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Ivan the Terrible

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About me

I'm an artist and writer with my own website (ivanhenley.com), where I post my web comics and info on my books.

I'm also completely nuts.

Occupation: Clerk/Artist/Writer

In a relationship


Books by Ivan Henley (19 items)
Book list by Ivan the Terrible
Published 8 years, 3 months ago
Favorite movies (9 items)
Movie list by Ivan the Terrible
Last updated 5 years, 6 months ago
Favorite games (15 items)
Game list by Ivan the Terrible
Last updated 8 years, 3 months ago
Favorite Actors & Actresses (12 items)
Person list by Ivan the Terrible
Last updated 8 years, 3 months ago
Favorite music (16 items)
Music list by Ivan the Terrible
Last updated 8 years, 3 months ago

Recent reviews

All reviews - Movies (2) - Books (33) - Music (2)

Excellent return to form

Posted : 5 years, 6 months ago on 28 February 2014 02:56 (A review of Battle Angel Alita: Last Order 18)

Since the return of Alita, the titular Battle Angel, and her eclectic group of friends, we’ve been treated to a series with a few interesting ideas and a large number of lumbering, slow-moving expanses of non-story overstuffed with oddball characters and fighting so excessive it actually ground the plot to a complete halt several times. The overlong fighting tournament that literally conquered the series and even left out the main character for entire volumes at a time made Last Order considerably less enjoyable and, at times, actually something of a chore to wade through. Usually it was interrupted by either equally overlong flashbacks focusing on characters we the audience were not terribly invested in, or by long, rambling monologues or strings of dialogue that didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. It wasn’t like the original Battle Angel Alita series that had pulled so many of us in back in the day.
Fortunately, Alita herself eventually resurfaced and, after even more excessive fighting (something that is strange for someone like me to complain about as typically I am all about action), more and more characteristics that endeared us to the series began to reappear alongside her and, with Volume 17, things suddenly not only got moving again but actually displayed true plot advancement at long last. Volume 17 was great just for this reason alone, even though some important events were presented and left behind rather more quickly than they should have been, slightly lessening their impact. But that was okay, because the exhausting fighting tournament was finally over and the story was back!
Volume 18, in turn, is as far above Volume 17 in quality as 17 was over 16 and many before it. True, Alita herself is only in the opening chapter before once again disappearing, but this time we’re treated to something so special it makes her absence acceptable. The series once again diverges, this time into a refreshingly fast-paced and plot-heavy side story that, really, is actually a major part of the main narrative, just one we’ve been denied until now. Three very prominent characters from the original series, ones who have only sporadically and briefly popped up in the revived series, are finally given center stage, allowing us to fully reconnect with them and see what in the world they have been up to all this time.
The front cover itself reveals the first of these three: Figure Four, Alita’s love interest and very human fighting extraordinaire. Figure was never given much to do since the series returned, which felt unfair considering the bond he’d developed with Alita before. Now, we not only find out where he’s been but what his role in the story has become. The poor guy goes through utter hell this time around. The changes he’s forced to endure and the flood of half-truths, misconceptions and flat-out lies that bombard him make him run the gamut of emotions in a manner that would break a lesser person. We are immediately reminded of why we like this guy so much: he’s totally human, but also an amazing one who will not be beaten down. In other words, he’s one hell of a guy.
We also are finally treated to the return of one of the most important characters in the whole series, whose actions first got the ball rolling back in the very first volume of Battle Angel. Yes, Dr. Daisuke Ito, that amazing cyber-surgeon and former Hunter-Warrior, is back. Still accompanied by his assistant and caretaker Kayna (the same one who stopped Alita from attempting to revive the broken Ito’s memories the one time she ran into him again, which led to one of the most heart-breaking moments the original series gave us), Ito is still disconnected from the past and lives the life of a simple village doctor, promoting peace and mending the wounded.
For the first time, Figure and Ito actually meet, but due to Kayna’s tenacity, Ito is kept in the dark while Figure tries to come to terms with everything presented to him. Figure desperately wants to find Alita. Kayna wants to protect Ito and have what little happiness she can claim. Ito just wants to keep things peaceful. Due to poor reasoning and very misguided actions, Ito comes to be thought of as Professor Desty Nova in disguise, and from there, well, things get pretty ugly.
Nova, who has had many big moments in both the old series and the new, is actually only barely featured here, but as always he casts such a long shadow that his presence is felt even when he is far away. He plays no direct role in the events depicted here, but most of them happen because of him. The damage he did before leads to further damage. Once again Ito is in danger, and this time there will be no maintaining the status quo. Very much like before.
Most of the time it’s hard to enjoy Last Order when Alita isn’t around, but this is one of those golden exceptions. It’s so great to see Figure, Ito and Kayna again that it becomes easy to get through the whole volume without really missing her. It helps, too, that the writing is so, so much better here than what it has been. This time, attention is not given to characters and situations that are hardly relevant to the story, and rather than drag everything out, author Yukito Kishiro keeps the tempo brisk and in motion. The Battle Angel series finally feels like itself again.
Of course, every volume has only so many pages, and though we at least have some idea of where Ito and Figure will eventually end up, things aren’t exactly rosy. In fact, far from it. The volume ends on a very memorable cliffhanger that makes one wish for the immediate appearance of Volume 19. Without giving anything away, let me just simply say that, for at least one person, the fight may well and truly be over.
If every volume of Battle Angel Alita: Last Order was like Volume 18, fans would have nothing to complain about. Everything that endears the series to us is here, gripping page after gripping page. What a wonderful feeling that the train that was so badly derailed it exploded and disintegrated is now back in one piece and roaring down the tracks again. If the series continues on in this fashion, then perhaps one day we can forgive Kishiro for that mind-numbing ZOTT and pretend it never happened in the first place.

