Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D: Pilgrimage of the Sacred and the Profane

Another travelling story! D's not stuck in a village!

Night 7
Vampire Hunter D: Pilgrimage of the Sacred and the Profane (1988) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrated By: Yoshitaka Amano

Impressions
In a town at the edge of an impassable desert where insects dirge, several figures gather. Granny Viper, a 'finder,' offers the Bullow Brothers a commission to get her across the desert. Until a better prospect appears in the form of D. The younger Bullow Brother tries to pick a fight, but Granny implores D to join her. D ignores them both to meet with a gentleman about 'a person D has great interest in.' Thus, the group gathers to reach Barnabus, the village across the desert.

Unlike the journey in Demon Deathchase, D is allied with the other characters. They don't have the most effective of bonds, but they back each other up for most of the novel. It's nice to be on the road again since D stories usually become way more interesting with multiple locales. However, the desert ends up being far less impressive when the 'psychic attacks' start. They wouldn't be that big of a deal except that they're similar to the dream crap that cropped up last novel. As the novel continues, the dream aspect becomes even more annoying.

Our Hero
D has his own mission but lets his better side shine though in aiding the caravan. He could also just be being practical as he has a book that reveals some of the dangers of the desert. D is well on his road to being a hero, and his nonchalant claims about not caring for his companions really start to get old after he saves them once or twice.

Obscure Observers
Granny Viper is a people finder who'll do anything to get her charge across the desert. Granny Viper is a tough old bird, and her mysterious pot is one of the most original ideas in this book. Her ending is a little tacked on and contradictory. Self loathing can only go so far.

Tae is one of the 'hidden.' Having lived for eight months in a vampire's castle, she is mostly talked about in whispers. Her future likely ruined by this mar in her history. She spends so much of the novel as a liability that it's hard to take her seriously.

The Bullow Brothers serve as Granny Viper's official bodyguards, but the younger has a 'score' to settle with D. Both the brothers are the weakest links in the book. The younger is annoying and contrarian. The older is aloof and disappears for half the novel.

Wasteland Atmosphere
The Western feel bleeds from this book right from the saloon/whorehouse at the start. The Vampire Hunter series has always had something of a Western film influence, but this one really lets that aspect shine. The wasteland itself has some interesting ideas that unfortunately get explained to oblivion by the end.

In the End
The end is where Amano really messes things up. He tries to have a message about preconceptions and judging oneself, but it really ends up muddled an confused. Too much nonsensical plotting and ridiculous betrayals.

Overall
This journey is one that's mostly worth taking. Amano mentions that this is his first big attempt at characterization. He makes a good stab at it, but goes a bit too broad. He ends up generalizing on Dhampirs while noting that we've been following the exception for six books now! There is solid action and some fun ideas, but it doesn't quite cut it.
6/10

Next Time: Dark D.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D: The Stuff of Dreams

Yeah, dreams, it pretty much speaks for itself...


Night 6
Vampire Hunter D: The Stuff of Dreams (1986) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrations By: Yoshitaka Amano

Impressions
D slumbers in a forest of the frontier, and the monsters can't even attack him while he sleeps. He is roused by a giant who fires some arrows at him. After being hit in the shoulder, D follows the giant to a mansion where a party is occurring. As he approaches, he sees no one. Upon entering, he discovers a seventeen year old girl dancing with an unseen man. After unsuccessfully inquiring abut the giant, D awakes as dawn breaks. He follows the route he took in his dream and comes upon the same mansion.

This tale features D trapped in a village by a slumbering woman. This sleeping beauty has been out for thirty years ever since an attack by a noble. The biggest problem with this tale is how little happens. D faces a clone of himself and defeats him with ease. The stakes are basically offered in one line with "you can die in a dream." The same line in every dream story ever. More villains stream out of the woodwork and D must fight the dream itself. This faulty premise is at the heart of everything in this novel and, unless you like dream stories, makes this one tough to like.

Our Hero
D really wants out of this story, and I don't blame him. He's called in by Sybille and immediately is disinterested and wants to leave. D is at his most callous in this story probably because he knows whats going on.

Slumbering Observers
Nan is incredibly similar in attitude to Lina. Both are young, slightly-bratty girls who have a crush on him. The biggest difference is that Nan has even less character. She mostly just hangs around D and talks about how she dreamed about him or how she's jealous of Sybille (irony?). Thus, she serves almost no function in the story aside from the one that is obvious from her first appearance.

Ai-Ling is the wife of Kurtz who looks after a ranch on the edge of town. She knows her husband loves Sybille and is jealou beacuse of it. She exists mostly to further the possible autonomy of the residents.

Sybille Schmitz is the mysterious sleeping beauty of the village. She wants D to get rid of someone, but is unable to tell him who. This occurs at the very beginning of the story, and doesn't crop up again until the very end.

Sheriff Krutz is amiable to D at first, but slowly becomes more unhinged. The sheriff has the most development and is the most relatable of the new characters in this tale. He could have held the narrative together until the story betrays his character and the reader near the end.

Suprise Foes
The Bio Brothers aren't even mentioned until the last third of the book. They fight D a couple times, but don't provide anything new.

The Dream Assassin shows up, fires arrows, and leaves for most of the book. He's kind of like if Borgoff from Demon Deathchase could create reality bubbles to fight his foes in. It sounds cool, but this villain has no personality. I almost left him out of my write up like the meaningless nobility from Tale of the Dead town, but left him in for his powers.

Isolated Atmosphere
Once again, the story is isolated to a peaceful village. Thus, this story offers little in embellishing D's world. The writing is still as clean as it gets, but it's hard to care about what's happening since the conclusion is so obvious.

In the End
It's in the title, and that's the biggest problem of this story. It ends like a campfire ghost story, but this is a narrative not a ghost story.

