you have guessed this movie was based on The Snow Queen, simply by looking at this thing? Didn't think so). I did speculate what a potential Frozen 2 could be about - with more focus on Elsa's character growth and her personal journey. And while I still want that to a certain extent... I think it makes so much sense to let Once Upon a Time tackle that particular side of the story (and given that there was a certain mysterious casting announcement today - part of me wonders if that might be the way they're going with it. Which would please me to no end).

Not everyone thinks so, sadly. There have been grumblings online (who here is shocked by this?) that the creators of Once are merely trying to cash in on Frozen's popularity. That they should have waited a few years for its "classic" status to be cemented and not just jumped on the bandwagon for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon. To which I reply - if that's how you feel about it, then you don't know this show at all. Let me 'splain.

Initially, I started watching Once because I heard "Fairy Tale Characters Living In the Modern World." Dude, you don't need to give me anything else - I am there! I didn't even need to hear the qualifier that these fairy tales had Disney plastered all over them (though that was an added bonus). While the initial premise caught my attention, it was the characters that kept me there. Particularly the "villains" (and I use the term loosely, but I'm getting to that). In the first season, Rumplestiltskin was the most interesting, because there was backstory for him that absolutely no one knew about. Rumple is a trickster. He's evil in many ways, but in others - he's Loki (for all intents and purposes). He aligns himself with the side that's going to get him what he wants - some days he'll ally with the heroes, other days he's with the villains, still other days you're not sure what the hell he's doing, but you're going to sit there and find out. Through the first two seasons, I never quite knew where I stood with Rumple. Not in a frustrating or annoying way - but in a way that I actually felt sorry for him, even while I secretly hoped that he would lose because him losing would mean other characters I loved would be happy (thinking specifically about Rumple tricking Snow White into killing Cora so he could survive being poisoned - yeah, that wasn't complicated at all).

Next on my list of Villains-Who-Aren't-Villains (not really), there's Regina (the Evil Queen from Snow White). In Season 1, she was the Big Bad (though Rumple was pulling the strings, unbeknownst to... pretty much everyone). Her motives were pretty simple at first -  she was out for revenge and anything she could do to ruin Snow White's happiness - even when Snow White didn't remember who she really was - was fair game. Regina was the stereotypical Big Bad, for the most part - villainous plot, gonna enact revenge on the good guys, looks like she's winning half the time, but then stuff happens in the end to foil her magnificent plans. Season 2... well, things get a little murky from there on out. We've learned that Regina, at her core, is a good person who just wants her own happy ending but she's a little fuzzy on how to go about doing that (happy endings don't come easy to her and I can understand her being a little jealous of Snow White, who's seemingly had happiness and joy served to her on a silver platter on a near-daily-basis. That's not the case, but look at it from Regina's point of view). The problem is that Regina only knows how to use dark magic to get what she wants. She almost doesn't trust light magic, because honestly - what's it ever done for her? Better to stay with something she's familiar and comfortable with using. She even appoints herself The One Who Will Do The Dirty Work during the #SaveHenry in Neverland story arc because Snow White is too squicky about doing what needs to be done. Like stealing the heart of a Lost Boy so he will deliver a message to Henry that his family is coming to get him so he doesn't give into despair and lose hope. I mean, Snow White wasn't pleased about the idea, but to be fair, her unicorn stickers and sunshine lollipops weren't doing a damn thing and I was getting a bit bored at that point in the season. But give Regina the freedom to do her thing and Shit Gets Done. And the fandom rejoices (that moment came during an episode that I count as one of my favorites, but for other reasons that I'm going to expound upon in a bit).

However, Regina's dependence on dark magic doesn't last forever. In the second half of Season 3, we meet Regina's heretofore unknown half-sister, Zelena, who is known as the Wicked Witch of the West (given what the Big Reveal was in Season 3.1, this was a bit of a letdown - but it got better). Regina and Zelena's character arcs are pretty comparative, except that where Zelena had the chance to give up her anger and jealousy and reclaim her innocence and become more powerful that she could ever imagine (which, Glinda gives the All Too Telling Line that "innocence reclaimed can be just as powerful as innocence born"), Zelena ultimately loses that battle and becomes even more corrupted. Regina is given a similar choice when her son, Henry, suggest that she try to use light magic to defeat the Wicked Witch toward the end of Season 3. At first, Regina says that she can't because dark magic is all she has. But in the middle of the Final Boss Battle, Regina suddenly starts using light magic, even asserting that she has finally changed who she is and is well on her way to getting rid of the darkness in her heart. Even more powerful statement on her character - she refuses to let Rumple kill Zelena because that's not what heroes do.

