Saturday, 29 June 2013

Battle Royale: A Bloody Romp of a Manga Adaption

A Review By: Amelia
Since 1999, Battle Royale has been synonymous with unnecessary violence, gratuitous teenage sexuality, and Japanese weirdness. It has a cult following that could put Evil Dead’s following to shame and it’s had its hand in almost all popular media: it was originally a novel with well over six hundred pages, it then became a movie (that was only recently allowed for sale in North America due to it being made right around the time of the Columbine massacre), and a fifteen volume manga series–which is what I’ll be exploring in this review.

The Battle Royale manga series is based upon Koushun Takami’s novel of the same name. The adaption was rewritten and drawn by Masayuki Taguchi. For those of you who have never heard of Battle Royale it’s about a dystopian Japan where the government rules by fear and intimidation. To do this they select a number of junior level classes (grade nine, ages fourteen to fifteen), spirit them away to a deserted town or island, give them weapons and three days to kill all their classmates while all of Japan is forced to watch on television. The last student alive gets a government pension and is considered a loyal and heroic Japanese citizen. Sounds a lot like The Hunger Games doesn’t it? Well, where as The Hunger Games was written for teenage girls, Battle Royale (especially its manga counterpart) is strictly for mature audiences only. It’s ultra violent, incredibly sexualized, and lined from top to bottom with swears and gore!

Battle Royale’s plot is simple but keeping track of the characters might confuse a casual reading as there’s about forty characters within the story and each one gets their time in the spotlight. Through the fifteen volumes you see each person’s backstory, follow them around the island and watch them struggle to survive, kill or fun, or form alliances that ultimately disintegrate in an over-the-top violent fashion. Of course all the characters are not the main characters, only about five or so would be considered main. Three are your standard good guys that you cheer for to survive and escape to live another day, one is a femme fatale that you cheer for because of her sob backstory (and because she’s just plain awesome), and one is a sociopathic madman that kills for the fun of it that will leave you cheering for his death!

Can you tell which one is the bad one?
The detail is seriously impressive
As much as I love the story of Battle Royale and how well the
characters are written and designed (in the novel especially, but that’s a review for another day), the art style of the manga leaves a lot to be desired. Frankly, everything is just ugly as shit. First off, the characters are not drawn like teenagers: the ‘bad kids’ are drawn like monsters with hideous features. I find their hideous, grotesque mouths to be the worst; they’re always licking their lips and spit runs down their chins–just plain disgusting. The kids that aren’t bad but aren’t main characters are drawn like white kids even though they are supposed to be Japanese. The main characters (whether good or bad) are the only ones that could be considered attractive with their smooth and proportioned facial features. I mean, it makes sense, make the bad kids ugly and they’re even more ‘bad’ then before–absolutely no one will pity the guy that tries to rape his female classmates when he’s axed in the face when he’s a deformed fiend, but they will cheer for the beautiful psychopathic girl who kills without mercy but also gets naked once a volume.

The only thing that the art has going for it is how incredibly detailed it is; you’ll see every leaf on every tree, every splatter of blood, and every hair on everyone’s head. But even the detail becomes a nuisance after a while as the gore and violence quickly becomes just too much.

Battle Royale is really a no brainer for an 18+ manga–of course the plot is probably one of the saddest things you’ll ever read but it’s got violence and sex galore, it’s got characters that you’ll cheer for, either to survive or die in an awful, painful way, it’s even got some deep and meaningful themes about trust, friendship, loyalty, and freedom in the modern world. Unfortunately, the art style is awful and takes away almost everything else that the manga has to offer.