Overall
A mystery with little mystery. In the postscript, Kikuchi mentions that he wanted this novel to ruminate on what a noble dreams of. Hence the nobility and humans living together in peace, but the biggest problem is that he covered this in Raiser of Gales where a painting reveals hands rising from coffins toward the sun. It is a much more powerful passage though embedded in a flawed story. In this tale, the dream is used as an excuse for flat characters, overpowered villains, and  lackluster setting. It is basically a stretched out short story. This one should definitely be skipped as basically nothing happens.
3.5/10

Next Time: Desert D!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D: Tale of the Dead Town

Here we come to the only one I distinctly disliked during my initial read. Let's find out why...


Night 5
Vampire Hunter D: Tale of the Dead Town (1986) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrated By: Yoshitaka Amano

Impressions
D spots a trio of fire dragons tearing apart a camper. When he goes to investigate, he discovers a biker trying to save the remaining survivor. The biker, Pluto VIII, manages to save the young seventeen year old girl, but she has severe radiation poisoning and must be taken to the nearest village. D leads them to his next client, a floating village, and the girl's former home.

Tale of the Dead town build around the mystery of a two-hundred year old deal the mayor made, how it relates to the current attacks on the town, and how it relates to the girl's family. The set-up is good enough with the villagers being suspicious of the new arrivals and D deducing that the vampire will strike that night. Things start to go wrong after the initial confrontation with the vampire that set the stage for the rest of the novel. They kill the vampire and heal the plot device the mayor's daughter. D reveals there's another vampire; however, what follows isn't more of D's deductions but a series of random events.

A deaf-mute you say?
Our Hero
D has come to the town to save the mayor's daughter, Laura, who is basically reduced to plot device status who has been bitten by a vampire. D actually goes through quite a few deduction that reveal this to have been a possibly good mystery. D is the consummate sleuth, but his opponents are less than worthy.

Obtuse Observers
Lori Knight is the young girl that D and Pluto saved from dragons. Her parents were chemists who discovered something that everyone wants to get their hands on. Her hearing and voice were damaged by the radiation, but she manages to do more to help the situation than most of the cast. Naturally, as the pretty young girl, she falls for D, but once again it is framed more as affection for her rescuer enhanced by his beauty aura. At this point, I really want to see a pretty young man fall for D; at least it'd be something different.

Dr. Tsurugi is the town's docotr who has taken an interest in D. Not in the way I mentioned above, but in a less specific way. He's set up as a possible antagonist, but he doesn't act that way. It turns out he's just waiting to mention something to D.

Mayor Ming is a real shifty character, but some of his decisions are headscratching. Why would he mention his encounter with a vampire? It makes no sense after you find out what's been going on. Why does he try to reject Lori Knight when they first try to board the village? Once again, by the end, it is in his best interest that Lori boards. His hiring of D is also suspect. He wanted to save his daughter, but he really didn't need the best hunter ever.

John M. Brasselli Pluto VIII is a loud blowhard who may or may not be hiding something. He's a rather enjoyable character whose motives are kept hidden to heighten the mystery of the story. He has a few awesome abilities that her mostly wasted, and he's fun until he goes off the deep end like the rest of the plot.

Floating Atmosphere
Being confined to a village again is a real let down. After the initial promise of a 'floating city' with something called a Prometheus cannon, it turns out to be a normal village with fewer monsters that moves. There are a few interesting scenes like the opening one, D's encounters with the intangible being, and his fight with the predatory birds. Sadly, it is just confused by the end.

In the End
A pointless pirate ship, radically shifting loyalties, and some fan service, the plot kind not the sexy kind, Honestly, the end is a jumbled mess. There is a ghost pirate ship and it is boring and completely pointless! How does this happen?

Overall
Tale of the Dead Town tries to be another mystery, like Raiser of Gales, but the flaw this time is not perverse ridiculousness. It is that the mystery is revealed too soon, and it's supposed message doesn't make any sense. The city is stagnant; therefore, there is no hope. Yay, pessimism! The villains are lame with not one ever presenting a real threat. This story should have been The Adventures of Detective D; instead, it is stuff happens while D is a boss. While it is much less reprehensible than Raiser of Gales, it has fewer high points as well. Read it to be a completionist or read the last chapter for an update of characters that are way better than this in this book.
5/10

Next Time: Dormant D

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D: Demon Deathchase

Following the bloated attempt at mystery, D returns to form with competing vampire hunters and several worthy adversaries for D.

Night 4
Vampire Hunter D: Demon Deathchase (1985) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrations By: Yoshitaka Amano

Impressions
The vampire hunting Marcus Clan arrives at a village that has been completely deserted. As they prepare to leave, they're met by a ghostly vision of the man who hired them. He tells them to go to his sister after they've saved his daughter. However, they realize that he's talking to another figure: D. After that the man looses control of himself, the city rises, and the hunters must fight their way out of the city. After that, they're in competition to save the man's daughter from the noble Mayerling.

This novel continues the trend of shortening D novels, and it really works for this. The first half of Bloodlust is based on this, but the movie adds a whole section with Carmilla at the spaceport castle. This novel is a chase narrative, and it's gloriously paced. There is even something of a three act structure as they go from the dead village to Barbarois to the Claybourne States. The There are ten characters total, and after the twenty in the last novel it is great to see some focus on characterization.

Our Hero
D is set against a bevy of foes who prove that they are worthy of fighting him. As such, D is often portrayed more as an antagonist than a protagonist. This could set into light the darker sides of his job if he hadn't spent the last two books and seventy percent of this one playing the hero.

Curious Observer
Charlotte is a young woman abducted by Mayerling, though she doesn't actually have a name in the novel. 'Charlotte' is the name given to her by the Bloodlust adaptation and it works better than 'that pretty abducted girl.'

The Marcus Clan
Nolt uses a hexagonal stake wheel. The Marcus Clan are a family of renowned hunters who are famous for taking on tough nobility. Nolt himself serves a basic melee fighter who is less patient than his brothers.

Kyle uses throwing blades that he manipulates using piano wire. Kyle is a cocky prick; he's a less interesting Rei Ginsei but serves his purpose in the family while being a serious threat.

Groveck is the cripple of the Marcus family, but he is actually their strongest member. His deleopment comes late in the novel, but it's great to see it.

Borgoff is the leader of the Marcus clan and the eldest. He's huge, imposing and intelligent. He wields a crossbow with uncanny accuracy and has limited magical power. He's also ruthless with both friend and foe.

