Anime Wizards and Blue Cats

Fiore is a land of wizardry and magic, and Fairy Tail is one of its many wizard guilds.  In addition to its unusual name, Fairy Tail has a reputation for leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, for its good-intentioned wizards are often reckless when fulfilling quests to help the people of Fiore.  The first season of the anime show Fairy Tail features a hilarious cast of characters, a story full of adventure and magic, and themes of loyalty, courage, and friendship.

Fairy Tail characters

Left to right, top to bottom: Natsu, Lucy, Happy, Gray, and Erza

Natsu, Happy, and Lucy form the core trio of Fairy Tail characters.  When the story begins, Lucy joins Fairy Tail as its newest member, and viewers get to know the guild and its members along with Lucy.  Lucy often feels intimidated among Fairy Tail’s powerful wizards but manages to hold her own with her special brand of celestial wizard magic—where she uses magical keys to summon spirits to help her.  Despite a sweet disposition, Lucy can be feisty, especially when Natsu, Happy, and Gray annoy her.  Raised by a dragon, Natsu fights with fire magic and a temper to match.  Impetuous, cocky, and stubborn, Natsu’s character qualities may seem negative but end up endearing him to his friends and the audience.  These traits also make him a formidable opponent when fighting evil wizards because hard-headed persistence can be an effective strategy.  Natsu’s best friend is the talking cat Happy, who stands out for being blue, able to fly, and one of the sweetest characters in the show.  Gray and Erza are two other main characters.  Ice wizard Gray is taciturn and reclusive, and he and Natsu get along about as well as ice and fire because Natsu’s competitive spirit keeps the two of them fighting all the time.  Fairy Tail is often like a big, dysfunctional family with constant competition and squabbles, and Erza would be the mother figure, except that she often joins in the bickering herself.  An intimidating warrioress who’s most comfortable in a suit of medieval armor, Erza scares enemies and friends alike.  Erza wields magical weapons and outfits that she can exchange whenever she wants (leading to one caveat I have about the show, which is that some of Erza’s and other wizards’ outfits are immodest).  Because of her powerful abilities and serious personality, Erza is about the only person who can stop Gray and Natsu from fighting and keep them—and everyone else in Fairy Tail—in line.

Natsu and Happy

Happy and Natsu

Much of Fairy Tail’s plot revolves around its characters, developing their personalities and pasts.  As Fairy Tail proceeds through the first season, the audience learns each protagonist’s backstory and meets more members of Fairy Tail and other light and dark guilds in Fiore.  The story follows Lucy, Natsu, Happy, Gray, and Erza on their many adventures as they answer job requests, help citizens of Fiore, and compete with each other and their fellow guild members.  While elements of the plot are very episodic, Fairy Tail also has larger story arcs that tie the show together.  In fact, as I watched season two, story threads from season one came back into play within the new plot.

In addition to endearing characters and a fun story, Fairy Tail also contains wholesome themes.  Forced to work as a team on quests, the five main characters gradually become friends, learning to trust, fight with, and make sacrifices for each other.  Each of them has lost family but finds a new family in Fairy Tail and its members.  Thanks to the support of their friends, the wizards are able to forgive grievances, and even the most faint-hearted wizards discover loyalty and courage within themselves.  Hidden beneath a reputation for destruction, brawling, and partying, Fairy Tail has true heart that makes it strong.  When times are hard, Fairy Tail bands together, supporting and looking after its members and everyone who needs its help.

HappyHappy sums up a lot about Fairy Tail and why I like it.  Like Happy’s colorful appearance, unique abilities, and amicable personality, Fairy Tail has a literally and figuratively colorful cast of characters.  Each character is unique, and even the serious and reserved ones add to the show’s upbeat tone.  Combined with a story and themes to match these characters, Fairy Tail is a fun anime show to watch.

