What Could Have Been

As I’ve mentioned before, my debut novel I’m With You underwent many changes from inception to publication. The original story I envisioned was vastly different from the final version, and, just for funsies, I thought I’d list some of the things that “could have been” had I kept on along the initial route…

Minor spoilers ahead! You have been warned!

1.) Ciarán did not exist.
Ramus was originally intended to be the narrator, but his role was also different than his final incarnation (see below). I added Ciarán because I wanted to show the main characters through the eyes of a different party, and did not want Ramus’s perspective to paint the narrative. I thought the themes and the lessons would be better portrayed through the eyes and in the voice of a teenager, especially since I was aiming for a YA audience, so Ciarán was created to fill that role. And I’m glad it was his voice that told the story.

2.) Ramus (and Valkyrie) were hit-men.
The original plan had Ramus and Valkyrie serving as hit-men from the same nefarious organization. Ramus is hired to eliminate Remiel by her paranoid grandfather, but Ramus ultimately turns against his employers and decides to save Rem instead, and he recruits Valkyrie to help him get her to safety with some family members across the country. So, there are some similarities, but I nixed the hit-man idea when some other plot elements were changed and new characters were introduced. Also, there would have been a lot more violence and fighting. The Ramus/Valkyrie relationship was mostly the same, however, though instead of being established before their introduction, it would have been over the course of the narrative.

3.) I’m With You was intended to be a trilogy.
Back when I had very lofty ambitions for the layout of the story, I figured it would take about three books to tell the whole tale. However, there were several different sub-plots going on that were eventually discarded. Valkyrie was going to become a “villain” of sorts, and there was an arc that would feature a “world war” type of event… but in the end, it was way too convoluted and confusing and I couldn’t quite scrape up enough plausible detail to weave all the events I wanted together into a cohesive tale. The main story was supposed to be “get Remiel to safety” and as I kept adding more and more, it strayed further and further from the point. After I sliced down the scope of my ideas and shuffled the remaining elements together, I was left with enough content to fit within the pages of a single book. And I’m super glad that it ended up as one novel instead of 3.

4.) Kaz and Kia were originally twins…
…and both were villains. Kia was originally envisioned as an acrobat in a circus, and Kaz, her brother, was still a fire-juggler. They were to be villains in the second main arc of the story, enlisted by the second main antagonist. That is why their names and origins are similar; both got an age-change in the final version, as Kaz is 30 and Kia is 25ish.

5.) Dahlia was the main villain.
She was also known by the moniker “The Boss,” as she ran the organization that the hit-man versions of Ramus and Valkyrie were involved in. Markone also did not exist in the original plan. Dahlia and Valkyrie also would have ended up having a child, though they weren’t in a “relationship” – Valkyrie was more or less forced into a liaison with her. Long story. Obviously, that changed quite a lot.

6.) Most character descriptions were changed.
Camilla originally had black hair and brown eyes, but ended up blonde and blue-eyed. Valkyrie had two-toned hair; brown and red, but he ended up with auburn. Kaz was bald, I believe, and Dahlia was a little older and had red hair. I think the only characters who kept the same exact appearance/physical description were Remiel and Ramus, though Remiel was younger in previous plans.

7.) Mitzi was a minor character.
The original “party” for the story was Ramus, Remiel, Valkyrie, and Camilla – as previously mentioned, Ciarán didn’t exist, Kaz was a villain, and Mitzi was a minor supporting character in what I envisioned to be the second book of the trilogy. She had a very similar temperament, but was employed by a government organization and would end up working against her employer to help the main crew. When the plot shifted around, I decided to include her in the main party because her personality added a bit more balance to the rest of the characters.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

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Manga Monday #3: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 4-7)

WARNING! This post will contain SPOILERS!

The previous post, which discusses volumes 1-3, can be found here!

Now, after starting the series several years ago and failing to finish it, I have finally read all of Full Moon o Sagashite!

It’s a unique feeling to read a manga like this now, in my twenties, as opposed to in my teens. My mentality on certain matters has changed a lot over the last few years, so while I’m sure 15-year-old Allie would be squealing with joy over how adorable this manga is, 25-year-old Allie is less enthusiastic. However, I will say that the manga comes to a pretty satisfying conclusion without any glaring loose ends, which is a major plus.

While I’m glad the story picked up a lot of traction as opposed to the early volumes, I did find some of the story-lines rushed during the latter portion of this series. I personally felt that Takuto’s emerging love for Mitsuki went from “I might have feelings for this girl” to “I AM DEEPLY, PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH HER” in an extremely short amount of time, and Takuto became pretty one-dimensional afterward, except for a moment where he asserted his partnership with Meroko in the final volume. I realize that this is a recurring theme in many shojo manga, but in case of Full Moon, I did find it to be a detriment. Takuto also gets a little forceful with Mitsuki at times, which I did not like. The inclusion of Hikari as a wrench in Mitsuki and Takuto’s blooming relationship also struck an off-note with me, as she felt more like a device than a full-fledged character, especially since that thread of the story was brief.

