Tag Archives: books

October Bonus Review: The Ring

Most horror fans are at least somewhat familiar with Suzuki Koji’s work. Maybe from actually reading it, maybe from watching one of many Japanese adaptations or maybe from watching the Hollywood film that was pretty shit. We’re just going to be looking at the first book in The Ring series. Simply titled The Ring. 

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Story:

We open with some scenes of mysterious deaths. One of which is witnessed by a cab driver. We cut to that driver picking up a journalist, Asakawa Kazuyuki. He mentions the strange event which reminds Asakawa of the mysterious death of his own niece. He does some investigating and discovers two other teenagers who died under strange circumstances. Further investigation yields a time and place that all four were together one week before their deaths. He goes to the location and discovers that a strange VHS was found in their room.

For those of you who don’t know what a VHS is, it’s how people watched videos at home before the Internet was good enough for streaming and DVDs existed.

Watching the VHS leaves him with a terrifying message. He will die in seven days unless he fulfills some kind of charm. Unfortunately for him, the charm was erased. This leads him and his friend, Takayama Ryuji, to try and unravel the mystery of the images on the tape so that he can figure out what the charm is, before time runs out.

One strength of the writing is that it conveys tension with the ticking clock and the actual violent scenes are very brief but have power behind them. It’s the kind of restraint and subtlety that work wonders in horror but rarely get utilised properly. Because it’s so much easier to throw out some cheap jump scares and have some monster/ slasher jump out at people.

The solution to the whole curse is also very cleverly designed. Not only is it very lightly foreshadowed in the video’s imagery itself, but it comes into play in a very brilliant way towards the end. I also do appreciate the end of the book. It has one of those classic horror endings that mixes dread with a brief glint of hope. It also is compelling to see Asakawa & Takayama’s journey across Japan to investigate various aspects of the tape.

Characters:

Here’s where the book falters a bit. While Suzuki does do a good job of presenting complex characters who have some depth, he may go too far in making Ryuji really unlikable. Part of the tension in a story like this comes from concern for the characters and one of the first things we learn about this guy is that he’s a chronic rapist and pretty heavily nihilistic. The book does backpedal a bit on that later, but it’s too little too late.

Still, you have to credit the man with thinking up and fleshing out characters who seem like actual human beings. Even our “antagonist” Yamamura Sadako has a lot of nuance to her character. All of which has to be acquired as third hand knowledge from the investigation.

Final Thoughts:

The Ring is a great horror story. It may be very definitively set in the 90s with the cursed VHS angle but that’s perfectly fine. It has a strong sense of tension. The characters are complex. And the use of the horror elements themselves is subtle, nuanced and pretty much immaculate. I’m giving the book an 8/10.

Happy Halloween, Everyone.

June Bonus Review: Princess Princess Ever After

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Princess Princess  is a family friendly graphic novel written and illustrated by Katie O’Neill. It was published in 2016 by Oni Press. It started as a web comic before that.

Story:

Princess Amira is riding her unicorn through the forest when she hears a maiden crying in a tower. Princess Sadie’s response to this is less than enthusiastic since many princes have tried. She asks what’s different this time. To which Amira responds “I am no prince and I have a grappling hook.” Thus their adventures begin.

The biggest issue with the book is probably just that everything is too easy. These ladies will encounter something that will seem like a possible threat for three panels and then resolve it with ease. Like the question of how to get down from the tower or the giant ogre. I get that this is a child friendly romp, but at the same time, children can handle some tension.

I will say, I appreciate the overall theme of moving beyond the role society’s chosen for you and finding your own place. We see all of  our major characters rejecting the boxes they’ve been put into in favour of their own paths. I also like the humour throughout. There are some delightfully funny bits of dialogue.

Characters:

The characters are a bit simplistic but they’re also more than passable considering the target audience. The short arcs of rejecting the roles that were chosen for them adds some depth to their characters. Amira and Sadie have a cute dynamic. Maybe a little under-developed but it’s about the best you can expect given how short the story is.

Art: 

The art is very cutesy. I’m not saying that as a bad thing. Truthfully, the aesthetic is quite nice. The character designs are pretty strong. The panel layouts are well thought out. The action flows quite well. About the worst I can say is that the backgrounds are a bit plain.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Have the characters take a bit more effort to resolve issues. The book could benefit from having them put more effort into resolving their problems.
  2. Flesh out some background details. I get that the foreground is more important but having more detailed backgrounds would be nice.
  3. A little more time to flesh out the main dynamic. As nice and cute as it is, it could benefit from another page or two to help flesh it out.

Final Thoughts:

In terms of works for a younger audience, this one is pretty great. Clever dialogue, a positive theme, and endearing characters combine to make for an entertaining and very quick read. Which is why I’m going to give it a very solid 8/10. If you have a youngster in your life who could use a good story or you just enjoy reading simplistic stories, I can recommend it.

December Bonus Review #4: Stories of Ibis

The Stories of Ibis is a novel from 2006 written by Yamamoto Hiroshi. Although I’ll be reading from the 2010 English version since, in spite of being a massive weeb, I don’t speak Japanese. In any case, it’s been quite a while since my last book review. So, I’m excited to get on with this one.

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Story:

We open with a wandering storyteller being confronted by an android. She says she just wants to talk, but he doesn’t believe her and proves no match for her and injures himself trying to bust her systems. She calls for help and he wakes up in hospital, a prisoner of the robots.

Our heroine introduces herself as Ibis and she entertains the story teller during his convalescence by telling him some stories. But can he overcome his deep-rooted mistrust of machines and actually listen?

The story is based around bibliotherapy and is reminiscent of 1001 Nights in that regard. The main narrative features Ibis telling stories to our protagonist while the stories she tells are feature a few thematic similarities. Namely that they’re about artificial intelligence and a positive attitude towards it. This eventually culminates in Ibis telling the non-fictional story about how mankind has reached its current state.

My first minor criticism of the narrative is that the Black Hole Diver story isn’t that great. It’s good, but not on par with the rest. My second is that it feels like it goes a bit far with how divorced humanity has become from its past. I understand why a lot of our history has to have been lost but the degree seems a tad excessive.

That being said, these stories are, generally, excellent. Even the worst of them is still good. They have a good variety in terms of content, but they all tie in together pretty well. Which is impressive considering that most of them were initially published as short stories by themselves. And the interactions with Ibis and the story teller are really interesting. It keeps you interested in how things got to this point. The pay off is well worth it too.

Characters:

The major characters are Ibis and the story teller. We get his point of view which gives us some insight into how humans of the age think as well as how he specifically differs from the norm. Which combines to give him a strong sense of personality. Ibis is quite compelling too. She has a sense of complexity but there’s enough that’s odd about it to give the impression that she’s not quite human.

The characters you see in the short stories are really well defined too. Yamamoto does a great job of giving you stories with a lot of nice background details and interesting technology but also making them very character focused.

Final Thoughts:

This book is fantastic. If you’re a fan of science fiction and you want to see how to handle the general concept of sapient AI really well and not like a bumbling man child, David Cage, I highly recommend it. I’ll give this one an enthusiastic 9/10.