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This is how you do Iron Man

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 8 July 2013 02:28 (A review of Extremis (Iron Man))

When people think of Marvel superheroes, usually the first ones that spring to mind are Spider-Man, Wolverine (or any of the high-profile X-Men), Captain America, the Incredible Hulk or the Punisher. Iron Man didn't get the same kind of high-profile position until he finally got his own movie, but since then even the casual viewer/reader knows who he is, even if their first visual image is of Robert Downey, Jr.

But with a book like Iron Man: Extremis, one has a chance to experience Iron Man on his home turf: the comics page. Not only that, but one has a chance to see how great an Iron Man comic can be.

The great Warren Ellis has put together a simple but well-crafted story about Tony Stark moving in a new direction, not just with Iron Man, but his entire life. With very natural-sounding dialogue and an intense but easy-to-follow plot, Ellis takes us into the damaged mind of Stark and lets us experience some very difficult decisions he must make about a new, dangerous sort of "super-soldier serum" called Extremis. A terrorist has a stolen dose and has used it to turn himself into a destructive powerhouse, and Iron Man's suit is just too slow to keep up with him. But Tony Stark being Tony Stark, the answer is not to call in the Avengers, but to make a change to himself to bring this psychopath in.

I don't want to imagine the sheer agony Extremis must put a person through. This is incredible stuff, sort of like the miraculous formula that made Captain America what he is, but harsher. It rewrites everything, making a person over from the inside-out and turning said person into a speed-busting battle machine with a healing factor to rival Wolverine's. And now that the man behind the stuff is gone, its other creator, Maya Hansen, has turned to Stark for help.

Using a nice balance of intelligent conversation and high-octane action alongside the excellent art of Adi Granov, Ellis gives an Iron Man yarn so good that the third movie took its inspiration from it. We see flashes of Iron Man's origin interwoven with his harrowing re-invention as Stark pushes himself towards the future by sort of reliving the past. This is a fast read and a real page turner, never slow and never dull. And there's one hell of a twist at the end.

Whether you're a fan of Iron Man or you're just curious about him, this is a book you want to have on your shelf -- or better still, in your hands where you can read it. The awesome Iron Man got a little more awesome.

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The end of an era

Posted : 6 years, 2 months ago on 20 June 2013 03:06 (A review of "Doctor Who", World game (Doctor Who (BBC Paperback)))

Rating: 4 and a half stars

One of the more interesting things about the mangled timeline of Doctor Who is the "missing season" of Patrick Troughton adventures, which popular speculation says occurred between the TV serials The War Games and Spearhead From Space. This missing season, called "Season 6b," explains away some continuity problems, such as the aged appearances of the Second Doctor and Jamie in The Two Doctors, as well as Jamie's knowledge of the Time Lords, among other things.