I mentioned in my last post that I disliked how young Mitsuki was while grappling with such intense emotions, but I do think that improved in volumes 4-7, as the reasoning behind her feelings gets explored more thoroughly. She knew that Eichi was dead, but was unwilling to let go of him, and that stirs up a mess of confusing emotions once Takuto throws himself into the ring and expresses his love for her. Mitsuki’s reluctance to move on felt very real, and like a very plausible reaction for a girl her age to have when experiencing such complex emotions, especially considering the other problems she’s dealing with, such as running away from home, handling her Fullmoon alter ego, etc. Over volumes 4-7, Mitsuki really grew on me; she retains her sugar-sweet personality throughout the series, but she also shows her vulnerabilities and a much more viable anger than she expresses early on. And watching her learn and adapt to difficult emotions, and puzzle out her warring feelings for Takuto and persistent dedication to Eichi, made her a much more likable and relatable heroine.

Also in a complete reversal from last time, I enjoyed Meroko’s story-line a lot more than I did during volumes 1-3. Finally getting the backstory as to why she acts the way she does and why she struggles so much with her insecurities and feelings of  “love” provided a greater insight into her character, and I loved the interaction she had with Fuzuki. As her motivations became clear, her character grew much more likable, and I appreciated the insight into Izumi’s former life as well. Izumi starts off as a “darker” character than Meroko and Takuto, so that peek into his past and his relationship with his mother created a more sympathetic view of his character, especially when he shows vulnerability to Mitsuki. The shinigami are so cute with their outfits and animal alter-egos, it’s easy to forget how they got to that point – they are only shinigami because they committed suicide. So seeing their tragic backstories unfold and having them work together to convince Mitsuki to choose life gains a much more powerful meaning, considering they know better than anyone what it means not to have one.

Also, side-note, not a fan of the Madoka/Nachi plot in general. FIRST OF ALL, where did Nachi come from? Did I miss his introduction somehow? He like, appeared in volume 4 but I had no memory of him prior to that, though that might be an error on my end. But just the idea that plastic surgery is what brought them together really rubs me the wrong way. It’s like “look at me, I changed my face to be good enough for you!” I really disliked the delivery of that message, and felt the plot-line could have been tweaked a bit so it wouldn’t come across as so shallow. I also thought the romance between Ms. Oshige and Dr. Wakaoji started off at a nice pace, then sprinted to a resolution; it more or less jumped from getting together to getting super serious in a pretty short amount of time. I would have liked to see more exploration into their developing feelings for one another, rather than surface-level observations.

Plot-wise, Iloved the Jonathan twist, as I did NOT see it coming. Also, I thought the introduction of Sheldan (the shinigami’s boss) was handled pretty smoothly, as he remained fairly mysterious throughout, but Mystere was kind of forgettable. They didn’t get much page-time, but their character designs were excellent.

And, just a suggestion… if you’re someone who skips the little mini-comics at the end of most volumes, I recommend reading the ones in this series. They are hilarious.

The ending is predictable, but it’s still nice to see all of the character development and the various stories get tied up in a nice, neat bow at the close of volume 7. there’s something oddly refreshing about a happy, if a little bittersweet, ending, and seeing the characters you’ve grown to love come to a solid resolution by the final pages.

Despite my gripes, Full Moon o Sagashite provides a compelling balance of romance, drama, comedy, and a sprinkle of magical girl tropes that may continue to draw new readers, even though the initial run of the series ended long ago. Despite some leaps in logic and a few cliche bits of narrative, and a few portions of the story that struggle to hit the high notes, this charming series is a must read for shojo manga fans, if only just to appreciate Tanemura’s great artwork. Though I’ve become a cynic in my old age, I imagine teenage manga fans might find themselves more engrossed and drawn into the story than I was.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Film Review: Home Again (2017)

Dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Candice Bergen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr37m
Spoiler level: Light

This past Tuesday, for the first time in ages, I went into a film without looking at the RT score. I saw the trailer a couple of times, chuckled a bit, and decided that I wanted to see it based on that, and it turned out to be a wise move; the RT score is currently at 35%, but I still loved the film!

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By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54570184

Home Again follows newly-separated and newly-40-year-old mother of two Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), the daughter of a renowned filmmaker, who, while attempting to rebuild her life, ends up offering her guest house to 3 aspiring 20-something filmmakers. Naturally, as the boys lives become entangled with her own, Alice learns how to let go, move on from the past, and embrace the future.

The story is straightforward and solid, but many plot points are predictable; Alice striking up a romance with Harry (Pico Alexander), her ex-husband Austin (Michael Sheen) re-entering the picture and stirring up a whole bunch of tension, the boys negotiating with producers and directors on their dream project, etc, but don’t let the familiar premise fool you; the narrative does contain a few (mostly pleasant) surprises. While there’s shades of tales told many times before, there are a couple of fresh twists to keep the viewers guessing or hoping for a particular outcome. There’s a smooth balance of humor and drama, though perhaps less romance than a traditional rom-com, as the film takes the time to explore a variety of real-life issues, such as ambition versus reality, turning a new page, and taking risks.