Of course, character growth is not true character growth if it's not tested. And at the very tail-end of Season 3, one HUGE development came that looks like is going to test Regina's newfound morality. Some wonder "Why do that to her? She just found her happiness - why can't you give her a break for a bit?" Well - it's time to see if the new Regina is really here to stay. Will she make the same choices that she did in the past that led her to become Evil? Or will she choose another way? How much of that changing was because it was convenient? Personally, I'm thrilled with this opportunity that Regina has to prove that she really is one of the good guys. Maybe not 100% squeaky clean like Snow White (I can't live without Regina's snark), but she can be better. And I'm eager to see where that goes.

Okay - I blathered on about that more than I intended to. Because I've got a third sort-of-kind-of-not-really villain to wax lyrical about. Well, I've talked about him before, but of these three anti-villain characters (and as much as I adore Regina), my absolute favorite is none other than Captain Hook. To start off - just the imagination and creativity they've taken with this character impresses me to no end. I love his backstory (what little we have of it - here's hoping we'll get more in Season 4!), I love that he's a romantic at heart, I love his sarcasm and his snark, I love how he looks (okay, I admit, I'm kind of shallow), I love how earnest and honorable he is, I love that he's more villainous by reputation than by actual villainous deeds (again - still waiting on that backstory, guys!) Like Regina, Hook didn't start out as a bad person - circumstances and events led him to become a villain. One of my hands-down favorite episodes in all of Once is "Good Form," where we find out that, before he became the infamous pirate, Hook was once a Lieutenant Killian Jones in the royal navy under his brother and they were quite the awesome little heroic team for king and country. Until the king sent them on a mission to retrieve a deadly poisonous plant that they were told actually had magical healing properties. In the course of their mission, Killian's brother was poisoned by the plant and eventually died, which lead Killian to steal the ship he now has command of and become a pirate and steal from the king. His transformation in that episode from bright-eyed, idealistic (and, frankly, adorable) Lieutenant Jones willing to follow his captain and his brother into whatever danger as long as it's honorable, to the broken, betrayed, and untrusting pirate captain is so remarkable and compelling to watch. Conversely, watching the fearsome Captain Hook, who once loved and tragically lost and vowed to enact revenge on the demon who killed his love, come back around and realize that there's nothing left after taking revenge and learn how to be an honorable and heroic man again is just as compelling and exciting to see (also - doesn't hurt that he's falling in love with Emma Swan, who I've been cheering for to find True Love since the pilot episode, and the pair of them just work together). So, yeah, by far the character that I think has been done the best by Once is Captain Hook. Between the backstory and the characterization and the story arc - man, there is some great stuff there. And I doubt that they're done with him, which thrills me to no end.

So, there's those three main villains in Once. And they all are "villains," but they're also heroes in their own way. They've been misunderstood and mistreated, but they've all come out looking... not 100% shiny and clean, but better than traditional fairy tales have given them credit for. And, after looking at these three, how can you say that Elsa doesn't belong in Once Upon a Time?

To outsiders, Elsa is a mystery. Heck, Arendelle is a mystery. The gates have been closed against visitors for so many years that people wonder what they're hiding. As the film progresses and Elsa's powers are revealed, many people see her as a monster or a villain - that she purposely cursed Arendelle with eternal winter. Anna's the only one who really sees the good in Elsa and believes that Elsa isn't so much a villain as she has lost control and is frightened of what she could do to hurt somebody.

Man, if Elsa doesn't belong in Once Upon a Time, then I don't know who does. With that kind of backstory already given her by the Disney film, I can only imagine the people in the Once writers room chomping at the bit to weave her tale into their narrative. There is so much space to play around with for Elsa and I have no doubts that they're going to do her story justice. She has a lot of complexities that Frozen wasn't able to explore because of what kind of movie it was - but Once could go with a darker, more mature tone that I think Elsa's story needs to have to have it be done right.

(Never mind the fact that we never found out how Elsa got her powers. I mean, I know her parents said she was born with them - but neither of her parents had magic, so where did it come from really? Did she have a grandparent with powers who was forced to hide them? Maybe Once is going to explore some of that - though I do hope that they're going to keep that family tree separate from the already-convoluted family tree that Once already has established. Lemme just say that if Elsa turns out to be Snow White's mother's cousin's sister's former roommate or something equally absurd, I'm going to throw things).