June 25, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/31)

I've posted chapter 31 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

We first meet Yuushou in chapter 12 (book 2).

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June 22, 2022

Apron

Making the most of her unique ability to speak to remnants of the dead, Donna Howard researches the provenance of art and antiques. This time, her investigation into a colonial-era portrait delves into the dark history of her adopted niece, SarahAnn, uncovering a kidnapping and a murderer who got away scot-free.

The journey to uncover that history takes the Howards and the Gregersons from Maine to upstate New York, from wedding venues to house museums. Facing a past she never knew, SarahAnn questions what constitutes a person's "real" heritage and whether breaking the law is justified in preventing a more heinous crime.

There are times when honestly confronting the past may leave our descendants with no choice but to choose their own ancestors.

Paperback
Kindle
Smashwords
iBooks
Google Play
Nook
Kobo

Donna Howard Mysteries

Coin
Silver Spoon
Apron
Clasp

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June 18, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/30)

I've posted chapter 30 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Risai confirms that Gyousou left the column in Shikyuu and a platoon of soldiers subsequently went missing in chapter 33 of book 1.

Spirit money or joss paper (紙銭), often resembling money or clothing, is included in ancestral offerings so deceased family members can tend to their needs in the afterlife.

Knapping is the shaping of rocks to manufacture stone tools.

A youjuu (妖獣) is a youma (妖魔) that can be domesticated. Under normal conditions, only a kirin can control youma, though Rousan has a few tricks up her sleeve. This is why Gyousou is so concerned that Ukou and his men appear to be using hinman, youma that can enhance a person's fighting abilities.

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June 15, 2022

Silver Spoon

Since her adventures in Coin, Donna Howard has become an established investigator of relics and antiques, with the help of deceased historical people only she can see. This time around, her investigation takes her to Salem, Massachusetts, where she delves into the town's haunted history and the modern world of antique hunting.

Her research into the provenance of a silver spoon leads Donna to a stash of unexpectedly valuable junk in an old man's basement, an old man whose death Donna begins to suspect was less than "accidental." Along with opportunistic antiquers, she must also contend with a possible murder, a possible possession, and a possible boyfriend.

Because nothing can make the dead past and the living present more precarious than the unpredictable complexities of human relationships.

Paperback
Kindle
Smashwords
iBooks
Google Play
Nook
Kobo

Donna Howard Mysteries

Coin
Silver Spoon
Apron
Clasp

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June 11, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/29)

I've posted chapter 29 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

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June 08, 2022

Coin

It's 1995 and Donna Howard is living an ordinary life in Portland, Maine. She works as a hairdresser, has a boring boyfriend, two opinionated brothers, and two exhaustively energetic parents. As far as she's concerned, she's an ordinary person and proud of it.

Except she can see the past. Walk down any street in the old part of the city and four centuries of its inhabitants walk right along with her. She can observe them, hear them, smell them. And she'd rather not. She'd prefer to leave the past in the past.

Until a customer "accidentally" leaves an ancient Roman coin at the hair salon. A coin worth an awful lot of money. Then the woman appraising the coin for the Portland Museum of Art "accidentally" ends up dead. And now the past won't leave her alone.

Not even the man who's visage was molded into the metal 2000 years ago, a man who wreaked mayhem then and may have witnessed murder now. Quite unwittingly, Donna uncovers family secrets, confronts historical controversies, and closes in on a very contemporary crime.

Paperback
Kindle
Smashwords
iBooks
Google Play
Nook
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Donna Howard Mysteries

Coin
Silver Spoon
Apron
Clasp

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June 04, 2022

Tubi (update 3)

A bunch more reasons to like Tubi. GKIDS and streaming service Tubi have entered into a content partnership deal.

GKIDS is probably best known in the anime community for taking over the licensing and distribution of Ghibli productions from Disney. HBO Max paid a king's ransom for exclusive access to the Ghibli catalog, so that content is unlikely to be part of the arrangement.

But GKIDS still has a good deal of high quality content not locked down by exclusives. Tubi has been working with GKIDS for a while and has The Case of Hana & Alice, Genius Party, Genius Party Beyond, Napping Princess, and Summer Days With Coo, along with a half dozen non-anime titles.

Belle just ended its theatrical release so I don't expect it to show up anytime soon, but I'll cross my fingers and hope for good news about Weathering with You, A Letter to Momo, Promare, and Fortune Favors Lady Nikudo. Along with several Masaaki Yuasa films and Goro Miyazaki's Ronja series.