The exploration of numerous ideas is both a boon and a bane, as there are times where the film feels as though it is stretched too thin and tries to do too much, so certain plot-lines don’t get as much resolution or attention as they deserve. Issues get resolved in a “last minute” fashion, almost like an afterthought. For example, there’s a plot device about Alice’s deceased father being a filmmaker that is intriguing, and is a stepping stone for Alice connecting to her three unlikely house guests, but sort of gets discarded in the latter half of the film. The music and montages seem to aim for an old Hollywood type feel, but at the same time, the tone doesn’t remain consistent. When the boys get into an argument, it gets resolved in a disproportionately swift manner compared to the set-up. As such, the pacing suffers a bit, as resolutions don’t live up to the set-ups, but regardless of this, the film doesn’t drag – I found myself engaged throughout.

The cast also delivers; Witherspoon carries the film with a charming performance that reflects both strength and vulnerability as a woman dealing with a new start at 40 years old. The 20-something trio (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander) all shine in a unique way, particularly Rudnitsky as George. Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen are also great in their roles, despite having less screen time, and both of the children (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) were delightful in their supporting roles, and looked like they could be the actual children of Witherspoon and Sheen.

Honestly, the film is not awards fodder, but it provided me with a fair amount of laughs, and even if it treads familiar ground, it conveys a message that doesn’t get old despite multiple re-tellings. If you need an enjoyable way to pass a rainy afternoon or have a couple of hours free in the evening with nothing else to do, and you enjoy a decent rom-com for a bit of light-hearted fun, this film is a treat. Or, you know, if all the showings of It are sold out, this is a nice, if not comparable, alternative.

Overall rating: 7/10

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Manga Monday #2: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 1-3)

While scanning my shelves for the next series to revisit, I tried to remember the first time I read Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura, but drew a total blank. After some more thought, I realized that, although I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least the first couple of volumes, I never finished it. And I’ve never seen the anime. So, although I have a vague idea of what the premise is (I know singing and shinigami are involved)… I have no idea how it ends. So let’s fix that, starting with volumes 1-3!

~Reading Break~

20170909_103548Full Moon o Sagashite follows Mitsuki, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from a fatal sarcoma in her throat, but her dreams of a singing career and reuniting with her lost love Eichi prevent her from undergoing the operation that will save her life. When two shinigami appear to intercept her fate, Mitsuki is granted the ability to transform into a healthy, 16-year-old version of herself so she can spend the last year of her life accomplishing her goals. The manga ran from 2002 – 2004 and was completed at 7 volumes.

Now, I’m pretty sure, when I read this several years ago, I only got through volumes 1-3. I bought the first 3 volumes back when Borders was still around (they closed in 2011) and collected the rest from online retailers over the years, but never finished the series. But I do remember really loving the premise and the story, so although I’m not sure why I never finished it, I’m determined to amend that!

After volume one, I wasn’t too invested in the characters or the narrative. Mitsuki is a really, really sweet protagonist; but almost unrealistically so. Maybe I’m just jaded (very likely) but she’s so nice and selfless it comes across as almost… grating. Even her rare moments of anger are tied to how kind and caring she is, as she’s usually angry on someone else’s behalf. She reminds me a bit of a sugar-coated version of Tohru from Fruits Basket (which I will be rereading for this series) but her endless cheer and optimism makes it difficult to connect with her, though she did grow on me a little during the next two volumes as her vulnerabilities (besides her illness) are made clear.

One half of the shinigami team, the bunny-eared Meroko, also irritated me quite a lot, though the small peek into her history during a side story in volume 3 was a nice glimpse into why she acts the way she does, and makes me curious about her past life. However, the other half, Takuto, intrigued me from the start. As his story unfolds, showing how close he was to Mitsuki’s life when he was alive, his history with singing, and the circumstances of his death, I found myself more drawn into his story than anyone else’s. But Izumi, another shinigami with a somewhat darker personality and outlook, is my favorite, so that probably explains the sort of character personalities I’m drawn to in stories like this. The shinigami are responsible for most of the humor (one panel with Jonathan, Izumi’s partner, had me actually laughing out loud) but also provide a unique commentary on life/death and repercussions of drastic decisions, which I look forward to seeing more of in later volumes.

Although the plot has a bit of a stuttering start (lots of shinigami rules and intricate plot details get thrown around during the set-up phase, plus a lot of saccharine fluff from Mitsuki) the plot really starts to pick up in volumes 2 and 3, as the complexities of the shinigami roles and the truth behind Mitsuki’s past unravel. The plot starts off fairly light-hearted as Mitsuki embarks on her signing career as “Fullmoon” with help and hilarious commentary from Meroko and Takuto, but it does get pretty deep starting in the second volume, providing an engaging balance between comedy and drama. A couple of plot twists seem a little forced and out-of-nowhere (Dr. Wakaoji’s identity, for instance) but other revelations (Oshige and her boss, Takuto’s past, and the big reveal at the end of volume 3) unfold in a more organic, natural fashion, which makes me eager to read volume 4 and see what happens next. It’s not all sugar and rainbows, and now, 3 volumes in, I both dread and eagerly anticipate how certain info-bombs will impact the story going forward.

I will say that Mitsuki being twelve does bother me a lot more now that I’m older. Even though she can transform into a 16-year-old when she’s her alter ego, “Fullmoon,” she’s still like… a literal child. So some plot points and interactions with characters comes across as creepy to me, instead of sweet. For instance, when Eichi told her he loved her, he was 14 and she was 10. Why is a 14-year-old boy confessing love to a ten year old? I do not find that cute, sorry. I get that the circumstances are different (they grew up together in an orphanage, she helped him through personal struggles and vice versa, they supported one another when they had no one else) but the gap just makes me find Mitsuki more naive than anything else. But, like I said before, maybe I’ve just grown jaded in my old age.