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Highs and Lows of “Hilo: The Great Big Boom”

The Great Big BoomJudd Winick’s third Hilo book has its ups and downs.  Compared to the first two books, Hilo: The Great Big Boom has a much weaker opening.  However, I think the plot of the third book is stronger than the second.  The story is more interesting, and I appreciate the change of scenery that accompanies Hilo and D.J.’s journey to rescue Gina, who was sucked into a portal at the end of the second book.  As Hilo and D.J. search for Gina on a strange planet, readers get to ride along into a new setting, meeting unusual interplanetary creatures along the way.  In addition to the stronger plot and revitalized setting, I think it’s necessary to note that, because this is a series in which humor is important, the third book has better jokes than Saving the Whole Wide World.

One aspect of the series that has drawn me on has been the larger story arc that encompasses all the books.  I like how Winick reveals more about Hilo’s past as the robot’s elusive memories return.  Some of the developments in The Great Big Boom feel a bit silly—including the explanation for the book’s title—, but Winick does introduce some intriguing elements.  For example, Hilo becomes hesitant to use his powers in fights, and this places his friends in danger.  Hilo’s self-doubts are sympathetic flaws, and I like how Winick uses them to round out Hilo’s character.  Hilo has to wrestle with the question, “What do you do when you don’t want to harm anyone by using your powers but could endanger your friends by inaction?”  Hilo’s struggles bring surprising depth to this children’s book.

When I began this series, I thought it was a trilogy.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed to learn that it wasn’t because I think more than three books is a bit excessive.  The second and third book might have been stronger if Winick had packed more into them and finished the story with The Great Big Boom.  However, time and the next book (or books) in the series will tell whether or not Winick was wise to stretch the story out.

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Redefining Wonder Woman

WW posterPrior to this spring, my image of Wonder Woman consisted of a woman with poufy hair wearing starry spandex, spouting cardboard dialogue, and wielding a laughable “Lasso of Truth.”  This year’s movie adaptation of the comic book heroine, however, paints a different picture.  Now, Diana Prince displays dignity and strength and is simultaneously a warrior and a woman.  Together, all the elements of the movie combine to reflect the change of tone.

Wonder Woman’s plot focuses on Diana Prince’s Amazonian backstory, including a comic book version of the Greek myths.  While DC’s retelling of Greek myths is at times a bit cheesy, the other aspects of the Amazonian world are very captivating, and as Diana enters the chaos and modernity of WWI, the scriptwriters keep the audience wondering whether Diana’s Amazonian stories have any bearing on the modern world.  Particularly, viewers question Diana’s claim that Ares is the cause of the war.  Although the plot can be predictable, the characters and dialogue carry the story well.  American pilot Steve Trevor and the other members of Diana’s ragtag team back Diana up with skill and plenty of humor.  Most importantly, Gal Gadot fills her role as Diana Prince amazingly, bringing character to a caricature.  With her smiles and seriousness, Gadot transforms Diana Prince into a real person.

Gal Gadot

Diana’s reaction to her first taste of ice cream and her first encounter with a revolving door are hilariously believable thanks to Gadot’s acting, and the new character of Diana Prince brings with it freshness and vitality.  Another interesting sign of the movie’s novel approach to Wonder Woman is that throughout the movie Diana Prince is known by her personal name, not by her title “Wonder Woman.”

In keeping with the movie’s plot and tone, the costumes and music blend with the times and cultures the movie represents.  When fighting, Diana dons Greek-style armor, not tights, and the outfits she wears while “fitting in” with London and German society are pretty much historically accurate (although no woman would be able to wear a sword down the back of her dress without anyone noticing).  Both the costumes and music capture elements of the ancient Greek and WWI eras, and I especially like the theme song’s Eastern air.  Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams expertly crafts a score that complements and represents the film’s titular character.  Like Diana Prince, the music is an exotic blend of cultures and is impressive, beautiful, and inspiring with its swelling themes and incorporation of brass, strings, choir, and percussion.