For now, Children of the Sea, Fireworks, Modest Heroes, Lu Over the Wall, and Okko's Inn are on Netflix, but I don't know if those are exclusives.

Alas, the anime licensing gods giveth and they taketh away. A bunch of great Eleven Arts movies left Tubi, including Liz and the Blue Bird, Maquia, Penguin Highway, Sound Euphonium, and The Wonderland.


The silver lining in this latest game of IP musical chairs is that Tubi added to its lineup Shirobako, the 2020 movie sequel to the 2014 series, and a true anime classic, seven seasons of Rumiko Takahashi's gender-bending martial arts comedy, Ranma 1/2.

Related links

Tubi (update 1)
Tubi (update 2)

The Case of Hana & Alice
Genius Party
Genius Party Beyond
Napping Princess
Ranma 1/2
Shirobako
(the movie)
Summer Days With Coo

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June 01, 2022

Tubi (update 2)

I like Tubi, especially with Netflix raising prices again. I like it even more since the Roku 10.5 OS update, which seems to have addressed most of the stability issues that once plagued the Tubi Roku app. But the website needs work.

Like adding some rudimentary filters to its existing genre categories. The best that I can tell, titles in the anime category are displayed according to most viewed status overall. That means everything in the list is constantly floating around without any way to predict what got added when or where.

The list can't be sorted alphabetically, by release or acquisition date, sub-genre or language. There's no language filter for the Foreign Language TV category either. You can search on "Japanese," except the language and genre tags aren't applied consistently enough to make that a reliable tool.

So Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan (live action) initially ended up in Anime, and Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl (anime) ended up in Foreign Language TV.

Tubu has New Release and Recently Added categories, but unlike Netflix, which trickles out new titles at a reasonable rate on a weekly basis and knows my preferences pretty well, Tubi just backs a dump truck up to the loading dock.

The better resource here is Reelgood, which lets you alphabetize, sort by release year, and country. But Reelgood is rarely up to date, so searches will also display titles no longer on the service while missing recent additions.

Still, Tubi has a surprisingly decent selection of anime, including free exclusives like Onihei, Napping Princess, and Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home, along with a bunch of classic tokusatsu flicks. It's worth searching through the haystack for the needles.

Here are a few more titles to add to my last list.

  • Bunny Drop (A heartwarming entry in the "unexpected fatherhood" genre.)
  • Cats of Japan (A travelogue of sorts that consists entirely of videos about cats pretty much just being cats.)
  • Chronicles of the Going Home Club (The fourth wall breaking antics of the kids who aren't into the after-school club scene and end up creating their own club. The humor can be very topical and culture-specific, such as a whole riff on the cuckoo and the Three Unifiers.)
  • Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl (Tackling the hikikomori problem with weird metaphors, even weirder characters, and a dollop of magical realism sets this sort-of harem comedy apart from most.)
  • Hanasaku Iroha (Mari Okada, reigning queen of the teen melodrama, penned this minor classic about a girl whose mother runs off with her boyfriend and sends her to work at her grandmother's rural inn. The result is a respectable coming-of-age story with unlikable characters who earn their eventual likability.)
  • Space Dandy (This rollicking space opera by Cowboy Bebop director Shin'ichiro Watanabe has the titular character hunting alien species for a kind of galactic Smithsonian. That is, when he's not hanging out at Hooters Boobies, his favorite intergalactic chain restaurant. High brow, it ain't. A total hoot, it is.)
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (Natsume can see dead people. And Shinto spirits. And the occasional Shinto god. And they can interact with him. So he gets stuck with the job of solving their problems, with the help of his guardian spirit cat, who most of the time would rather be quaffing sake at the local bar.)
  • One Punch Man (Saitama can defeat any foe with a single punch, and still gets no respect. So what's the point of being a superhero? He's starting to wonder himself. The result is a hilarious and surprisingly trenchant parody of the genre.)
  • Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan (A three-episode live-action series based on the anime by the creator of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Imagine Fox Mulder as a mangaka on the prowl for new material, except Rohan has his own superpower, the ability to literally read people like a book. And by literally, I mean literally.)

Related posts

Tubi (update 1)
Tubi (update 3)
Streaming Japanese
dLibrary Japan update

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May 28, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/28)

I've posted chapter 28 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon. Chapter 29 should be ready in two weeks.

Keiki gives Youko a hinman (賓満) in chapter 6 of Shadow of the Moon.