My final thoughts on Taguchi’s manga adaption of Battle Royale is that it’s okay. That’s it: okay. The story is more or less the same (although if you’ve seen the movie or read the novel the manga will seem very different towards the end), but the art style will ruin it for you. Manga is a visual media and the visuals should be pleasing, they should draw you in, and add to the story but the drawings here don’t add, they take away. They take away from the amazing story until all that’s left is something okay. If you must read the manga series, do yourself a favour and save them until you’ve read the book or seen the movie!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mrs. Fry’s Diary: A Humorous Twitter Turned Hilarious Book

A Review By: Amelia
Every wonder if Stephen Fry were straight, what sort of woman he’d marry? What his job would be? What his family would be like? Will it turns out Fry himself also wondered that and decided to write a book all about it. A little narcissistic in truth, but the ever-playful, constant tongue in cheek of Fry is a right delight in the aptly named Mrs. Fry’s Diary.

This is a book born of a Twitter account. When this trend started blooming a couple years back I was aghast. I mean, why turn a blog into a book? Do I care about LOLcatz or Shitmydadsays beyond occasionally reading them online? Did I want them printed and bound and displayed in my library? No, no I do not. The only reason I picked up this book to read it is because it has Stephen Fry’s name on it (not to mention a rather dashing picture of Fry dressed as a proper British lady on the cover).
Now Stephen Fry, for those of you who don’t know, is Britain’s most beloved national treasure. No word of a lie or exaggeration. He’s intelligent, funny beyond belief, upper-class in a lower-class kind of way, he loves to swear (his favourite dirty words being fuck, cunt, and bollocks), and the BBC just can’t get enough of him! He’s traveled the world, loves technology, and has suffered bouts of bitter depression throughout his life and it gives him a distinctive writing voice.

The main character and main plot of this book are completely interlocked: not surprising really, when you write a diary book the writer (the main character in all diaries) has their hand in everything that happens around them. Why would they write a diary if this weren’t the case?

In Mrs. Fry’s Diary, Edna Fry is the main character/main plot. She writes her diary over the course of one
Fry's inspiration for Edna, a character from A Bit of Fry&Laurie
year about her white trash children (one of which is literally the anti-Christ) and her beer-loving, karaoke-singing, ultra-heterosexual, window washing/taxi driving husband Stephen Fry. Mrs. Fry uses her diary to talk about a number of matters including her husband, who she is blissfully unaware is a national treasure among other things, her children who she neglects and forgets about all the time but still loves more than any other mother she knows, and her cooking which always includes SPAM. She’s not an intelligent woman, a caring woman, or an enlightened woman, but she believes herself to be. This kind of character is usually the worst: they’re the kind of character that doesn’t change or evolve and just stagnates while the plot drags on around them. Here though, something miraculous happens: Mrs. Fry is a likable character! Not only that but you want to keep reading what she has to say! Incredible or what?

Fry has written this diary book in such a way that, although Edna has no idea what’s going on, you do. You see through her ignorance (or stupidity if you like) and this actually garners a closer look at her character than you’d think. Does this mean you laugh at her instead of laugh with her? Some of the time. But, of those times, you certainly never laugh maliciously. She’s not a character you’d ever hate but she is a character you feel a little awkward for. I mean, how can she not see the truth about her husband? Mrs. Stephen Fry simply boggles the mind. 

Now, Stephen Fry came up with something brilliant when he decided to make himself heterosexual and married to a nitwit. Although I often feel diary books are a cheap way to get right into the character’s mind without too much fuss, Fry made the right choice to write it as such. Edna Fry is a character all onto herself and some of the diary entries will leave tears in your eyes from laughing so hard.

My final thoughts on Mrs. Fry’s Diary is that this is a good book. Even if you’re not one for the diary genre of literature this book is worth picking up. It’s funny, it’s got an interesting plot (although plot may be too strong a word, idea is probably a better way to describe it), and it has a distinctive voice that is purely Stephen Fry’s. Mrs. Fry’s Diary has given me hope that not everything written on Twitter is a waste of time and that some of it is actually worth investing in.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Hush: You’ll Want to Pay Attention to This

A Review By: Amelia 

Ever find yourself needing a Batman story with more than a handful of villains? Batman has the most wonderfully weird, extensively varied gallery of rogues that the comic book world has ever seen, and will ever see, and yet comic book writers and movie producers ever only seem to choose a few at a time. Well, the graphic novel Hush puts an end to these woes!