The art is fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of intricate, ultra-cute-style character designs. Mizuki is a memorable character, and her hairstyles are exceptional. The costumes for the shinigami are adorable, but also make them stand out and implies hints into their personalities – Takuto is really finicky and hot-and-cold, like a cat, for example. It’s an art style that might not appeal to everyone, since it lends itself more to the cute/big-eye trend, but it’s pretty standard for a magical-girl series and I found it very appealing, since it’s easy to differentiate between the characters due to how distinct they are.

All in all, Full Moon o Sagashite provides an interesting blend of humor, romance, and compelling questions about death, life, and second chances. Even if it’s difficult to connect with the too-sweet heroine, the mysteries of the side characters make me want to keep reading, and the plot really starts to gain traction as the drama and emotional points overtake the comedy and fluff aspects. Next Monday, we’ll finish off this series with volumes 4-7! Stay tuned!

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

Writing Rewind #11: Wings of Fate Chapter 7 Part 2

It’s been a few weeks since our last jaunt into the world of my hideous past writing, and I was only just starting to recover… but it’s time to go back and knock out the rest of chapter 7.

Last time, we were introduced to two new major players in Major Leiter and Major Tango, and, after being busted for hiding Shirotaka in his room, Heiwa has been led to meet with General von Schneider. What suffering is store in wait for him? Let’s find out, in pat 2 of Chapter 7: The Mission Revealed!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe
Green highlight – switch/move

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Starting strong, as always.

Verbose, verbose, verbose. Much like my hair, this selection is in need of a good trim. And a good re-work.

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Also, for a man who is meant to be so cold and intimidating, General von Schneider’s dialogue does not lend itself to that idea. He needs to be less wordy, more cutting. And also, the build up to the big reveals in this chapter is way too long. It draws out the suspense, but not in a good way.

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Same ideas conveyed in a more efficient manner. Moving on, Heiwa gets taken to Dr. Black’s quarters, which are covered in pictures of a mysterious woman…

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Ugh. I really fail at descriptions. Admittedly, I still struggle with it, but I do like to think I’ve gotten at least a little better since these dark days.

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I do wonder if I can go an entire chapter without mentioning eye color. Somehow, I doubt it…but that one red bit in there is certainly overkill.

Also, this section is just wordy and awkward. So it’s time to trim and tame!

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Now, the set-up to Dr. Black’s motivations is a bit more streamlined, without losing any of the actual content. Less clunky, and with improved flow, so it doesn’t drag… at least, not as much.

Moving on, Heiwa is reunited with Shirotaka, and Dr. Black starts to get into the real nitty-gritty of what the mission is about. He shows the pair some artifacts, and the explanation begins…

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*sigh* This… is… awful.

I guess because I thought the explanation was going to be confusing, I had to cram every little detail into Dr. Black’s little monologue. But really, it’s not necessary to bog the explanation down so meticulously.

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Really, that entire block is a massive cringe, and needs a massive overhaul. Other than that, it’s just the usual nit-picks and recurring problems. Also, Heiwa doesn’t need an overload of “How can this be?” “Can this be true?” “How is this possible?” wondering every single time he gets an info-bomb dropped on him.

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Look how much shorter this is! And, at least on my end, the explanation still seems fairly clear, at least for the time being. The info-dump is not as drastic, which allows for a less overloaded chapter. It’s still overloaded, of course, but I can at least lessen the damage.

Next, Dr. Black’s explanations continue…

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So, Shirotaka’s people, the mysterious Seijaku, can bring the dead back to life. What a twist! But this portion still requires a bit of a makeover.

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Dr. Black’s dialogue is still too wordy, and that eye-reference needs to go. Far, far away, never to return. The reveal in this passage, that the Seijaku can resurrect the dead, loses some impact when it’s surrounded by so much fluff.

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There; less talk, more… I don’t know, moving forward?

After this, Dr. Black explains that Shirotaka likely has amnesia, but he expects her memories to eventually return. However, when he asks Heiwa for help, Heiwa declines, as he feels something “off” about the mission. Therefore, Dr. Black needs to persuade him. So, if the Seijaku’s incredible power is divided in two, obviously, the second part is…

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Ah, the old “using terminally-ill mother as a bargaining chip” trick. What a low blow!

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The use of “she” and “his mother” also needs to be tweaked, as it gets muddled during Heiwa’s inner monologue. Overall, though, this passage needs the usual treatment. A little snip and polish!

Here’s the result:

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Heiwa obviously agrees to help Dr. Black in order to potentially help his mother. So, Heiwa will now be serving as the “go-between” for Dr. Black whenever Shirotaka remembers something that could be useful for the mission.

But where will Shirotaka stay? The room next to Heiwa is occupied by Major Tango (which was news to Heiwa) so alternate arrangements must be made…

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Such a “funny” turn of events loses the humor when it’s too long-winded, which means some changes must be made.

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Hopefully, cutting out some unneeded tidbits and reworking some awkward phrasing will make this passage flow better.

