Today’s Cerberus Volume 1 Review

After being bitten by a strange dog as a child, Chiaki was cursed with a loss of emotions and the inability to truly smile. Eight years later, and Cerberus is back in his life, but in a rather unexpected way…

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I enjoyed this initial offering in this offbeat series. It’s amusing despite a mix of numerous well established tropes, and the key is how they’re used. The mythological angle is a nice twist to explain both the multiple personalities and the dog-girl aspects. Even though the leads all fill stereotypical roles there are subtle touches that add depth and amusement. I particularly like Roze and the various story threads connected to her.

While nothing revolutionary nor new, Today’s Cerberus is a fun read and has a lot of potential. Looking forward to continuing it.

 

Japan Crate April 2016 Review

April is here and so is another box of snacks and treats from Japan.

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As usual Japan Crate includes a booklet / mini-manga that explains what everything is and has various additional content. A small plastic otter from AMUSE called Kawauso No Kotsume is the promised “make-up item” for past shipping delays. Whatever. On to the edibles.

 

The Excellent

Puru Mocchi Grape is the best of the three gummies this month, with both tart and sweet flavor overtones. I also enjoyed the variety, flavors and texture of the Fruit Shop Gummy  a lot.

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Sherbert Pero Cola  was described as a combination of Fun Dip and Pop Rocks, and that’s pretty accurate. The hard power style lollipop is cola flavored and the dipping powder designed to add a fizzy taste/texture. A unique, tasty candy.

The chocolate treats continue to shine, as the airy Caplicocot chocolate hearts and the panda decorated Sakupan Giant Wafer chocolate cookie were easily my overall favorites this month.

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The Decent

We got another version of Fue Ramune this month. They have consistency similar to mint lifesavers (though “break” easier when chewed) and taste strongly of the named drink. They are shaped to create a whistling sound for added amusement. 123 Green Apple Gum is exactly as the title implies, and fine for what it is.

Rock, Paper, Scissor Gummy has been sent before, but it’s still amusing and the cola flavor keeps it high in my estimation.

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Chip Star Ebikoubashi and Calbee Shrimp Chips both feature the unique Japanese snack flavor. The former have the consistency of Pringles and are a nice variation. I’ve had the latter before, but not in the Hot Garlic flavor I received (there were four possible). Good inclusions here.

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The Premium drink was Pineapple Soda. Nice, light soda that tastes as advertised.

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Waku Waku Zoo Animal DIY is one of the best DIY’s they’ve included.

 

The strawberry and lemon “doughs” included were didn’t require any added water or mixing, which was nice. Just take them out of the package and place into the molds as desired. Add the lollipop sticks and close the molds for a few seconds and they make cutely shaped gummy lollipops they have a good, chewy texture.

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There was enough dough to make two “batches” (four lollipops) and experiment with the flavor combinations a bit. Very nice overall.

 

The Meh

Wow, Such Banana?! is supposedly back by popular demand. It’s a banana shaped/flavored marshmallow treat filled with chocolate, if you can call a tiny thread running through the center “filled with.” The chocolate was tastable though and this wasn’t bad but I personally didn’t need it repeated so it gets a meh this time around, especially as one of the few Premium exclusives.

 

Conclusion

Good batch this month, with numerous original and varied snacks. I am getting a bit disillusioned with the Premium upgrades though, as they’ve decreased in number and are now containing repeats. The good news is they’ve just announced upgrades to the number of items and inclusion of brand name snacks starting next month (with Japanese Oreos).

This was the last crate of my subscription and I’ll likely have to stop soon due to budgetary restrictions, but I’m continuing at least one more month to check out the promised changes. I’m still enjoying Japan Crate a great deal overall a year into my experience with them.

Saki Volume 1 Review

After years of playing every New Year with her family, who’d take all her holiday money if she lost and get mad if she won, Saki doesn’t care for Mahjong at all. But when a friend drags her into the school’s Mahjong club for a game, they notice something extremely interesting about how she plays…

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Saki is a full blown sports manga that happens to be about a board game. Several well known cliches of the genre are already apparent in both characters and premise. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the lack of framework for the game that is at the heart of the story pulls the impact out of these well established techniques.