Hush was a month-by-month story arc that went from 2002 to 2003 and was later published as a complete graphic novel in 2009. The creators of Hush are Jeph Loeb, an American award-winning comic book writer, Jim Lee a Korean-American comic book artist, and Scott Williams, an American comic book penciller/inker. The three of them collaborated super-secretly for over a year on this Batman project and the result is a fantastic and original tale of sabotage, seduction, and more classic Batman villains than you can count on two hands. 

The story depicts a mysterious stalker, head wrapped in bandages, called Hush, who seems intent on sabotaging Batman from afar. His intricate plan left little to none of the actual dirty work to him but he instead involved many Gotham super villains. The Man of Steel, a non-disfigured Harvey Dent, a good (well, mostly good) Catwoman, and even a back-from-the-grave Jason Todd all make appearances in the madness of Hush’s plan.

The comic begins with Killer Croc kidnapping a small child for ransom: hugely out of character for the lumbering brute, and this highly suspect act already has Batman’s mind whirling about what has got him so out of character; but Croc is soon the least of Batman’s worries as the villains appear fast and hard. This being said, the elaborate plan that Hush has devised can, at times, build the plot to quickly or just be downright confusing. Most notable is when Ra's al ghul and his daughter suddenly become mixed into it, not as main villains that Batman must defeat but as part of Batman’s own plan to draw out Hush. 

A sample of the beautiful art
The art in Hush is a very realistic style. The colours are vibrant and the shadows dark and lurking. Facial expressions and body language convey a lot of the emotion, which is on par with Batman who usually plays the strong silent type. The landscapes of Gotham are particularly lovely in Hush. Gotham is a dirty, dank, and dark city but a good artist can still find ways to make it lovely: the brick work is intricate, the crowd scenes are full and pulsing with life, the city line of Gotham is gorgeous in the moonlight. Lee and Williams found the beauty within Gotham and showed it over and over again in the comic’s three hundred pages.

Hush is a really great graphic novel. There’s an appearance from nearly every one of Batman’s rogues and they all work and play off of one another–one villain’s plot leading straight into the arms of another one’s more elaborate plot, and it makes it such an interesting, surprising story. The art is phenomenal with brilliant colours and amazing details and, well, just everything about this comic is fantastic.

My final thought is that every Batman fan should, at one point, read Hush. If every there was a more complex Batman story than Hush, I can’t think of it. It sends you from one waiting villain to another at a relentless pace that is often not found with such beautiful artwork and complex storytelling. Now hush, dear comic book readers, because Hush is something you’ll want to pay attention to.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: An Epic to Rival Homer’s Odyssey (You Know, If Homer Had Written About the Porn Industry)

A Review By: Amelia

Is it just me, or do porn stars have the most interesting lives to read about? For me, other biographies just don’t compare: sleazy politicians, doped up rock stars, sex-crazed diva movie stars–porn stars are all these things wrapped up into one surgery altered, self-hating package and well, that just makes for good reading! Everyone wants to hear others dirty secrets, the salacious details of their lives that make you both nauseous and intrigued, well in Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, you get more than enough details to leave you cringing and disgusted but dying to hear more!  

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Jenna Jameson (born Jenna Marie Massoli) is a former porn actress who has been called ‘The Queen of Porn’. Jameson was drawn into the dangerous and seedy underbelly of Las Vegas by a boyfriend–a world where rape, drugs, and murder are commonplace–and, at the tender age of sixteen, she stays put. Pressured into becoming a stripper and leaving her much-loved family, Jenna’s life begins to spiral away from her. However, her addictions, her hardships, and her degradation led her to her meteoric rise to fame as the world’s biggest porn success story.