Wonder Woman photoMore surprising than the production quality, acting, or story, though, are the themes that the movie incorporates.  Diana Prince has an attachment to truth that goes beyond her golden lasso, and she demonstrates this in her blunt honesty, questions, and actions.  Throughout the movie, she is searching for truth and the difference between right and wrong.  When she faces the enemy, she refuses to believe his twisted representations of the truth.  Yet, she is willing to change her beliefs when she discovers she is wrong.  From the opening to the closing lines, Diana reveals her struggle with the truth that humans don’t deserve to be rescued, for they have created their own problems and wickedness.  Mankind is not basically good, and no matter what enemies she defeats, she will never be able to change that.  Men don’t deserve to be saved—a truth that Diana reluctantly admits.  This truth is evident, even in the banter of three of the main character soldiers, who joke, “May we get what we want…and may we get what we need…But may we never get what we deserve” (“Quotes”).  Diana doesn’t end there, though, for she realizes another, greater truth:  love is the reason to fight to save mankind.

Surprisingly, though imperfectly, Wonder Woman points to realities about love, mercy, truth, and man’s condition which I would never have expected to find in a pagan superhero movie.  While Wonder Woman lacks the ultimate answer to man’s problems, I think its discussion of these themes is valuable.  If more people understood what Diana learns in this fictional story, history and the world would be drastically different, for all too often, people assume that mankind is essentially good and blame every problem on the government, greedy businesses, or a few particularly evil people.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman’s themes create a thoughtful movie that impacts viewers with more than just jokes or exciting action scenes.  In the midst of recent antihero movies, Wonder Woman stands out with its heroine and themes.  Diana Prince has honesty and heart.  In her actions, she uses her principles as much as her weapons, and throughout the story she emanates a dignity, strength, and compassion which give her title “Wonder Woman” a whole new meaning.


Works Cited

Wonder Woman (2017) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2017.  Internet Movie Database.  30 Aug. 2017, imdb.com/title/tt0451279/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.

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Wires and Nerve

THE PREMISE

Wires and Nerve coverWhen I heard that Marissa Meyer was creating a graphic novel sequel to her sci-fi fairytale series the Lunar Chronicles, I was intrigued.  Unlike the previous books in the series, Wires and Nerve spotlights Iko, the android with a faulty personality chip that makes her more human than robot.

As an android and the ninth wheel on a team with four romantic couples, Iko is definitely the odd one out.  Iko’s human friends have all found their place in the world and are now heroes, but Earthens have yet to recognize the part Iko played in saving the world.  Worst of all, Iko is feeling useless, and as Iko explains, “No android likes feeling useless.  It’s in our programming to make ourselves as useful to humans…as possible” (66).  Iko’s plan for how she can be useful to her best friend Cinder is a surprising and daring one.  Cinder needs someone to covertly capture the rogue Lunar wolf soldiers who are terrorizing Earth and return them to Luna for trial.  Dress-loving romantic Iko decides that she is the secret agent for the mission.  After all, the worst damage a wolf soldier could inflict would merely mean a trip to an android parts store, right?

STORY AND STYLE

Iko

Marissa Meyer crafts a story that remains true to the style she created in the Lunar Chronicles.  Her writing is clever and fun.  In spite of the change in genre, the tone of Wires and Nerve is surprisingly similar to the previous books, and the characters remain largely the same.  Iko and Thorne’s characters transition the best, while Cinder, Winter, and Cress seem a little bit stunted compared to their old selves.

I think when authors take a story and then turn it into a graphic novel—rather than starting the book as a graphic novel from the ground up—they often sacrifice clarity, tone, or character development to make the new visual style work.  I’ve noticed this trend in books like Matt Phelan’s Snow White, Art Ayris’ The Last Convert of John Harper, and Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man.  However, what these books and Wires and Nerve lose is gained back in different ways, especially in the artwork.

ARTWORK

I really like Doug Holgate’s art in Wires and Nerve.  The action is easy to follow, the characters are dynamic, and the scenery is detailed and interesting.  As a standalone graphic novel, the artwork is good; however, as a sequel to the Lunar Chronicles, I do have a few problems with the graphics.  Except for Iko, the characters from the original series don’t look like I expected them to.  In particular, the wolf soldiers look wrong.  They are kind of silly—a little bit like trolls or ogres, not like men who have been genetically modified to have wolf characteristics.  These failings are pretty significant to me, but the other aspects of the story, style, and art help balance out problems with characters’ appearances.