I have no previous knowledge of Mahjong, which unfortunately made this impossible to fully follow. There are footnotes sometimes, but they don’t really help and often only emphasize that what’s happening is difficult. For example, “mixed triple chow” is explained as “three identical chows in three different suits.” Guess that would help if they ever told me what a chow was. Later the “all simple” part of an “all simple pinfu” is explained without defining “pinfu.”

And a lot of the time they don’t even footnote things. “Can you dodge my richi and change a 40-minipoint and 3-han hand to a 70-minipoint and 2-han hand?” is gibberish to me. The reader’s told that the chances of that are < 0.1%, but that’s the only way any of the “drama” of the games is conveyed – by explicitly telling the reader “hey, what’s about to happen is hard to do!” over and over. Hard to invest in the action that way.

The characters are somewhat  interesting so far, but again do fit into standard roles for this type of manga which holds them back since the formula isn’t working right.

The idea behind Saki is decent and it’s not bad overall, but it’s not compelling either. I’m in no rush to continue with volume 2.

Sci-Fi Block April 2016 Review

Let’s see how April’s box of science fiction and pop culture related collectibles turned out.

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While I’ve seen similar designs, this month’s t-shirt featuring Sci-Fi Spaceship Silhouettes is quite well done. Can definitely see myself wearing this.

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A second clothing item was part of this month’s block in the form of Star Wars Ankle Socks. Five different designs in the pack, and there were two different possible packs. Amusing.

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Like last month, there was a “classic” style action figure included. This time it was one of three Funko Reaction: Firefly figures: Mal, Kaylee, or Wash. The fact that Wash came with tiny dinosaur accessories amuses me to no end.

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My favorite thing this month is easily the Star Wars Projector Pen. It projects an awesome little stormtrooper design.

I might not be a big ET fan, but the exclusive Phone Home Magnet is awesome none the less.

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I enjoyed the latest Mad Max movie a lot, so the Fury Road Comic #1 with exclusive Jim Lee variant cover is nice to get and will be interesting to read.

The product of the month is one of two possible Doctor Who Wacky Wobblers. Looks decent, but as I’ve mentioned before Doctor Who does nothing for me.

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Conclusion

Strong month for Sci-Fi Block overall, with great quality and impressive variety in both properties and type of items. This may actually have been the best single box of any version I’ve received. I have one more Sci-Fi block in my subscription, and am looking forward to it a great deal now.

Art Can Be Made From Anything: The Incredible Work of Red Hong Yi

 

A while back I happened upon an article that featured an amazing portrait of Jackie Chan made from chopsticks. The imagination and skill on display were incredible. That was my first exposure to the art of Red Hong Yi, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

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Photo from redhongyi.com

Red has done many more amazing works created from unusual materials, from using tea bags to painting with a basketball or celery stalks. All are well worth looking up. For this blog I’m going to concentrate on the projects of hers I was lucky enough to be a part of or see in person.

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Art for Nepal

Red has done a number of projects recently focused on compassion and being meaningful. The first that caught my eye was shortly after the Nepal Earthquake, when she decided to make use of her desire to more cartoon style ink drawings to raise money for the victims. Donations were made directly to World Vision Australia, and Red did 100 A5 size drawings of subjects of the commissioners choice. I had one done of my niece and nephew with Skylanders characters (as they’re both big fans). It came out fantastic and they were very happy with the results. 🙂 I was thrilled to have been a part of the project for such a great cause, and admire Red greatly for coming up with such a wonderful way to involve her fans and for all the work she did for this.

Free to Be

My “involvement” in the Free to Be concert was limited to getting one of the commemorative t-shirts with a personalized message from Red on the back, but it was another wonderful project centered around an important cause. The event in Melbourne was held to raise money to fight human trafficking, and Red did a live painting (her first) with duo Big Picture Stuff during the three hour concert.