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star is not just the story of Jameson’s porn career, it follows her
throughout her whole life and even goes into great detail about her early childhood and her family. You learn all about how she originally wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a Vegas showgirl, how she was raped multiple times, how she suffered through her crack addiction and an abusive relationship with her sleazy biker boyfriend. Jameson has been through more in her life than most people would go through in several and it makes for a very interesting, humorous, and often heartbreaking book. It also includes dozens upon dozens of photos of Jameson as a child, a stripper, a porn star, and everything in between. A warning though that some of the pictures will leave you in an awkward position should you read the book in public and a little old lady sits down beside you!

Jameson also does some really out of the ordinary things with her autobiography. Her life story isn’t necessarily presented in chronological order of when it happened, which is out of the ordinary–at least from an autobiographical standpoint. She also disperses interviews with her father and brother throughout the chapters and they discuss things like how often they got it trouble with gangsters and the law alike. Jameson also tosses in a few lists in the style of ‘The Ten Commandments’ and, by far the most entertaining bits of the book, lists that have been animated into comic strips. The woes of a stripper is hilarious and will leave you wanting to read it over and over again; I often found myself flipping away from the last chapters of the book to go back and read it just once more.

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star is an epic. An absolute epic. It’s an autobiographical book that goes beyond anything I’ve read before. Jameson went through physical abuse with multiple rapes and a demanding job at a seedy strip club. She went through emotional trauma with her biker boyfriend. She fought through a devastating addiction and the porno business and still came out on top of her life. Her backstory made an amazing story, and the overall design of the book only made it that much more compelling and enjoyable.

My final thoughts on Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star is that it is a fantastic autobiography. It’s an absolute gold mine of information on the porn industry, on Vegas and its seedy underbelly, and of Jameson herself. If you’re not put off by some of the more disgusting details she includes in the piece (one especially gross one being the amount of blood on the sheets after she lost her virginity) then you’ll thoroughly enjoy this book… and the half-naked pictures of Jenna Jameson don’t hurt!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The Metamorphosis: An Allegory I Just Can’t Seem to Figure Out

A Review By: Amelia 
I first read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis on the first day of an introduction to literature class in university and, as an introduction, it was nearly more than anyone in the three hundred person class could comprehend. It’s nothing less than weird and as an opening to the whole course, well, it would be challenging to find anything more subversive.

Kafka was born in Prague, the son of a middle-class Jewish family. He obtained a law degree from the German University in Prague and held an inconspicuous position in the civil service for years. He was an anxious man with a deep sense of inferiority to his father, an indecisive nature that led to a prolonged engagement but never marriage, and a preoccupation with suicide. He was not altogether a pessimist but was tormented by his belief that goodness is remote and impossible to attain. This is more or less the origins of the great fretfulness that permeates his legendary literary works.

The premise of Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis is that of–well–metamorphosis. Gregor Samsa, a kind and loving brother and son, wakes up one day to discover that he has been transformed into a giant bug–by his description, a giant cockroach or beetle is most likely. His family is no help to him as they treat his startling transformation as an embarrassing illness and Gregor, naturally, slips into depression. A story of illogical chaos ensues.   

If you were to read this story in a university English class (as I’m sure many who’ve studied English have), your professor is going to have a field day telling you about all the themes that they see are present within the work. There are themes of regret, isolation, sadness, and of absurd chaos. Most people will try and convince you that there’s a deep religious theme–that there’s some kind of hidden allegory that pertains to Adam and Eve and such. Personally, I think people are stretching pretty fiercely for this story to have anything to do with Christian religion. Gregor’s metamorphosis is not one based on punishment because of his bad character, because he doesn’t have a bad character: he’s more or less a perfect man. His transformation into a giant bug is never explained and his family treats it more or less like he’s caught an illness. There is no explanation for what has happened to Gregor and that, to me, indicates an allegory of pandemonium.

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is a bizarre tale of an unexplained transformation and some people won’t like it because of this. This story takes place completely within itself–Kafka offers no explanations within the story or in life when asked–and some may find it hard to swallow. If you’re willing to give into the absurdity though it’s a strangely intriguing tale from a strange man and it’s a modern allegorical story that shouldn’t be overlooked... even if, after reading it twice, you can’t understand a lick of it!