Longtime Doctor Who series writer and book author Terrance Dicks embraced this "Season 6b Theory" wholeheartedly, and one of the books tied to this theory is World Game, which picks up immediately after The War Games and reveals what really happened to the Doctor following his unpleasant trial.

As a fan of the Second Doctor, I actively seek out any stories involving him, but this one in particular interested me not only because of the Season 6b connection, but because the open-ended nature of The War Games' conclusion helped the "missing season" seem very possible, and I wanted to know precisely what the Doctor went through when he regenerated into the Bessie-driving dandy we met afterward.

Dicks writes a good story, pairing the Doctor up with an inexperienced snoot named Serena and letting him loose in France during Napoleon's reign. We get some nice continuity nods, including an unexpected but very fun tie to The Five Doctors, and though one does not need to be terribly familiar with Doctor Who history to enjoy this book, such knowledge helps increase such enjoyment immensely; I had a big, goofy grin on my face every time such a nod came along.

While the pacing isn't perfect (there are some rather slow bits here and there), this is one of the better Second Doctor stories to be published, and one of the strongest in the Past Adventures line. It is also, if I'm not mistaken, one of the last as well, which is strangely fitting since it stands alongside The War Games as the end of an era. We don't get to see Jamie or Victoria or Zoe, but Serena makes a decent enough companion that we can tolerate their absences while enjoying the Second Doctor's antics. Since Dicks wrote for the Second Doctor on TV all those years ago (including The War Games), he has no trouble nailing the Second Doctor's personality and manner of speech, and this reads like a true Troughton adventure. Though it has a direct tie to the earlier book Players, one does not need to read that book to follow this one.

Any fan of the Second Doctor should give this book a try. It doesn't suit everyone, but for people like me who enjoy the Doctor's romps through Earth's history and references to the show's canon, this is a solid read.

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The series finally moves again!

Posted : 6 years, 6 months ago on 28 February 2013 04:05 (A review of Battle Angel Alita: Last Order 17)

It's about time!

The frick-frackin' ZOTT went on for volumes and volumes, dragging everything to a screamingly frustrating halt, but author Yukito Kishiro must have finally had enough of it, because with this volume, the damned ZOTT concludes at long last!

This volume could, arguably, be called the climax of the Last Order series as a whole, though it's clear there's still more to come. The story isn't over, but at least it's actually MOVING AGAIN, and during the second half especially, it moves at a breakneck pace this series hasn't seen in far too long. That's why I give this volume such a high rating: it's satisfying! Stuff is actually HAPPENING again! We're not just sitting around watching repetitious battles anymore; the story has thankfully resumed!

I for one could not be happier. This is more like it! This far more closely resembles the Battle Angel series that pulled me in so effectively all those years ago. It's a shame it took this long to finally get to this point, but at least we got there! Now, if only this trend continues throughout however many volumes are still to come, we'll be in for a treat indeed. I think the series deserves it, and I certainly feel the fans do, too!

If you've been waiting for Last Order to finally get moving again, this is the volume you want to pick up, because it sure got moving again, all right!

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Underrated book

Posted : 7 years, 4 months ago on 21 April 2012 11:56 (A review of Howard The Duck)

Like the movie it captured on the printed page, Howard The Duck (ISBN 0-425-09275-5) has been doomed to ridicule. Unlike the movie, however, far fewer people remember it or know that it ever existed in the first place. This is a true shame. As the popular saying goes, one should not judge a book by its cover, and it can be argued that one should not judge a book by its movie, either.

And why not?

Because author Ellis Weiner took the humorous tone of the film (yes, the movie was a comedy, which many people failed to realize) as well as the sarcastic tone of creator Steve Gerber's original comics and turned the dial up to 11, giving us a novelization that, in some ways, is actually better than the movie on which it is based. More to the point, however: it is a book very much worth reading, especially if you could use a good laugh.