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And there we have it! Chapter 7 is at a close, and the mission has been revealed! Heiwa might get to uncover an ancient civilization, and save his mother all at once! Though, of course, it won’t be so easy…

Next time, we depart from the mission-based focus and get more into the psyche of the commanding officers, as well as the  lamentable romance subplot from this travesty of a story. And is that a love triangle I hear in the distance? Or could it be…a love square? Rhombus? Trapezoid? Idk. There’s four people in it. Next time is Chapter 8: The Hated Day.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

On Monday, we have another Manga Monday, this time about Full Moon O Sagashite by Arina Tanemura. I own the entire series, but I don’t think I ever finished reading it for some reason, so I’m looking forward to it!

 

Manga Mondays #1: Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai

Back in my teenage years, I was a big-time manga collector, and now, in my twenties, I still have shelves full of different volumes and series. While my anime preferences trend more toward the action-based/sci-fi/fantasy/mecha titles, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Wolf’s Rain, Inuyasha, Attack on Titan, Last Exile, and Cowboy Bebop, my manga tastes stray more toward the “girly” fare. And one such series is Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai, which ran from 2003-2008 and was completed at 10 volumes.

I read Beauty Pop quite a few years ago, and all I remember is that it’s about cutting hair and I thought it was hilarious. Also, the lead female was a bit unconventional for a shojo title. But that’s all I’ve got, so it’s time for a reread!

~READING BREAK~

Alright! I initially planned on reading just the first 3 volumes for this post, but ended up powering through all 10 because I got sucked in, just like I did when I read it all those years ago. Beauty Pop follows 1st year high-schooler Kiri Koshiba, a girl with a gift for hair-styling, and her interactions with the S.P., or Scissors Project, a club run by 2nd year Shogo Narumi and his friends Kazuhiko Ochiai and Kei Minami, who are determined to be the top makeover/stylist team in Japan. Naturally, many hair-related hi-jinks ensue.

20170904_084322.jpgOverall, the series has a nice, meandering pace; there are over-arcing stories that run through the course of the series, but also several smaller, more episodic narratives that unfold in conjunction with the major plot-lines, and they are well balanced, so the story never loses the flow. A couple of the side stories kind of fall flat, but overall, the narrative is charming and engaging. The character relationships are also handled exceptionally well; there is as much, if not more, focus on friendship between the main cast (Kiri and her best friend Kanako get a nice subplot, Ochiai and Narumi have a lot going on, and lots of minor characters who encounter the S.P. have interesting and relatable issues to face) than there is on the romance. Typical “real world, growing up” problems are also handled  and touched upon quite a lot, as the characters grapple with decisions that will impact their futures, their relationships with family, their education, and their ties to friends. The more romantic elements are hinted at and briefly explored in the early volumes, but don’t really progress until the last 3, so it isn’t the main draw of the plot. This is not the standard, but the plot of the manga is definitely more focused on the comedy/slice of life/coming of age stories, which is a nice change in tone from more “dramatic” titles in this genre. Plus, the emphasis on hair-styling/makeup is intriguing, as it allows for exploration into personal ideas of beauty and the way society looks at people versus how they should be seen.

For example, in one bit, Kiri gets blamed for something that happens to the S.P. club room after she winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of immediately assuming that she did it and getting angry, Narumi asks her about it, she says she didn’t do it, and he believes her. I half expected him to fly off the handle and go on a total rage campaign against her in a fit of manufactured drama, but no – she says she didn’t do it, and he accepts her word. It’s a great way to show how their relationship has grown to that point, and to subvert some familiar tropes of the genre.

Beauty Pop is also more of an ensemble effort than it is focused solely on one character. Some get more page-time than others (Kei, for example, doesn’t get any chapters where he is the main focus, and neither do Iori and Seki) but most of the characters get a fair amount of development and show real growth over the series. This allows for a greater range of stories to be told, as readers glean insight into Narumi’s confrontational relationship with his father, Ochiai’s ambitions clashing with his personal relationships, Kiri’s personal history with hair-styling, Kanako’s struggles to juggle friendship and love, and Billy’s difficulty choosing between duty and family.

Also, the art is great; it isn’t flashy, but the characters all have a unique style, and there isn’t anything too distracting that draws away from the story. All the different hair-styles are also cool to see, as Kiri and Narumi work their magic on a plethora of side-characters.

As I remembered, Kiri is definitely an unconventional shojo heroine, which makes this series stand out from several others. She has a laid-back, generally aloof personality that clashes spectacularly with her high-strung, temperamental counterpart, Narumi. She’s hilarious, a real breath of fresh air, and a good chunk of her story focuses on past trauma and whether she truly wants to be a beautician, and her struggles coming to terms with her dreams and her past. My only quibble with Kiri as the heroine is that, when the inevitable love triangle rears its head, you don’t get much of her perspective, especially in the later volumes. However, on the flip side of that, there is a lot of emphasis put on the two male characters of the triangle, which, at least in my experience with manga, goes a bit against the grain. But, since Kiri’s thoughts on the matter are barely touched upon, the ending doesn’t pack quite enough emotion as I would have hoped for. But in terms of the general “building up” of the romance over the course of the volumes, the progression is subtle for the most part. Narumi’s initial derision for Kiri fades slowly as they learn more about one another and gradually start to work together, but their interactions develop in a way that feels organic and natural. Ochiai’s blossoming crush on Kiri has an impact on his friendship with Narumi, as he mainly struggles with his budding feelings on his own until the triangle reaches a climax, though Kiri and Kanako’s friendship does suffer a minor snag once Ochiai’s motivations become more clear. So, although the triangle is such an overdone trope, it doesn’t feel hastily thrown in; most sides get a fair amount of development, but I wish we could have had more of Kiri’s perspective. I will say, now, as an adult, some of the “romance” comes across as more “stalkery” or “cringey,” but isn’t really presented as such. Then again, maybe I’m just out of touch.