Leila is a harsh woman who's been through hell. She has suffered similar treatment to Lina in her recent past, but it has only served to harden her. She almost puts it aside. Unlike Lina, she is a capable hunter and mechanic. Also, unlike every other woman in the series, Leila develops feelings for D because he saves her life: a reason not related to his looks! Plus, she relaizes by herself that she can't go with D and chooses hr own path in life. Leila is kind of like Lina but done right.

Feeling Foes
Benge is a mysterious old man who first appears taunting Leila. He is a sorcerer who uses his strange techniques to attack while remaining concealed. He is among three demon-human hybrids hired by Mayerling to help him get to the Claybourne Estates. He acts as the voice of reason for the hybrids.

Mashira is a cocky brute who takes too strong a liking to their female charge. Mashira is a great mirror to another character, but I'd rather not spoil his power. The wait is worth it.

Caroline is a dhampir who can control technology with her bite. Her desire to become a full vampiress mixes with her fascination of Mayerling to cause her to betray her charge. It is refreshing to have a powerful woman interested in someone other than D. It is also cool to see that Dhampirs have as much variety as the nobles that spawned them.

Mayerling is the noble villain of the novel, and he is every bit the reserved gentleman. Last novel, the audience was told that D met his match. This novel we see Mayerling fight D to a standstill then leave him in the dust. He has abducted a young girl, but seems to be keeping hr human for a suspiciously long time.

Epic Atmosphere
This novel hits the road, freeing the plot for the standard frontier village setting.Once again, there is a decrease in the rhetorical question count and D's beauty count. There a re three vividly described settings and a few places in between. The setting comes alive in a bit different light than the previous setting as the frontier expands.

In the End
The ending is once again a bit weak. This novel attempts to question whether or not D is a good guy, but ens up making his good choices seem natural and his bad choices puzzling.

Overall
This novel has everything that one could want in a D novel. The action is superb with every character having a different and intriguing way of fighting. The additions of the hybrid city, Barbarios, and the forlorn robot battlefield are fantastic settings that enrich the world while allowing for epic battles. This novel even has a slight edge over the first thanks to a much cleaner translation. This is one of the must reads in the Vampire Hunter D series.
8.5/10

Next Time: Dull D.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D the OVA

Onto the anime that first attracted Western audiences to the light novel. Normally I stick to written works, but I'm back in school, so I've thrown the D animations into my lineup.

Night 3
Vampire Hunter D (1985) is an Original Video Animation (OVA) directed by Ashida Toyoo, the man behind the gory Fist of the North Star animes.

Impressions
The film begins with the fact that is in an apocalyptic future, ruled by monsters and demons. We shift to Doris, or rather her ass, running through a field. She blasts an acid spitting dino to bits before she's surprised by a werewolf. He rips the cross from her neck and leaves. We then get a look at the ferocious Count Magnus Lee as he looms in the thunder. We hear doris' screams as the title appears. We then see our hero, the shadowy D walking through various post apocalyptic settings. The wind rusheds around rocks and Doris stands in a field where she challenges the hunter,

The fact that Doris is wearing a cross at the start tells readers of the novel that we've lost something. One of the cool things about the novel is how thoroughly it established the Nobility's control of humanity. With crosses everywhere, it takes away a unique element from the novel's mythology and indicates that this is going for a much more general base. At least Doris didn't strip in the first scene though she wears almost nothing (put on some pants or a least a longer skirt girl!), and there is the requisite show scene. Ah, 80s anime, all the TnA and gore an adolescent boy could ever hope for. The OVA is essentially snippets of the novel barely merged into a barely coherent, poorly paced mess of a film.

Our Heroes
D is an unstoppable killing machine. With almost every problem, he hacks, bites, and slashes his way through it. It is very similar to the nigh invincible way he's portrayed later in the series. He also seems to have more control issues though that may result from the bizarre pacing of this OVA. Plus, D resisting his vampiric urges just looks like him... being a bit premature in response to Doris' advances.

Doris herself gets far less less to do than the novel. She gets captured three times... She defeats zero villains... The way the story got blended and made more generic resulted in the absolute butchering of Doris' character. She becomes a generic 'save me' heroine. Lame.

Dan is a badass?!? Seriously, he saves Doris twice and manages to sneak into the Count's castle at the end, somehow. His idolization of D is the thing that gets pretty much the only small moments as he gets advice from and imitates our hero.

Fierce Foes
Rei Ginsei is the worst off of the main villains. He's been sort-of merged with Garou as Count Lee's main henchman, though Garou appears twice in wolf form before disappearing from the film. Rei Ginsei desires immortality and develops his rivalry with D; however, he is constantly whining and laughing. He screams for half a minute when D chops his hand off. Worst of all, he doesn't get killed by D.

Larmica is the same as in the novel. She's great, and I have no complaints.

Count Magnus Lee's intro is awesome. Sufficiently seating him as a force to be reckoned with. There is some awkward imagery of him in his castle, but he mostly remains the same aside from doing a bit more.

In the End
The ending is far better than the contrived pondering of D's origin from the novel. The count's castle gets a trippy endscene. Unfortunately, it is followed by an idyllic ending with happy music. What?

Overall
This film has some solid 80s animeisms and will satisfy most viewers just looking for that, However, the plot and story are hacked up and reassembled with watered down characters. It has become so generic that it hurts, especially if you've read the novel. It's a cult classic and essential anime, but it's just not that good. However, it isn't terrible. I agree with DC; weird but not great.
6/10

Next Time: D's Deathrace!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D: Raiser of Gales

The second D novel is only slightly shorter than the first, but with far fewer interesting characters.


Night 2
Vampire Hunter D: Raiser of Gales (1984) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi; Illustrations By: Yoshitaka Amano

Impressions
A funeral congregation trudges slowly across a bridge with burly men carting a child-sized coffin wrapped in chains. A hand bursts from the coffin and one of the men goes to restrain it. The coffin struggles mightily and both go over a bridge. All of this happens in broad daylight: a time when the dead should not walk.