Right from the beginning Weiner lets us know this is no ordinary movie novelization. Chapter One opens with a booming narrative in all caps, thundering on about the cosmos, a boiling chaos of matter and energy, when it is suddenly interrupted by normal text (which we quickly discover is a seperate narrative voice) demanding to know what is going on and why this apparent intruder seems to be focusing on anything but Howard The Duck. We come find out that this booming voice is the VOICE OF THE UNIVERSE and for several pages the VOICE and the narrator struggle for control of the book toward which, of course, Howard himself is completely oblivious. Once the narrator wins, the VOICE goes largely silent, but we haven't heard the last from it.

Weiner combines thorough descriptions with humorous asides and sarcastic commentary to fully bring the story to life, and the characters are served the same attention. They're given natural-sounding dialogue peppered with amusing irrelevancies and hilarious non sequiturs that keep the laughs coming at a steady pace. Once every so often a chapter is interrupted by a "Coverage-In-Depth Insert" which focuses either on a character or an object that may or may not have any great significance to the plot or the story as a whole, but is always a fun read as it provides an obscene amount of detail that we really don't need to know, though we certainly come away feeling better informed, and also at the very least. One such insert tells us more about Howard's homeworld than Howard himself ever does, while another details the events leading to the invention of a major weapon, giving us the skinny on everything from the scientists' reasons for pursuing the project to what sugary breakfast cereal the President was eating the morning he conceived the device in the first place. Even Howard gets such a profile late in the story, which covers his childhood and shows us how he developed into the duck we all know and love.

The plot, which follows that of the film, revolves around Howard being yanked away from his homeworld and dropped rather roughly on Earth, and his quest to find a way back. Along the way he meets Beverly Switzler (the only other character from the original comics to make it into this book or the film), who becomes his friend and awkward romantic interest. Beverly and Howard have their ups and downs, but they find themselves drawn together and the bond they share plays a big role in the decisions Howard is forced to make throughout the story. Things, of course, grow worse once the threat of a hostile alien invasion rears its head, and Howard finds that the cost of returning home may be a little too high for comfort. But, Howard being Howard, he presses on with his never-say-die attitude, confronting every obstacle with anger, defiance and usually a humorous quip.

Weiner has great fun writing the quiet moments and the truly chaotic ones alike, and even plays little tricks on the reader throughout, such as randomly changing Lieutenant Welker's name to Weber and back, sometimes within the same chapter (some think this was actually a printing mistake, but having read it as many times as I have, I'm convinced it was deliberate), and taking moments out of action scenes to provide us with more humorously over-detailed descriptions ("And then the TV, as though itself disgusted with the unremitting junk of the networks and the locals, blew the hell up!"). We even get a military parody of the Mickey Mouse Club theme song and a book-exclusive surprise or two, such as the form the Dark Overlord starts to take during the final confrontation, which I won't reveal here.

The book may be too goofy for some, and perhaps too detailed for others. For me, it's a classic and an all-time favorite. Anyone who doesn't laugh at SOMETHING in this book is either too serious or too inattentive, or just lacks wit. Whatever the case, this book is comedy gold and, if I had any say, it would be put back into print, because more people should read it. If you're one of those who enjoys a good laugh or three and has some time to kill, it's well worth it to track down and purchase a copy of this book. It has enjoyed a spot on my shelf since 1986, and it will keep that spot in the years to come.

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Another great volume!

Posted : 7 years, 9 months ago on 11 December 2011 03:54 (A review of Negima! 32: Magister Negi Magi)

The final battle is starting and now Negi and his students really have their hands full. Negi is still struggling with his ability to control dark magic and some of the girls are still struggling with their feelings. And someone shows up at the end I was not expecting to see, resulting in yet another mind-blowing cliffhanger for the series. Could it be that someone we thought was an ally is actually a villain after all? Say it isn't so!

This is another great whiz-bang volume with, as always, great art and exciting battles (with countless foes!) and that unmistakable Negima! humor. Volume 33 will be out soon, but not soon enough!