When I first read Beauty Pop as a teenager, I was drawn in by the comedy and the unusual focus on hair-styling and beauty, and now, all these years later, that allure still rings true. I didn’t laugh quite as much as I did, but I was still drawn in by the story and the characters. It’s a light-hearted title that presents familiar tropes in an unconventional and unexpected fashion, breathing new life into a genre that can easily get stale.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Game of Thrones Season 7 Highs and Lows

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for all 7 seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, all 5 ASoIaF books, and other related material/speculation.

Game of Thrones season 7 has been a mixed bag, and it will likely take more than one watch-through to really let the events and revelations sink in. But now that the first flakes of winter have begun to fall on King’s Landing and the Wall has crumbled against the forces of the dead, I’ve got some thoughts on the “highs and lows” of the penultimate season of HBO’s most popular show.

promo327713341.jpgThe show has been remarkably consistent in its strengths over the years, and one of those “highs” is the acting. The show features a stellar cast across the board. Though we’ve lost so many memorable characters over the years, through tragedy and vengeance alike, the ones who remain have demonstrated vast range and incredible ability, and have engaged viewers across their arcs, drawing them into the individual character stories. As a viewer, I might not like every character, but I cannot deny that every member of the main/supporting cast has done a brilliant job of bringing their characters to life. Some particularly notable moments from this season include:

*Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) confrontation/reunion in episode 7.
*Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) final scene with Cersei and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) in episode 3.
* Olenna Tyrell’s (Diana Rigg) last moments in episode 3 (Slay, Queen of Thorns, slay!).
*Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)… pretty much all season, but especially in his final moment with Cersei in Episode 7 and the battle/his charging at Dany/Drogon in episode 4.
*Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) losing Viserion and nearly losing Jon in episode 6, and returning home in episode 1.
*Euron’s (Pilou Asbaek) dramatic entrance via Silence in episode 2.
*Sansa (Sophie Turner) adjusting to her title as Lady of Winterfell and handling the stresses of delivering justice over the course of the season.
*Samwell (John Bradley West) struggling with his position at the citadel and ultimately deciding to leave in Episode 5.
*Davos (Liam Cunningham) pretty much whenever he’s onscreen. Same for Jorah (Iain Glen).
*Littlefinger’s (Aiden Gillen) death. Seeing him beg for mercy was so surreal.
*Arya’s (Maisie Williams) reunions with Sansa, Hot Pie, and Nymeria.
*Meera’s (Ellie Kendrick) goodbye with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright).
*The Hound (Rory McCann) in his “Gravedigger” moment in episode 1, as well as his interactions with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and the Brotherhood in episode 6.
*Theon (Alfie Allen) succumbing to “Reek” in episode 2, then rising from the ashes in episode 7.
*Jon (Kit Harington) in episodes 6 and 7, but also his meeting with Dany in episode 3.

Honestly, there are several more standout moments that could be included in this list, but these are the first few that come to mind. The combination of chemistry and strong character arcs over the course of the series has really made fans grow attached to these characters and their relationships, and become invested in where their stories are going, which ultimately makes the audience fearful, yet excited, for the end.

I think a prime example of the complex characterizations is episode 4, “The Spoils of War,” which features the dramatic showdown between the Dothraki and Daenerys on Drogon and the Lannister Army. Watching that scene, with the Dothraki horde cresting over the hill and the Lannister soldiers literally shivering in fear at their approach, I couldn’t decide how I wanted it to end. I was cheering when Drogon dropped through the clouds, but cringing as he incinerated an entire line of soldiers with his flames. You don’t want Dany to die, you don’t want Jaime to die, you don’t want Tyrion to die, you don’t want Bronn to die, you don’t want Drogon to die. Watching these characters face one another on the battlefield is mesmerizing and presents a genuine conflict, because as a viewer, I had no idea what I wanted the outcome to be, and that is the type of complexity GoT is known for, and part of what makes it so great.

The production for this season has also been top-notch, as usual. The effects (especially in “The Spoils of War,” “Beyond The Wall,” and “The Dragon and the Wolf”) are amazing. The costumes are excellent, with embellishments and little touches here and there that actually seem to give clues to character traits and upcoming events. It’s been cool to see fur and more black emerge as the newest fashion staples, but the real style winner of the season is Daenerys’s coat in episode 6. I am predicting an Emmy in 2018; mark my words. The new locations were great, as were the old. I also think this might be the season with the best music; I both eagerly anticipate and lament the approach of season 8 for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that we have only one more season of Ramin Djawadi’s soaring score to look forward to.