This novel oversells itself right off the bat. The setup is one of the best hooks of the series, and this novel does its damnedest to live up to them. The novel involves a mystery noble with all the nobility's strengths and seemingly none of their weaknesses. It is all potentially connected to an event a decade in the village's past when four children were thought abducted by a noble then three returned mysteriously. Thus, this novel shifts genres from action-horror to mystery-thriller. The expansion of the lore is solid in this volume with the ever expanding horrors including a pseudo-arachnid, a lightning beast, and redcap faerie-goblins. Unfortunately, they become part of the problem as the audience in any decent mystery should be able to try and solve it. With only one book to fill the read in, this novel is forced to explain things while keeping the mystery solidly in things unexplained.

Lina can't believe her mistreatment.
Our Heroes
Lina is a plucky young girl who was among the abducted a decade in the village's past. She's immature, childish, and cocky. She's meant to be a dreamer who focuses on a better future rather than her her horrible present and past. Thus, she's raped by her adoptive father every night... something that says more about his character than hers. She's also constantly the victim, and few of those who do her harm get what's coming to then. When they do, it's never by her hand. She's used by almost everyone in the novel, which is especially depressing after the high bar set by Doris and Larmica. Bye-bye good will from last novel.

D is hired by the mayor to solve the mystery of the recent disappearances, including that of his colleague the Vampire Hunter Geslin. D is far more vocal, and far further behind the plot this time. At least that's the way it seems. D is still ahead of the read, but it Holmesian fashion refuses to reveal it until the end.

Abandoned Observers
Mr. Meyer is Lina's teacher and one of the four who was abducted. He spends most of the novel chiding Lina about her studies and being standoffish with D. He is tremendously uninteresting and is a good representative of the revolving door of villagers who show up in order to either mysteriously vanish or become vampires.

Curore is the third child who returned with Mr. Meyer and Lina. However, his mind was damaged beyond repair, so he has become Lina's hulking protector. A great idea for a character who ends up in the same boat as Lina. He's used by the powers in and around the village to achieve their own ends though notably he's sexually abused less than the attractive woman.

D needs a drink for this shit.
Shadowy Foes
The Mayor is a rapey douche. He does even less to drive the plot than the previous mayor while being even more reprehensible.

The Youth Brigade are a bunch of rapey douchebags who get to do what they want because they're big and strong. Not enough of them get what they deserved.

The Shadow is exactly who you think it is, but he's doing it for even more foolish and deluded reasons. He is set up to be such a cool villain, yet he loses his steam by the end. His psychic attacks start cool, but become tired filler dreams that interrupt and confuse the narrative. He ends up being the only active plot device who's determined to make this book reach a page count rather than let the plot unfold.

Obfuscating Atmosphere
The novel suffers from fewer flaws than the first volume. The incessant reminders of D's beauty are still there, but the narrator questioning things is far fewer. Sadly, another flaw becomes more prominent in the descriptive language. More than once I had to reread passages to try and figure out what I just read, The jumbled word salad that results from the use of a thesaurus to create variety without concern for reader understanding. Kevin Leahy should have used more synonyms for beauty rather than using big words to inflate this lame mystery. There is a blessing that Amano brought his A-game to the art for this novel as represented by the samples.

In the End
The end would be touching if it centered around a character who was more interesting and proactive. It is meant to be a big dramatic end, but the story before it was too strung out and frail to support it.

Overall
When you replace the action with a young girl's dreams and a high amount of murder and rape, this series takes a dive. There are good moments in this. I loved the mythology expansion, especially the rain's effect on the frontier. The tamed monsters were another great addition to the universe as is the space loop. Too bad the rest of the novel stretches the mystery to the breaking point. It is easy to see why this was passed over when the second D film was made. If you can put up with a lot of gross filler, you might get through this one.
4.5/10

Next Time: D's Debut!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Vampire Hunter D the Novel

Inspired by Hammer classics Horror of Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein, this pulpy novel opens this year's 13 Frightening Fictions Special: 13 Days of D!


Night 1
Vampire Hunter D (1983) By: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Illustrations By: Yoshitaka Amano

Impressions
A woman stands alone in a field and challenges a lone rider to a duel. After discovering his skill, she hires him to help her defeat the Vampire Lord Magnus Lee who wants her as his bride. Doris, the girl, wants to protect her little brother, but must fend off the advances, not only of the count but of the Mayor's son: Greco and Behemoth Hunter Rei-Ginsei. D, the eponymous hunter, must contend with them all before dealing with count.

This novel is a great anime in written form. Part of a Japanese genre known as light novels, which are similar to novellas, Vampire Hunter D is essentially Kikuchi's effort to blend Western and Japanese horror. This series also has some well described action, though it does fall into some classic anime 'badass tropes' with all the gawking and pausing and 'ultimate techniques.' These are Amano's go tos, and if you dislike them here, they only get worse later. The fan translation by Kevin Leahy is rough, often requiring a few reads to get through a section. However, he gets better as he continues with the series. In this one, though, there is awkward phrasing and a lot of places where the narration questions who D is is talking to or how something happens. It tends to pull a reader out of the story, but it doesn't quite ruin it.

Male gaze, anime enough for ya?
Our Heroes
Doris is the gorgeous daughter of a werewolf hunter, and she'll do anyting to protect her brother as well as her father's legacy. She's willing to do just about anything, even sell herself, to keep up her way of life. While I don't like the fact that she feels it's necessary, she at least treats it like a seventeen year old girl would: being unsure and afraid about the experience. That said, she is a boss. She takes on Rei-Ginsei, a Sorceress, and is even willing to face her fear of Count Lee in the end.

'D' is the beautiful badass hunter who is hired to kill the mighty Count Lee. We're told of his beauty about as often as Edward from the Twilight series, which is a shame as D is a far higher caliber of character. His portrayal as an action badass is actually effective. He's show to be incredibly good through skill and tricks; however, not unbeatably so. That is something the later books fall into. His characterization is shown almost entirely through defying the expectations of others. This is something that should be a more common writing technique as it means that his actions speak for him. Sometimes, the novel spells it out, but for the most part it's easy to see he could be the hero of over thirty tales.