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A must-buy for those into this kind of thing

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 9 October 2011 12:16 (A review of Rob Zombie Presents: The Haunted World Of El Superbeasto: Volume 1)

To most, Rob Zombie is the musician who fronted White Zombie during the '80s and '90s before going solo... and nothing more. Others will recognize his move into the cinema, helming such films as The Devil's Rejects, House of 1,000 Corpses and The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, the last one an animated feature.

However, he also wandered into the realm of comic books for a time, which is where the oddball Superbeasto made his first appearance.

Those Spook Show International issues can all be found in one convenient place for those who missed them (or who would simply like to see them again): Image Comics' trade paperback collection Rob Zombie Presents: The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (ISBN 978-1-58240-788-3; $19.99). And, just like the film that would eventually follow, this collection is absolutely not for everyone.

As writer (and narrator), Zombie brings his offbeat sense of humor into print, sarcastically (sometimes even sardonically) telling us what he thinks we should know, which is not always related to what actually unfolds before our eyes. The book presents a series of twisted, unbelievable stories with plots so jumbled even a master jigsaw puzzle solver would throw his hands in the air in defeat. But anyone who comes into a production involving El Superbeasto expecting a well-told story is very much missing the point.

The Superbeasto series is both a satire and a parody and targets everything in pop culture from very recent to very outdated, and the references fly so fast and so often that one has to be very, very knowledgeable of pop culture to possibly catch all of them. Many are hilarious, some are below the belt and just about all of them are wrong in so many ways. There are plenty who would find this book offensive just because of some of these take-no-prisoners gags, and this is before one takes into account the graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations and frequent profanity that grace its 288 pages.

The back cover warns: "Mature Readers Only!" And it isn't kidding. These comics are strictly for adults. Specifically, it's for those adults who like this sort of thing. It's for people who like goofy adventures filled with flying blood, crazy monsters, naked women and insane action. It's for people with sick senses of humor and odd taste. In other words: people like me.

This full-color graphic novel is divided into four major sections. The first section focuses specifically on El Superbeasto and his nutball adventures (including an early version of the story that would later find its way into animated form, complete with somewhat different renditions of Dr. Satan and Velvet Von Black), the second focuses on his hot eyepatch-wearing sister Suzi-X, the third on monster slayer Simon Deadmarsh (a fun character who was not lucky enough to make it into the film) and his team, and the fourth on presenting a gallery of cover art and other bonuses. Origin stories for El Superbeasto and Captain Frankenstein (a crimefighting ally of Beasto and Simon Deadmarsh) are included as well.

Several artists lend their talents to this collection, with Kieron Dwyer (whose work includes Batman and Daredevil) contributing to the largest number of stories, including the opening story featuring Dr. Satan. My personal favorite story, which comprises chapters seven through twelve of Beasto's section, is drawn by E.J. Su, whose style combines elements of Western and manga-style art in a very attractive way. (It's my understanding that Mr. Su left the business for the less-than-fulfilling industrial designer career. I have something to say to him: get back into the comic book industry! You liked it better, and we like your art! You're good at what you do; this is where you belong!) Suzi-X's adventures are drawn by Pat Boutin and Simon Deadmarsh's by Fabio Laguna (not the musician as far as I know, though I could be wrong). Laguna's art bears more of a resemblance to the art style seen in the animated film, making it feel familiar to those who have viewed it.

Zombie seems to enjoy poking fun at British culture, and just about every story has some element of this. Captain Frankenstein himself is the most obvious example, being an English rock star turned crimefighter. In one story, Suzi-X and her robot sidekick Marvin (who is noticeably not the horndog he is in the film) are surrounded by zombie Ringos sporting the classic mop-top hair, and their slang is so contagious that Marvin winds up speaking precisely like them for most of the story, which naturally drives Suzi-X insane. Another story depicts Suzi-X meeting up with Bobby Wolfgang and the Moloko Boys, who look and speak just like Alex DeLarge and the droogs ("Oh, my droogies, I've got a warm feeling down in me gulliwuts! This sweet young devotchka has got me yarbles all bunched up real horrowshow, right, right?"). Even Angus, the man-bat member of Simon Deadmarsh's team, speaks in a thick British accent.