Although this season has less – ahem, I mean fewer –  episodes, it has delivered a ton of memorable scenes and moments, and no episode lacks for exciting content. It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite, and I likely won’t be able to make a definitive conclusion until I revisit them, but after first viewing, I think “The Spoils of War” might take the cake. However, “The Dragon and the Wolf” is a strong contender, as well. The “Aegon Targaryen” reveal was quite a stunner, and the Dragon Pit meeting, with so many characters all in one place, was exciting to see unfold.

We’ve also had some spectacular returns and reunions this season, and of them all, I was most pleased to see Gendry (Joe Dempsie) again. Fans (and Davos, apparently) feared that he might still be rowing since his last appearance in season 3, but now he’s back, swinging a hammer just like his father, good ol’ Bobby B. I hope to see more of him in season 8, and look forward to his eventual reunion with Arya.

Game of Thrones is a visually stunning, engrossing, genre-bending, and utterly captivating show, and season 7 is no different in that respect. Every episode had me on the edge of my seat, the emotional sequences moved me to tears, or in some cases, enraged me, and the wait for season 8 (a rumored 18 month wait, no less) will be unbearable, though at least we have 7 seasons to re-watch and 7 soundtracks to listen to (and, hopefully soon, a sixth book to read) until then. After watching the Game of Thrones unfold for seven seasons, with players moving and shifting or being axed from the board entirely, it’s hard to believe that The Long Night has come, and out watch is almost over.

BEFORE I GET INTO THE “LOWS” OF THE SEASON, let me just say, I love this show. It will, barring catastrophe, officially be my all-time favorite show come s8 ep6. After watching several “behind the scenes” from this season and previous seasons, I am consistently amazed and awed by how much work and passion goes into the production of this show. That said, though I’m usually pretty quick to defend the showrunners for the liberties they take, season 7, while amazing in so many ways, did strike a couple of off-notes, but for me, that’s like, giving Season 7 an A- rather than an A+, and I can narrow it down to two “lows;” a combo of writing and pacing.

One of the common issues folks seem to have with this season is the pacing, and I must say, I agree. I will give mad props to the show writers/runners (and especially Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington) for making me care about and notice the progression and chemistry of Jon/Dany A.K.A. “Jonerys.” I have my doubts a “happily ever after” is in the future for them, especially when they find out they’re aunt/nephew and with the war for the dawn creeping ever closer, but I guess the incest blow is softened a bit by the fact that they don’t know they’re related, and at least it’s not as squicky as Cersei/Jaime. I wish their romance had a bit more build-up, but for what we got, I was pretty impressed by their interactions and the development of their relationship, in spite of the short time.

Overall, the pacing wouldn’t be an issue if the rest of the series was as fast-paced as this season was, but it isn’t. If this were an earlier season, it would have taken Jon at least 3 episodes, if not more, to get to Dragonstone, or from Dragonstone to the Wall. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for some things, but compared to how things are handled in the earlier seasons, GoT feels like a different show now. The writing is not bad, and I’m not bashing the writers, it’s just now, the writing is different in tone and pace and how characters make decisions. Season 6 faced similar “logic” issues, but the pacing less so, because there was a full 10 episodes.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand why they are doing it this way. I get it. But that doesn’t make it any less jarring as a viewer since it’s unlike the show in its early years, where more time was spent getting the pieces in place and developing relationships and situations for some grander scheme rather than big moves and power plays happening in quick succession, so swift it becomes tough to process. The big moments lose their impact because there is no time to decompress afterward. The show used to dwell; it used to thoroughly explore situations and expand on intrigue, and this season seems like a lot has been glossed over in favor of flash and spectacle. Generally, the changes the show has made don’t bother me a whole lot, because I know the books will be different and I accept that, but this is the first season that I noticed the “streamlining” as a detriment instead of a strength.

Sure, the shortened season may be due to monetary/budget reasons, or it may be due to the fact that they’ve run out of book material, but the difference in writing (especially in the dialogue) and the pace, while not necessarily bad, is noticeable. Conversations that should be happening aren’t; Why hasn’t Jon brought up Maester Aemon to Dany? Why did Jorah not mention Sam to Jon? Why did Gendry not mention Arya to Jon? Why did Brienne and Sandor only discuss Arya, not Sansa? Why did NO ONE address Varys at the Dragon Pit meeting? Where does Euron have Yara? WHY DOES NO ONE MENTION THE FREYS AFTER ARYA KILLED THEM ALL? WHERE IS EDMURE TULLY? IS MEERA GOING TO COME BACK? WILL WE EVER GET TO SEE HOWLAND REED? HOW DID THE UNSULLIED SURVIVE POST-CASTERLY ROCK INCIDENT? The decrease in meaningful conversations is apparent, and it makes some of these “reunions” or decisions feel hollow, and definitely rushed. Which, if the series continues in that direction, season 8 will likely face similar complaints. If they didn’t have enough material for two final 10 episode seasons, we shouldn’t have even MORE questions rising after season 7.

Also, some characters don’t seem to have much to do (Varys, Brienne, Melisandre, even Tyrion) while others have lost a bit of their spark, and with the end looming, I wonder if there will be enough time to really give all of the great characters the amount of screen time they deserve to close out their individual stories. Granted, the books have a lot more characters and scenarios to deal with (and a lot more freedom due to the whole “no budget” factor), and I know that the show and the books are not the same thing any more, but just because the show has scaled things back doesn’t mean they should be skimping on the story or cutting corners. The non-book material they made for seasons 1-4 was pretty seamless, so they are capable of blending their own ideas in with Martin’s tone, and I hope they hit the right notes with season 8 despite the restrictions they face.