Innocent Observers
Dan is Doris' little brother. He has a deep love for his sister and develops a hero worship of D. He falls into some of the pitfalls of the little kid character: hero worship, naivete, and being captured. However, I'd rather have him being captured than Doris.

Fiendish Foes
Larmica is the count's daughter. Her fervent opposition to having a younger mother strikes a very human chord. She has an arc over her own and is the best used of the supporting cast. Everything she does affects the main cast; plus, it forces them to alter their plans. She is also one of the few powerful females in the series who cuts out her own path. The next closest is Leila in Demon Deathchase.

Garou is the Count's werewolf henchmen. He's a bit underutilized, but he gets a great creepy bit at the end that justifies his skulking presence throughout.

Greco is the Mayor's son and Doris' greasy little suitor. He goes to any length to try to sleep with Doris. Greco is the man the audience loves to hate.

Rei-Ginsei is a cocky, underhanded bastard. He has an incredible mutant ability that feeds his ego. He becomes offended when D's vampire powers cause him to freeze then jumps at the chance to get more power for doing what he was going to do anyway. He's the villain that the audience can love to hate, but also kind of want to be like.

Count Magnus Lee does things like a boss. He delegates his minions to take out D, and only when they have all failed him, does he decide to fight D. He is even willing to use Rei-Ginsei's hired help as so not lower himself to D's level. It is not until D's full powers are revealed that he knows he must confront D.

Atmosphere
This novel is a true testament to world building. Set in 12000AD in a post-nuclear holocaust world where Vampires once ruled, it combines the horror aesthetic with science fiction elements. The ruling vampires, known as 'the Nobility,' have a love of Medieval castles while using science to create all the classic horror monsters. Amano's cover illustration is gorgeous and ethereal; unfortunately, the interior illustrations are lacking. They often don't feel like they're depicting the best scenes. My personal favorite is the one on the left, and it's okay at best.

In the End
The lead up to the end involves a gauntlet of quick fights against increasingly tough foes. Sadly, the end does a bit too much explaining and ends on a hokey, obvious point.

Overall
The first D novel sets up a moody world of horrors for its adventure. It is stocked with impressive characters and builds on the action down to the final showdown with Count Lee. While it is essentially a series of fights, they are linked by character growth and motives. The story progresses and even some of the villain manage to be likeable in their own ways. I highly recommend this novel: it's light, fun, action-packed; plus, it provides a fascinating blend of horror and science fiction. Check it out!
8/10

Next Time: Drafty D

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Energy of the Daleks

Well, I'm not doing horror yet as I've been listening to a bunch of audios. I am sad to hear of the passing of Maggie Stables, who plays the superb audio companion Evelyn Smythe. Her performances were great and she shall be missed. Today, I head back to the Fourth Doctor Adventures.

The Energy of the Daleks (2012) By: Nicholas Briggs

Impressions
The Doctor and Leela land in 2025 and find themselves in the middle of a protest. The chief protester claims his old friend has betrayed their ideals by selling out their free energy plan to the companies. The Doctor and Leela are separated when some rather robotic security officers break up the rally. The Doctor detects some familiar energy, and Leela has her first encounter with some of the Doctor's oldest foes.

The Fourth Doctor rarely faced off against the Daleks on his TV appearances, and Leela never saw them. Therefore, this adventure has some high expectations on it. Sadly, the author didn't really think about it that way. Nicholas Briggs has stated that he wanted to put the Fourth Doctor in a more traditional Dalek story, i.e. without Davros. If I'd know that before listening, I'd have come in with much lower expectations.

Our Heroes
The Fourth Doctor brings his A game! This was Tom Baker's first recorded story with Big Finish, and he didn't phone it in. The Doctor is so far above the threat that he seems nigh untouchable. Fortunately, he makes it all worth it by quipping his way though the whole story.

Leela also shines with some great dialogue. Her savage nature gets some love by being shown as a personal strength. She also shows a strong belief in friendship that helps our observer get through his conflict.

Courageous Observer
Jack Coulson is an energy protester who worked with the new CEO of the Globesphere Corporation. He also puts a strong performance: companion worthy even. He has to live in the world left by the Doctor, and that allows his actions to shine even more. He's credulous of the Doctor, but does what he must to save his world and, more importantly, his friend.

Tin Foes
The Daleks' plan is slightly better than hollowing the earth and driving it around. The Robo-Men reappear, and they are really more threatening than the Daleks. So, the Doctor faces off against stupid Daleks and does it effortlessly. Any monster could have been put here, and, given the themes of humanity vs. automitization and spirit winning over control, it probably would have been a superior Cyberman story. This is not a good Dalek story.

Audio Atmosphere
Things move a little fast which is typical of the 'Adventures' two parters (Eighth or Fourth). The world of 2025 is effective even if we only see a street, a building, and a moonbase. The Daleks seemed especially screechy for some reason though.

In the End
A strong, character grounded end. The ending is surprisingly satisfying due to the characters bringing it and owning it.

Overall
This story is a below average story that's elevated by the charismatic performances from the entire cast. This episode defines characters raising a mediocre plot. The story does have some strong plot for Leela, and it's always nice to hear the Doctor praise her. Listen to this one for the characters.
7/10

Buy it here from Big Finish.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Architects of History

After Colditz, A Thousand Tiny WingsKlein's Story, and The Survival of the Fittest comes the final part of this Klein's series.

The Architects of History (2010) By: Steve Lyons

Impressions
The Tardis arrives and strikes fear into the hearts of some workers. Obherst Klein and Major Richter emerge. Richter chides Klein about her concern over this 'Doctor.' He may have too much sway over her and the 2044 Reich she's created.

This answers the questions as to what a Nazi would do with a time machine: create the ultimate police state with any rebellion stopped before it begins!

Our Heroes
The Seventh Doctor is incredibly confused about what he recalls and who he is. One of the biggest problems in Doctor Who is when it goes so high concept that you're not even sure who the Doctor is anymore. This one avoids that problem by BSing its way into making this our Seventh Doctor; reality be damned!