What is likely to get the attention of most, however, is the amount of nudity and sex, which isn't quite enough to label this as a pornographic book (arguably), but may fall just shy of the mark depending on whom you ask. El Superbeasto is only too happy to dash into action and a daring escape only to turn right around and have a threesome with Ultra-Twins Mandy (the blue-haired one) and Candy (the purple-haired one), who spend nearly as much time providing us with nude scenes as Suzi-X. Simon Deadmarsh's daughter Cordelia also shows us what she's got, although in her case it's due to mind control (the reason for which is so absurd you have to see it for yourself). Anyone who has already seen (and enjoyed) the film won't be surprised by anything presented here, but those who still believe for some reason that comics are only for kids are in for quite a rude shock. As an example, I'll mention that Beasto's little threesome with Mandy and Candy really doesn't leave anything to the imagination.

The dialogue, in addition to its frequent use strong language, is notable for seldom being serious, and when the characters aren't busy contributing to the growing pile of cultural references, they're making insightful remarks at odd times or throwing out cheap insults or strange non-sequiturs. Another member of Simon Deadmarsh's team, Milo the Mighty Man of Rock, somehow manages to walk away with some of the best lines in the whole book ("I'm ready to kick this mug's ass just like my momma used to kick mine!" and "Reminds me of my momma's pea soup! I'll tell ya, that broad couldn't cook a pot of water!" being two particular favorites). Beasto himself bluntly speaks his mind in a hilarious manner, not comprehending how his honesty about favoring hedonism over saving the day could somehow hurt his superhero image ("As usual, the world crumbles as soon as I take a friggin' vacation!"). Zombie himself, however, dishes out some of the biggest laughs with how directly he acknowledges the sheer ludicrousness of it all, even going so far as to apologize for the childish words of a supposedly genius-level scientist who has just soiled his drawers.

It is worth mentioning that this book is referred to as "Volume One." This implies that there is or will be a Volume Two, but this does not look likely to materialize. This is probably the only book of El Superbeasto comics we'll ever get, and really, that's too bad. I know I wouldn't mind seeing a follow-up to this, especially if Zombie decided to get even more outrageous with it.

It's not for kids, it's not for prudes and it's not for those who take their funny books seriously. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is violent, sexual comedic excess for readers who enjoy those comics that step out of the mold. If this doesn't sound like your sort of thing, stay as far away as possible for your own good. But if this is your kind of thing, you're going to love it.

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Another great volume!

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 28 September 2011 04:05 (A review of Negima! 31: Magister Negi Magi)

....whoah. So now the secret is out. We know what the magical world really is, and we know what the non-human citizens really are. And we now know the unsolvable puzzle.

This series has come such a long way. I know I've said this before, but I have to say it again: I can't believe I ever once thought that I was never going to get into this. If I'd known the series was going to be this epic, I never would have doubted for a second. And now, here we are: on the verge of discovering what may become of Negi if the dark power within can't be tamed.

As always, the art and action are fantastic. I could never get bored reading a series like Negima! when there's so much to appreciate. In a way, though, there was something of a heaviness in me when I read this, because it feels like we passed the halfway mark somewhere back there. Since we now know many of the series' secrets and are aware of exactly what is happening and why, there can't really be too many more directions it can take us in... or can there?

I have to say that I'm still immensely curious about Zazi Rainyday. Of all the characters in the series, she's the one whose details are still the most buried, and considering what she appears to be capable of, I'd like to see her put to the test. Mainly, though, I want to find out what's up with her. Just who is she, where is she from and what are these abilities of hers? Inquiring minds want to know, Akamatsu-san!

I like how three of my favorites in Negi's class get some special time in the spotlight in this volume. Asuna is the obvious one since she's on the cover, though I can't spoil it for everyone. And Nodoka... wow, has she come far. The shy bookworm we met back in the early volumes has turned into an amazing young lady who is powerful, clever and resourceful and puts what she has learned to great use. I love how much she shines. And bringing Evangeline back in is always welcome, especially when done in that way Akamatsu-san does so well!

31 volumes. It's incredible. And we're still not done yet! I'm anxiously awaiting volume 32!