 

100 Meaningful Things

Early in 2015 Red posted on Facebook about the impact and meaning of objects and asked people to share photos and stories about their most meaningful objects. All kinds of wonderful stories and items were shared, including heirlooms and numerous other types of things bearing personal significance. I loved the idea and thought a bit about what type of thing to share. I decided on something that was tied to a specific memory, as well as being representative of several aspects of my life.

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I shared the above photo and wrote: “I’m going to go with my copy of Dream Hunters. I’ve been a lifelong comic book fan. It’s influenced me a great deal creatively and I have wonderful memories of getting into it via random packs my parents would get me. This particular book is done by two of my favorite creators, and during my first year in NYC I spent 5 hours in line with two of my best friends to get it signed (which included a sketch from the artist on the spot). We had a surprisingly good time for such a long wait, and the creators were still gracious and going strong 3+ hours after their advertised time. So it has a lot of memories attached, is a unique piece of my collection, and represents both my hobbies and the place that has become my new home for many years.”

It was a great to read the various stories from everyone and stood out in my mind as a wonderful activity.

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Photo from redhongyi.com

At the end of 2015 Red turned this wonderful activity of sharing into something even greater during the exhibition 100 Meaningful Things. She chose 100 stories and (with each person’s permission) created an exhibit where photos of the person and their object along with the story were attached to white balloons floating at various heights. For me this couldn’t have been done any better. The exhibit was beautiful in its simplicity and was structured to encourage interactivity as viewers read the shared stories. I was thrilled when contacted about having mine included.

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Photo of goofy looking me and my item for the exhibition.

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Red working on “Girl” for an exhibition at UNIQLO.

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The last project I’ll talk about here happened just this past Friday. As part of UNIQLO’s “sock week” (yes, really 🙂 ) they had Red come to their first store in NY and create an exhibit using socks. There was a meet and greet to open the exhibit, during which we got to see the final little bit finished then meet and chat with Red.

As usual I was amazed with the creativity of her vision and it was quite interesting to watch her work on it. Continuing the theme signed pairs of socks were handed out. I really like the piece and will be stopping by next week to see the companion work (which had installation issues at the time and wasn’t available for viewing).

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Getting to finally meet her in person was of course awesome. I had a wonderful time and it was fascinating to get to chat with her about her projects.

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Beyond just the unusual nature of the materials she uses, Red’s art is marked with outstanding creativity in vision as well. I adore her work and look forward to see what she has in store going forward. 🙂

 

Black Orchid Review

This trade collects the complete Black Orchid miniseries by Neil Gaiman (issues #1-3).

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Black Orchid was the first comic of Neil Gaiman’s I’d read. In one sense it’s unusual for him in that it deals more directly with “regular” superheroes than his other works, featuring an established minor hero and appearances by familiar heroes and villains.

But the imagination and lack of strict adherence to convention that would mark his later work is present here too, and makes Black Orchid anything but a normal superhero story. There are twists, themes and heavy mythic overtones that give this a unique feel even 20+ years later. The questions of self-identity and morals raised are particularly interesting.

The art here is phenomenal, some of my favorite I’ve seen from McKean. It more defined than his usual and gets abstract when the story calls for it. The use of color is incredible, and the default grey scale of supporting characters really highlights it.

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Although not as revered as some of his other work Black Orchid is a wonderful shake up of the superhero genre by Gaiman that still holds up. And McKean’s breathtaking art is not to be missed.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Volume 3 Review

This is a complete story in a single volume and no previous volumes are needed to understand what’s going on. However it is quite uniquely steeped in the established Phoenix Wright atmosphere with known characters, so familiarity with the video games at least is recommended.

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Phoenix is dragged by Maya to an afternoon of fortune telling, but of course their palm readings and ice cream fortune telling is interrupted by an unforetold murder.

This is a decent little mystery wrapped up in the expected absurd and irreverent hijinks. A bit contrived, but it still holds together well and has some clever touches. I picked this specific volume because of Franziska’s involvement, and her interactions with Wright are amusing as always.

This was exactly what I expected and wanted from a PW manga: equal parts mystery and silliness and just plain fun overall.