Rachel is the Doctor's companion since Klein's gone full villain. She's working for a more extreme version of the Doctor who's obviously less sensitive than the usual one. She's working against the murderous Nazis and seems to have developed a great faith in the Doctor.

Unstoppable Foes
The Sharks are an unstoppable killing force. They kill and maim and murder their way through the base, seeking to put an end to human rein. They live up to the terror especially when the Doctor isn't even sure how he'd planned to stop them.

Obherst Klein has succeed in reestablishing the Nazis. Now she stands in command of the Nazi's time force that tries to make their Reich eternal. As physical manifestation of the Doctor's greatest failing, Klein works way better. She doesn't even want to be in charge of the Reich she's created, merely overseeing its continuance. She also is conflicted and still sees the Doctor as necessary, which he uses to deceive her to his own ends.

Twisted Atmosphere
The setting is a Nazi command post, as hollow and cold as Colditz Castle. The story is incredibly dark, befitting a companion turning evil. It does contain one twist too many in the form of Sam Kirke, but this doesn't spoil the gravitas that this story has earned.

In the End
It sets up the future Klein stories but is it the same Klein?

Overall
Though this adventure is somewhat cluttered and confusing, it does make for a great story. I think the new Who episode the Wedding of River Song was going for something similar but fell short. This takes Klein's story to the furthest reaches of what it possible and makes it truly climactic. Check this one out as it stands with the great Doctor Who finales.
8/10

Buy it from Big Finish!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Survival of the Fittest

Continuing from Klein's Story is...

Survival of the Fittest (2010) By: Jonathan Clements

Impressions
Following their adventure in Kenya, the Doctor brings Klein to a far flung world to try and show her a bigger universe. They end up embroiled in a conflict between the Vrill, an insect species, and the Winterlack, a vicious and barbaric species. As the few surviving Vrill struggle for survival against the Winterlack, something else stalks their tunnels threatening to kill all in its path.

The ecology of the Vrill is the crowning achievement of this story. It is fleshed out and believable, working perfectly with the lesson that the Doctor is trying to teach. The way the Doctor reasons with his foes is very inside his character while providing Klein with some openings for questions of her own.

Our Hero
The Seventh Doctor is still trying to turn Klein from her Nazi ways. As the Nazi philosophy worked largely due to the closed off nature of the Third Reich, he presents her with the perspective of another planet. Here he sets himself up as the Vrill's authority and even gets Klein to connect with some Vrill by giving them names.

Klein continues to evolve as a character. She shows some real signs of having learned things from the Doctor, but has she learned enough?

Familiar Foes
The Winterlack hits a little closer to home than might be comfortable. They are brutal and ruthless, but they have their reasons to attack the Vrill.

The monster manages to be both cruel and sympathetic. He moves beyond being a random additional threat and highlights the destructive nature of the Vrill-Winterlack conflict.

Distant Atmosphere
The tunnels of the Vrill are compromised by gas and explosions. The surface is threatened by the Winterlack while something stalks the tunnels. The feeling of hopelessness pervades this story creating a great horror narrative for the first episode. The following episodes develop it as more of a war story.

In the End
There is a great twist at the end that leads into the The Architects of History.

Overall
An great Doctor Who tale even without the twist at the end. The Doctor must defend an innocent populous against a ruthless aggressor is a classic Who trope. Thus, the real meat of this story is in Klein, the most unreliable companion. Even Turlough, who started as the Doctor's enemy, never had an ideology so radically opposed to his. With Klein, the story gets to play the Doctor and his companion as possible opponents; something that will continue in future Klein stories. This one is another must listen!
8/10

Buy it here from Big Finish! Next Time: The Architects of History

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Klein's Story

So, I've been away... However, the siren song of fall has stirred me from my sloth! I will be doing the 13 Days of D for Halloween, and I'm actually half way through them already. I may not have quite the amount of horror films, but I'll at least be doing the two Vampire Hunter D films. Anyway, I also was in the middle of another series when I stopped, so I'll finish with the Klein Saga; thus, we have the origin of the lady herself!

Klein's Story (2010) By: John Ainsworth and Lee Mansfield

Impressions
The Seventh Doctor sits down to clarify some details of Klein's past. We learn that the Nazi Reich in the seventies was working on time travel experiments thanks to a box captured at Colditz castle. Elizabeth Klein contacted by the mysterious Johann Schmidt in order to unlock the secrets of the mysterious blue box.

Klein's Story is actually the first episode on Survival of the Fittest where the Doctor asks Klein about her past. As I mentioned in the Colditz review, there are some muddy details about Klein's backstory that the Seventh Doctor deduces almost presciently.

Our Heroine
Klein is a true believer in the Reich but not of their more fantastical elements. She is brought on as a brilliant scientist. Her interest in time travel leads her to the box, and she is soon contacted by Johann Schmidt. This story allows the Klein in the present a breakthrough that alters her character arc.

Mysterious Observer
Johann Schmidt is Klein's mysterious assistant and an alternate incarnation of the Eighth Doctor.They actually bring on Paul McGann to play this Eighth Doctor and he absolutely shines. Johann must manipulate Klein into righting the timeline, managing a tenuous game with a very intelligent woman.

Atmosphere
Hitler has only recently died and his successors have decided to open alien tech that Hitler couldn't accept. This is a well formed alternate history; it reveals the lengths that the Seventh Doctor's willing to go to fix his mistakes.

In the End
The Doctor reveals his deception to Klein.

Overall
A great story supplementing a series of other great stories. While it may not be necessary, it pushes Klein toward her inevitable end. it feeds into her actions in The Architects of History. Klein's story is a great addition to this series.
7/10

Buy it from Big Finish! Next Time: Survival of the Fittest

Friday, 28 February 2014

Her

My number one made it to the top based on my love for science fiction. Honestly, all of my top four are amazing films; nearly half this list are 10s!

Her (2013) is a quirky love story by Spike Jonze.