Otedama (お手玉) is a juggling game similar to jacks played with small cloth beanbags.

In Chinese mythology, the feng (封) or shiniku (視肉) is an edible monster that magically grows back as fast as it is eaten. Such a creature may have inspired the running joke in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid that has Tohru serving up her own tail for dinner.

There is science behind the folklore. The amphibious salamander can regrow a lost tail to full length.

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May 25, 2022

Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah

To save a young woman from a band of marauding students, Lord Simon bespelled her into the walls of his house, powerful magic he later discovers he cannot undo.

Determined to free her from this prison of wood and stone, Lord Simon consorts with grave robbers and physicians, politicians and priests, twisting the arms of the powerful and the profane in every profession. As his reputation and his house crumble around him, his obsession to save a woman long thought dead threatens to drive him mad.

The third installment in the Roesia series, Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah encompasses the events in Richard: The Ethics of Affection and Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation.

Paperback
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The Roesia Series

Tales of the Quest
Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah
Richard: The Ethics of Affection
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation

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May 21, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/27)

I've posted chapter 27 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The kanji for the ririki (狸力) are tanuki (raccoon dog) and "energy." In Chinese mythology, the ririki (or lili) resembles a boar with claws for feet. It barks like a dog and roots in the ground for food.

The youma species in the Twelve Kingdoms is much bigger.

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May 18, 2022

Mary Sue to the rescue

The eponymous character, originally named Lieutenant Mary Sue, was created by Paula Smith in her short 1973 parody of Star Trek fan fiction. Editing a Star Trek fanzine, Smith had noticed the predominance of stories that featured

the adventures of the youngest and smartest person ever to graduate from Star Fleet Academy and ever get a commission. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm wrestling, this character can be found burrowing her way into the good graces of Kirk, Spock, or McCoy, if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.

The Mary Sue can be simply summed up as a character who is too good to be true, having acquired more skills and talents and positive personality traits than our most generous expectations suggest is realistically possible.

Put the Mary Sue shortcut down to the rush of wish fulfillment or to impatient writers who want to fast forward to the "interesting" scenes. Or who think they are giving the audience what it wants to see. You know, because practicing to get good at something is for chumps.

Meeting all these criteria, a recent Mary Sue par excellence is Rey in The Force Awakens.

Yoda himself can't keep Luke Skywalker from getting badly beaten by Darth Vader in the second movie. Forget about crossing swords with anybody in the first. But Rey is an expert the first time she touches a lightsaber. She's as good a pilot as Han Solo the first time she sits in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon.

Now, Luke does have a Mary Sue moment at the end of A New Hope, when he pilots an X-wing starfighter to victory. No, logging a couple hundred hours in a Cessna 172 does not mean you can hop into an F-35 Lightning and out-fly the Top Guns who've been at it for years.

We give Luke a pass here thanks to the narrative trick of making the audience a participant in the trials, travails, and eventual triumphs of the protagonist. As the help wanted ads put it, having proved his mettle, we'll let the good guy skate by on "equivalent experience" in lieu of a resume.

The problem with Rey is that's she's perfect from the moment she appears on the screen. We never see her resume. We never see her burning the midnight oil. Making it all the more annoying, as I outlined in my review, is that it would not have been difficult to give her one.

The big irony of the Mary Sue and its Star Trek origins is that The Next Generation wrote one right into the cast. Pandering to the fan base, I suppose. But perhaps any trope worth being singled out and savagely critiqued is one that connects at a deep level with a significant portion of the audience.

In that light, it deserves a defense. And so now I rise not to bury Mary Sue but to praise her.

To be sure, I cannot bring myself to defend Wesley Crusher. He is exactly the kind of annoying Mary Sue that Paula Smith snarked about back in 1973. Any reasonable appeal to verisimilitude could not tolerate his presence on the  bridge of the Enterprise.

But a Mary Sue story can be done right. Komichi Akebi in Akebi's Sailor Uniform is a more recent and perfectly adorable example. But Snow White with the Red Hair really sets the standard.


Based on the manga by Sorata Akizuki, the anime ran two cours (the manga is still being serialized). As befitting the title, the story takes place in a spick and span medieval Disneyland (the setting itself qualifies as a Mary Sue).

When we first meet her, Shirayuki (白雪), whose name translates as "Snow White," is a conscientious herbalist who owns a small pharmacy. That is, until the lecherous Prince Raj, entranced by her brilliant red hair, decides to make Shirayuki his mistress. And won't take no for an answer.