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Awesome book for Lunar fans

Posted : 8 years, 1 month ago on 25 July 2011 12:20 (A review of Lunar I/II: The Silver Star & Eternal Blue)

As a big fan of the Lunar games (especially the original Sega-CD versions), I find this book to be a little slice of heaven. Lots of gorgeous artwork and special production sketches not seen anywhere else make this a must-have for the Lunar enthusiast, even if said enthusiast only ever played one game. It is a Japanese book and thus is only available in Japanese, so bear this in mind when checking it out.

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Good read for Dirty Pair fans

Posted : 8 years, 3 months ago on 21 June 2011 01:06 (A review of The Dirty Pair Strike Again Volume 2)

Question: how do you follow up on two action-packed novellas in which clairvoyant women solve strange cases and leave considerable destruction in their wake?

If you answered "why, you write a full-length novel for those two women and turn the dial on everything up to a ten!" then you are correct. And that's just what The Dirty Pair Strike Again is: the first full-length Dirty Pair novel, and the story that kicks it up a notch.

What Dirty Pair creator Haruka Takachiho did here was to take a seemingly simple premise and layer it so effectively that there was really no way to guess what directions in which the story would go. Right from the beginning, the story is intense and filled with action, but it's not a mindless string of fights and chases. There's a major plot here, slowly unraveled as the Pair, Kei and Yuri, unwittingly get themselves in way over their heads.

Before their chief even lets them out of the starting gate, the race is on as mysterious assassins in powerful battle suits attack the WWWA and attempt to wipe out our lovely heroines. But the Dirty Pair being the Dirty Pair, they just barely worm their way out of danger, if not without a few bruises. And, of course, their fight with their strange attackers causes more than enough damage for the chief (and other citizens of planet Lyonesse) to see them off on their mission to Chakra with nothing less than absolute fury.

Chakra, a remote mining planet, has a thin crust and an unstable economy, but its inhabitants get by... or rather, they did until an invisible beast started taking big bites out of things, including the populace. The fact a miner actually survived an encounter with this creature prompted the enigmatic mayor to request WWWA Trouble Consultants. But no sooner do Kei and Yuri arrive than they find themselves under attack. And, in their usual fashion, they make enemies everywhere they go.

Not surprisingly, Kei falls for the lone city's hunky sheriff, Jeff, and competes with Yuri for his attention, while their powerful pet Mugi watches their backs. Mugi is more than just an accessory in this story; without him, Kei and Yuri would be outmatched by their unseen foe. Of course, Mugi can't do all the work, so when she's not busy fawning over Jeff, Kei manages to work together with Yuri just enough to form a plan of action. Naturally, that plan requires changes as the pieces of the puzzle slowly start to come together.

The Pair's ESP abilities are put to very good use in this story. While they were a convenient way for the duo to solve their earlier cases, here they are allowed to do more. We are given interesting examples of what powered-up espers can actually do. What follows would not happen were it not for this gift, making it feel more inspired here than it did in previous adventures.

Unlike later incarnations of the Dirty Pair, this series consistently pits them against a powerful criminal organization called Lucifer, which again is revealed to have connections to a case of theirs. This time, however, Lucifer doesn't play the sort of role one might expect, and as Kei and Yuri come ever closer to uncovering the truth, they find, surprisingly, they have bigger fish to fry.

Takachiho weaves a good, solid web of a story, saving the really big surprises for the book's final pages and keeping readers guessing right up until the climactic battle. Illustrator Yoshikazu Yasuhiko provides a handful of well-drawn pictures that give us a chance to see the action a bit more clearly. And, of course, with the story being told from Kei's perspective, we're treated to more of that amusing conceit and reactionary thought that help make the Pair's stories so much fun to read.

The only minor gripe I have is with the proofreading of the English-language version, as a couple of formatting problems and a few punctuation errors managed to make it past the editor's radar. They are glaring enough to prove distracting, but small enough that one can see why they weren't caught. Still, the translation is good and the narration and dialogue well-handled, giving the book the readability it needs to be enjoyable.

The Dirty Pair Strikes Again is an intense, solid action story that should please any Dirty Pair fan. Hopefully Dark Horse will be able to bring more of Takachiho's works to the English-language market; I suspect we'd be missing quite a lot of good stuff otherwise.

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