Impressions
Theodore Twombly works as a letter writer for handwrittenletters.com. He has recently gone through a divorce and is struggling to find love. After a bizarre phone sex experience, Theodore hears about the new OS1 and decides to purchase it. He installs it and decides that it should be female. The new OS and he hit it off immediately. She names herself Samantha.

Now, to be fair, I'll start off with some potentially objectionable scenes. There are three awkward scenes. The first is a phone sex scene that gets really weird. The second is the infamous 'black scene.' Two people actually walked out during this scene when I saw it! I find this funny because it really is least offensive of the three. The final one is the most uncomfortable and also the most brilliant solution to Samantha lacking a body. It is a genuine surprise that I don't want to spoil though it isn't for everyone. Anyway, as with all the other films, the ensemble cast, even the minor roles of Olivia Wilde and Rooney Mara, blends perfectly.

Our Hero
Theodore Twombly is a man who has difficulty relating to others. His life has fallen apart and he spends his time alone playing video games or surfing the net. Theodore may not be a likeable or relatable protagonist, but he is at least sympathetic. His journey is about coming out of his shell with the help of several women in his life. Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable in this role; he really captures the sad loner who spends much of his time alone.

Female Observers
Amy is a college friend of Theodore's whose marriage is not in the best shape. She also develops a relation ship with one of the AI, but it is a friendship rather than a romance.This mirrors her friendship with Theodore to some extent and really drives home how the AIs aren't all alike. Amy Adams delivers her second Man-of-Steel-redeeming performance of the year.

Samantha is Theodore's AI. For those who would like to simply discount her as a computer, I ask: "Have you seen the film?" Samantha is noteworthy for how real she acts. She has more character in her than most characters on screen nowadays. Scarlett Johansson proves that she's not just a pretty face!

Near-Future Atmosphere
The music by Arcade Fire fit so well with the retro future they're going for. Bottom line: Best Original Score. Speaking of retro future, the blend of apple sheik ans seventies fashion creates a surprisingly believable future. The kind of palpable future that I haven't seen since Gattaca. Thus, I'm also rooting for Best Production Design.

In the End
A bittersweet end to a bittersweet film.

Overall
The story deserves Best Original Screenplay. Her is a film that works on many levels. It could be about a lonely man talking to himself for three hour; an interpretation that many seem to take even though I find it the most boring. On another hand, he could actually be interacting with a real person without a body. This non-physical relationship, along with how Theodore and Sam deal with it, are the most interesting portions of the film. This film is classic sci-fi in its purest sense with technology completely impacting the film's world. See it if you long for a return to classic science fiction or want a great bittersweet romantic comedy(and can handle one of the lovers being a computer).
10/10

So, how'd I stack up?

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave [CORRECT!]
Best Actor: Ciwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) [Woo!]
Best Actress: Judy Dench (Philomena) Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) [Woo!]
Best Supporting Actress: June Squibb (Nebraska) Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) [Woo!]
Best Cinematography: Nebraska Gravity [Okay...]
Best Costume: 12 Years a Slave The Great Gatsby
Best Directing: Alexander Payne (Nebraska) Alfonso Cuaron [Boo!]
Best Editing: Dallas Buyers Club Gravity [Okay...]
Best Makeup: Dallas Buyers Club [CORRECT!]
Best Original Score: Her Gravity [Okay...]
Best Production Design: Her The Great Gatsby
Best Visual Effects: Gravity [CORRECT, but... Gravity, again, really?]
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) [CORRECT!]
Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her) [CORRECT!]

5/15: Not prescient yet!

Next Time: Post Oscar Snubs?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

My second number two stands out for being more topical than the only current event contender, Captain Phillips, despite being set in 1985! Much like Nebraska, I went in knowing basically nothing about this film and it blew me away!

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) is a historical piece by Jean-Marc Vallee.

Impressions
Ron Woodruff is a nard drinking, drug abusing, bull riding Texan who collapses after hustling some men. He awakens to find himself in a hospital. The Doctor tells him that he has HIV and he only has about thirty days to live. He sends 28 of them banging prostitutes and doing drugs. He learns of an experimental drug and obtains it illegally; however his condition only worsens. He makes it down to Mexico to discover a better treatment that the FDA won't approve, and he decides to make some money!

With all the fights over new drugs and how the FDA cozies up to big businesses, this film is incredibly relevant to today. I'm not even talking about the AIDS stuff yet. The movie even has the balls to admit that the drug Ron Woodruff crusades against, ADT, is still used today and can be helpful in staving off the virus. However, the real fun lies in the characters and their struggle against a virus that was heavily stigmatized at the time.

Our Hero
Ron Woodruff gradually becomes a better person as a result of being infected with HIV. In a weaker film there would be big melodramatic scenes detailing his transformation, but this film makes it effortless. Ron is charismatic and unrelenting in getting what he needs. I'd like to know when Matthew McConaughey became an amazing actor. Previously he played varying versions of himself, but not here!

Astonished Observers
Rayon is a transgender woman who helps Ron with his scheme to get the drugs to those who need it. Rayon's first scene, where she swindles Ron at cards, is the greatest character introduction of the year. Rayon is the heart of this film and her struggles are just as important as Ron's. If Jared Leto wins Best Actor in a Supporting Role, I think he deserves it. I didn't give it to him because he's part of a great film with a wonderful ensemble cast, not carrying an overhyped movie on his back.

Dr. Eve Saks is a doctor who treats Ron and Rayon; she is the one doctor who sees the merit of what he's doing. She exists to show the medical side of things, and that not all doctors are stooges of the FDA. Jennifer Garner is the weakest part of the stellar cast; not that she's bad, just notably not as good.

80s Atmosphere
The film doesn't start with a date though it becomes clear that this is a period piece very quickly. The AIDS scare is just ramping up, and the effect on the homosexual community is great, especially the Ron in a gay bar scene. I'd give the film Best Editing and it better win Best Makeup! It also has the best trailer of the year in my opinion.

In the End
Ron becomes a good man.