Figuring that caution is the better part of valor, Shirayuki's answer is to pack up and scamper across the border, where she promptly runs into Prince Zen of Clarines and his retainers. It's "like" at first sight.

No mooning around. No one gets serenaded beneath a window. Shirayuki and Zen are preternaturally practical and competent people. Shirayuki has principles and no hesitation in standing up for them. And one of those principles is to own only what she's earned.

Although ostensibly a "European" kingdom, Clarines appears to be run by a ranked bureaucracy of mandarins appointed through an imperial examination system. Determined to stay close to Zen but refusing any handouts, Shirayuki applies for a job as an assistant court herbalist. And passes the tests.

But, again, the backstory has established that she works hard and is good at it, and shows us (doesn't just tell us) that she is deserving of the position. Zen as well works for a living. Being a prince in Clarines comes with a portfolio. Besides going on inspection tours, he has to sit at a desk and push paper around.

These jobs not only make them more interesting but also generate compelling plot material.

(Seriously, what do Disney's Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty actually do? Well, Cinderella is good at housekeeping. What does Elsa do? Anna at least has the important job of keeping Elsa from going nuts and destroying the kingdom.)

There's no need to pretend Shirayuki and Zen aren't Mary Sues. They are too good to be true. Here we have a pair of protagonists who couldn't be any nicer without getting saccharin. Even Prince Raj can't resist becoming a better person when he's around them (a character arc that pays off well in the second cour).

Yet they both possess a depth of character that makes their stories compelling. Yes, nice people can be interesting and do interesting things. I would describe the resulting genre as a "cozy" romance, the equivalent of the "cozy" mystery.

Dispensed with are the angst, the sturm und drang, the love triangles, the miscommunication, all the melodramatic conventions of the genre. Another way of describing this romance sub-genre might be "You and me (and our friends) against the world."

In fact, the only real hint of romantic tension arises among their friends, principally Mitsuhide, Kiki, and Obi, who are Zen's retainers, though Zen assigns Obi to Shirayuki. Later in the series, Mitsuhide seems to have a thing for Kiki, and Obi definitely has unrequited affection for Shirayuki.

But being loyal to Zen and having earned his trust, Obi never does anything stupid or inappropriate. Aside from Mitsuhide getting goofy in one episode in which he goes looking for Shirayuki in the pharmacy and accidentally ingests an elixir, nobody embarrasses, betrays, or compromises anybody.

Even for the day or so that Mitsuhide is under the effect of the elixir, he acts like a stereotypical gallant knight and drives everybody batty. It's a clever way of stating what the show is not about.

In the second cour, more high adventure comes their way, what with pirates and outlaws and damsels in distress and long lost family members showing up in unexpected places. But Shirayuki keeps her head on her shoulders (literally and figuratively) and the relationship never falters. Neither does her career.

In the end, nobody rides off into the sunset. There are no impending nuptials. We don't need to be told that Shirayuki and Zen will live "happily ever after." They only need to live their lives as best they can. From what we have learned about them, that will suffice. Real life is tough enough already.

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May 14, 2022

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/26)

I've posted chapter 26 (book 3) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

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May 11, 2022

The Real Darcy

Besides the badness of the writing, Kate argues that the biggest problem with Pride and Prejudice fan fiction (commercially published or otherwise) is that it inevitably makes Darcy out to be the stereotypical alpha male of Regency romances.

Austen simply wasn't capable of being that simple and obvious, and nothing in the text justifies it. As Kate explains:

I go along with Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer's argument in So Odd a Mixture that Darcy is borderline autistic. Her delineation of Darcy's character is one of the most accurate and delightful on record. She recognizes what few interpretations do, namely that Darcy is accused of pride in Hertfordshire for reasons that have nothing to do with familial or class pride.

Most tributes to Pride and Prejudice fail to acknowledge that all of Darcy's problems in Hertfordshire stem from his behavior, not from his beliefs about himself. He is perceived as proud because he won't dance or talk, not because he boasts about his position or even because he gives anyone the "cut direct." He doesn't even cut poor Mr. Collins.

To correct this problem, she penned A Man of Few Words, an addendum to Pride and Prejudice that relates Darcy's perspective on the important events in the novel.

Paperback
Kindle
Smashwords
iBooks
Google Play
Nook
Kobo


(See here for the perfect Japanese Darcy.)

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