Iko

CONCLUSION

While Wires and Nerves is not quite on par with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles, it is still a fun sequel.  The new graphic novel layout limits the storytelling at times but also adds some freshness and originality.  Author Marissa Meyer successfully integrates the graphic novel format with the style, setting, and characters from her previous sci-fi fairytale novels.

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Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World

Who would have thought Hilo could crash back to Earth with even less than when he arrived the first time (a name, shiny underpants, and a bad case of amnesia)?  Yet somehow, Hilo manages to do just that when he returns to Earth (or at least his toe does) in Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick.

Hilo pageHilo has returned, but as his friend D.J. explains, “It was a little weird” (1).  After disappearing through a portal at the end of The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, Hilo returns to Earth in pieces.  For normal little boys, returning in bits might be a problem, but not for alien robot Hilo, who quickly reassembles and warns his friends D.J. and Gina that his nemesis Razorwark is coming to Earth.  To keep Razorwark away from Earth, Hilo ends up stranding himself in the human world and must begin adjusting to everyday human life.  However, bullies at school, Hilo’s slowly returning memories, and aliens invading Earth through portals keep life far from peaceful or ordinary for Hilo and his friends.

As with the Zita the Spacegirl trilogy by Ben Hatke, the second installment of the Hilo series lacks some of the novelty of the pilot book.  That said, though, Saving the Whole Wide World is still an entertaining read and a fitting sequel to The Boy Who Crashed to Earth.  New characters like a magical warrior cat named Pollandra add a touch of freshness to the story, and the focus on friendship and courage provides the story with heartwarming and constructive themes.

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Korean War Comics

BeachheadThis past spring, I took an American history class in which my professor focused on war and popular culture in America.  Instead of using traditional history textbooks, my professor had our class study the different wars in which America has been involved through popular media, and so my class read short stories and novels, played a video game, watched movies, and even read comics about war.  The comics we read were interesting and enjoyable, so I thought I would share a link to them.  The comics are about the Korean War and are available for free on the website History on the Net through this link.  As you read, I invite you to think about some of the questions my history professor told us to keep in mind.  When were the comics written, and what is their historical context?  Who was the original audience?  How do the comics reflect Americans’ views on war?  How might the comics have shaped Americans’ attitudes toward war?  Do the comics present the war and American soldiers in a positive or negative way?  Why?

Happy reading!

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Return of Zita the SpacegirlZita and her friends are back, this time to conduct a jailbreak, rescue prisoners from the corrupt Doom Squad that runs a penitentiary planet, and save earth from the evil Screed and their leader the Dungeon Lord.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl brings back characters from the first two Zita books and introduces a few more.  While in prison, Zita meets a talking rag pile name Raggy and a skeleton named Femur who are two creative additions to the cast.  Ben Hatke’s artwork, characters, and story maintain the quality of the earlier books, and Return of Zita finishes the series strong.  Best of all, Hatke introduces new themes, pointing out Zita’s character flaw of impulsiveness that leads to problems in all three books.  When Zita tries to defend herself during her trial at the beginning of Return of Zita the Spacegirl, she admits that she didn’t think about the possible outcomes of her actions when she destroyed the asteroid, killed the Star Hearts, and stole a spaceship in the previous books.  The story doesn’t delve much deeper into this subject, but Return of Zita the Spacegirl shows that wrong means to a good end can often result in unintended and disastrous consequences.

When Zita finally returns home, she will not be the same girl who left, for her adventures have changed her.  Now, Zita is ready for whatever lies ahead, whether on Earth or in space.  Her adventures have taught her about courage, friendship, and most of all about herself, for as Hatke quotes at the beginning of the third book, “I went coast to coast, and from star to star / That’s how you learn, just who you are” (1).

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