Overall
Dallas Buyers Club presents a story that transcends its time period. The phenomenal casting, direction, and script merge into a funny and heartwarming story that leaves the viewer with a lot to think on. See it if you enjoy a good story and great characters!
10/10

Next Time: And the Number One film is...the only one left.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Nebraska

Alright, I have a tie at number two... Not only that, but you may have noticed the perfect score on 12 Years a Slave. Yes, I think last year was a great year for film.

Nebraska (2013) is a road trip film by acclaimed director Alexander Payne.

Impressions
Woody Grant is found wandering along the side of the road by a police officer. His son, David, picks him up and discovers that Woody believes he's won a million dollars from a magazine subscription company. Since the company is in Lincoln, Nebraska, Woody has decided to walk there. He can't trust the mail. David recognizes it as a scam. After getting chastised by Kate Grant, Woody's wife and David's mother, David returns to his life, working retail. After his father tries to get to Nebraska again, David decides to take a road trip to prove that the million dollars is a scam.

Nebraska isn't exactly about all that. Nebraska resonates more with the themes it deals with. Nebraska deals with aging, self worth, family, and money; all while being hilarious. The other striking thing about this film is how realistic the portrayals are. Much of the comedy works because of how relatable the characters and even the situations are. If you have any midwestern or older family members then a vast number of moments in this film will resonate with you.

Our Journeyers
Woody Grant is a dreamer whose life of good deeds has gone unrewarded. Initially portrayed as a bumbling old fool, Woody's life is reveals him to be a more complex character. The admiration that Woody earns from his son slowly discovers what kind of man his father really was.Woody is a man of simple tastes. Bruce Dearn puts in an amazing performance as the befuddled alcoholic, weaving between zoned out naturally.

David Grant is more of a boy than a man. His life has gone nowhere and his girlfriend moved out on him. When his father asks him to go to Lincoln, he's stumped. David is the straight man of the film and the butt of many of its jokes, but he never becomes hopeless. His opening up to new experiences and learning about his family are done perfectly. Will Forte, mostly know for comedy, excels in this dramatic role and plays much younger than his age with ease.

Angry Observer
Kate Grant is Woody's wife and David's mother. She's a no nonsense woman who's had enough of dealing with Woody's crazy dreams. She's in most of te film and provides some of the best laughs as she reveals the dirty secrets of Hawthorne's past. Gotta love raunchy old ladies! I heartily support June Squibb for Best Supporting Actress!

Black and White Atmosphere
This film should win for both Best Directing and Best Cinematography. Even the rather run down city of Hawthorne looks beautiful. The decision to put the film into black and white makes to film feel like it's lagging a bit behind the actual time it's set in. The best shots are saved for the end and Woody's old house.

In the End
Possibly the most satisfying ending of any of this year's Oscar pics.

Overall
Many will skip this film in favor of one of the bigger names, but this film should not be missed. It explores the darker side of being a good person and still manages to be uplifting. This film fights a much smaller battle that is one that many of us face. Also, Bob Odenkirk, Saul from Breaking Bad, has a supporting role! Just see it.
10/10

Next Time: The Second Number Two film on my countdown.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

12 Years a Slave

Been waiting for my Best Picture pick? It's here at number four! While I think it will win Best Picture, it isn't my personal favorite.

12 Years a Slave (2013) is the latest offering from Steve McQueen, of Hunger and Shame fame.

Impressions
The film begins with Simon Northup in bondage cutting sugar cane and trying to pen a letter. At night, a woman kisses him and gets him to give her a hand job. Neither are satisfied by the endeavor. The film jumps to Northup with his family. His wife and daughter leave him to find some work as a musician. He meets a pair of men and earns a great sum of money. At the end of their tour, they get him drunk and he wakes up in chains.

This film is as harrowing as the title suggests, but it moves well beyond the "slavery is bad" thing. It features the, much obscured, slavery passages of the bible alongside beautiful and hopeful gospel songs of the slaves. Twelve Years focuses its characters and the realities of the period. Perhaps the only slight letdown in this film is executive producer Brad Pitt who delivers a solid performance but seems really out of place.

Our Hero
Simon Northup, declared Platt by his owners, tries to maintain his character in a deplorable position. In trying to maintain his character, Northup makes several well meaning decisions that become questionable as the film moves on. He's sincerely helpless during most of this film and haunted by his memories of freedom in a few choice scenes. Chiwetel Ejiofor will likely win Best Actor for this and I couldn't agree more. His haunted portrayal underscores the common insanities of the time.

Owner and Owned Observers
Patsey is the main female slave in the film. She is the favorite of her master, Edwin Epps. She recognizes the strength of integrity in Northup and bonds with him. Her savage treatment really drives the tension between Edwin and Northup which leads to many of his more noteworthy acts. Lupita Nyong'o delivers a haunting performance that really drives home the weight of Northup's decisions.

William Ford is a slave honor who tries to treat his slaves as well as he can. He is the first to purchase Northup and helps to drive home the corrupting influence of slavery. However, he is presented as a sympathetic character and functions well to prove that all slave owners aren't Epps. Cumberbatch puts in a solid performance as always but sounds weird with an American accent, maybe it's just me.

Righteous Foe
Edwin Epps is the main antagonist and 'bad' slave owner. He is frightening in his righteous belief that he is doing God's work. His manic insantic would be comical, and sometimes borders on it, if his character weren't so menacing. Michael Fassbender really brings it home with this this character who could have easily been the downfall of this film.

Visceral Atmosphere
Best Costume should also probably go to this piece as the period attire is excellent. Every shot, no matter how terrifying is beautifully staged and shot. This is most exemplified in an extended botched hanging scene that lingers for an uncomfortable amount of time.

In the End
Northup made several choices to stay alive during his confinement, but there is one decision completely unrelated to that which haunts the rest of the film. The end text summaries are also incredibly depressing.

Overall
There was a point, halfway through the film, where my desensitization just broke down. This film features explicit torture as well as a rape scene which are horrifying, especially since it and worse actually happened. Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay are also probably going to be won by this one. I've heard McQueen's other films are just as rough and I plan to watch one of them in a few months and the other a few months after that...See 12 Years a Slave if you enjoy historical dramas or intense characterization!
10/10

Next Time: Nominee Number Three Two... Wait...