Though the distant final season is even shorter (in episodes, maybe not running time) I hope the show is able to steer back to form for the final run, and address the lingering questions. I don’t envy the showrunners/writers, who are adapting a book series that isn’t finished and have run out of actual book material, though I fail to understand why they believe the story could be wrapped up in a convincing and satisfying manner in 13 episodes after season 6. I hope they can end the show with the detail, nuances, and richness the series is known for, rather than a reliance on fan-service. And I have confidence they will.

FINAL RANT: Can I just say, though… people need to stop shitting on Rhaegar because of the wig the actor was wearing. If you’re going to shit on Rhaegar for anything, it should be the fact that he abandoned his first wife and two children (who were later brutally murdered) in favor of running off with a much younger Northern girl, which threw the kingdom into chaos and caused thousands of deaths. Annulling his marriage is a dick move, too, because he essentially discarded and dishonored the innocent Elia Martell and her two children, Rhaenys and Aegon, and then he NAMED HIS CHILD WITH LYANNA “AEGON TARGARYEN,” EVEN THOUGH HE ALREADY HAD A SON NAMED AEGON. Rhaegar is not a hero; he is flawed, and his romance with Lyanna, however genuine it was, should not be idolized. End of story.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10 (It may seem like I have a lot of complaints, but it is still a top-notch quality show!)

Season 7 M.V.Ps
Beric Dondarrion: HE HAS A F*CKING FLAMING SWORD AND UNFAILING COURAGE. The man is my hero. And he has a voice that could soothe even the most ornery of wights.

Drogon: Our baby is all grown up! Torching Lannisters like nobody’s business.

Gilly: Girl delivered the “Prince Ragger” revelation. Gilly dropping the info bombs this season!

Benjen Stark: The man half-lived alone beyond the wall for years, all for the sake of fighting for life. I wish his mini-reunion with Jon had been a bit longer, but he will be missed. I hope “the pup” has found his peace.

Meera Reed: GIRL DESERVED A BETTER SEND-OFF. SHE BETTER BE BACK OR I WILL RIOT.

Samwell Tarly: The man is all of us when he’s talking to Bran in the last episode. Also, it takes great courage to walk away from a lifelong dream, as he did when he left the Citadel. Samwell is a hero.

Ramin Djawadi: Seriously, this man delivers A+ quality music every single season. Even songs that feature the familiar themes get fresh spins and new twists, and songs like “Truth,” are wonderful additions. It’s going to be on repeat for ages!

Season 7 R.I.Ps
Thoros of Myr: All things considered, death by zombie bear is a pretty badass way to go. Also, Paul Kaye nailed the role of our favorite drunken red priest.

Randyll and Dickon Tarly: Randyll was a real dick, but Dickon didn’t deserve his fiery fate. He should have bent the knee, but whatevs.

Viserion: Due to the episode leak, this pivotal moment was spoiled for me thanks to the title of a youtube video, but I still legit got emotional. I mean… no lie, his wight form is BADASS but it was still so sad to see 1/3 of the dragon troupe get iced.

Littlefinger: I hated the smarmy, weasel-like Littlefinger from his first appearances in season 1, but I cannot deny that Aiden Gillen absolutely killed the role. Seeing him break down in front of Sansa and beg for his life was so shocking, because he’d never acted like that before, and I loved it.

The Freys: Good riddance.

The Sand Snakes: Dorne may not have had the best book to screen transition, but I was sad to see them dispatched in such a cruel way.

Benjen Stark: Mentioned above.

Ellaria Sand: She may be gone, but Indira Varma absolutely owned her final scene.

Reek: The “Reek” has been killed, and “Theon” (re)born!

Ghost: He’s not dead, I know. But he endured a “death by budget” this season, and I’m sad we didn’t see him even once.

SEASON 8 PREDICTIONS (CONDENSED VERSION):
*Dany is so going to get pregnant. They’ve discussed her infertility way too much this past season for her not to get pregnant. It’s the Targaryen way, after all. I also think, once Jon and Dany find out they’re related, Jon’s ensuing identity crisis will drive them apart (if not permanently, it will at least cause some friction) but the whole “being related” issue will be more pertinent for Jon, while Dany would be more bothered by the issue of inheritance, since Jon technically ranks above her now. But it’s also an issue that will probably be resolved fairly quickly, because of the limited amount of episodes.
*I think there’s a good chance that both Jon and Dany will die, but if it’s just one, I think it will be Dany.
*I also think Gendry will be legitimized, will inherit Storm’s End, and (CALL ME CRAZY) if romance is in his future, I think he is more likely to end up with Sansa than he is with Arya. Arya is so different now I can’t imagine her settling down.
*Cersei will not have her child, and will die by season’s end. It will either be via Jaime, or Arya; not sure which, but I’m leaning toward Arya at this point, even though I’d rather it be Jaime.
*Cleganebowl will happen.
*Bran does have something to do with the Night King. I don’t know what, but they are definitely connected.
*The Iron Throne, as a concept, is done for.

 

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK.