reileen: (music - piano & smoke)
[personal profile] reileen
Sarah Slean is a Canadian singer-songwriter, whose piano-based music tends towards a jazzy cabaret style. Or at least that what it sounds like on her fourth studio album, The Baroness, and its subsequent EP of non-album tracks, The Baroness Redecorates. I actually prefer the songs from the EP over the studio album. In particular, "Parasol" is my favorite. I have an urge to write a song called "The Stack in My Rack" in this style.

Priscilla Hernandez is a singer-songwriter (and illustrator!) who hails from Spain. Her songs from Ancient Shadows sound like a more gothic version of Enya's work. Here's "The willow's lullaby" and "Away". I'm fascinated by the music, though I need to look up the lyrics 'cause I can't understand anything she's singing (and I'm pretty sure that, despite being Spanish, she's singing in English).

The Veronicas are an Australian pop-rock duet of twin sisters whose music from their second studio album, Hook Me Up, is also strongly techno/house-influenced. I first heard part of their music two days ago, and was intrigued by the techno to go check them out, but found out that I didn't like them as much as I thought I would. I don't know if it was the music or if it was the cliched lyrics. Here's part of the song I first heard, "Untouched", which has a really nice strings arrangement in the opening. The songs reminded me of Lady GaGa's work, whose music I actually did like to a certain extent, so if you're also a fan of Lady GaGa (and perhaps Katy Perry?), you might like The Veronicas.

Finally, I swear that one day I will cover Andrew W.K.'s "Ready to Die" in the style of Yousei Teikoku. ONE DAY. *shakes fist*


Goodbye Tsugumi is a contemporary Japanese novel by Banana Yoshimoto. Maria Shirakawa is the only daughter of an unmarried woman who has lived most of her life in a little seaside town alongside her invalid cousin Tsugumi Yamamoto, who despite being an invalid has enough energy to cause grief to those around her through her abrasive words and frequent temper tantrums. Maria and Tsugumi are close friends, and when Maria's father is finally able to bring Maria and her mother to Tokyo to live there for good, Tsugumi invites Maria to spend one last summer by sea with her and her family.

I enjoyed this one, although the translation was clunky in some parts, especially for Tsugumi's really rough way of speaking. I was also pleasantly surprised that Tsugumi didn't die in the end. With Tsugumi being sick and having frequent "episodes" throughout the book, and with the English version of the title being Goodbye Tsugumi (the Japanese was just Tsugumi), it certainly leads one to believe that Tsugumi would die. That's what tends to happen in novels like these, after all.. Overall, it's a very hopeful novel, though I have to admit that at this point (having sped-read my way through the thing a week ago) I'm not entirely sure what the message was supposed to be.

Piercing by Ryu Murakami is another contemporary Japanese novel. The story revolves around Kawashima Masayuki, who is a successful graphic designer living Tokyo with his lovely wife Yoko and their newborn daughter Rie. All is not well with this family, though, for Kawashima has this overwhelming desire to stab his newborn daughter with an ice pick. (YAINORITE BEAR WITH ME, OKAY???) In order to face down this destructive desire, which has its roots in childhood trauma, Kawashima makes plans to take a solo vacation so that he can go out and kill a prostitute instead. Little does he know that the prostitute he's chosen, Sanada Chiaki, has some destructive impulses of her own that just may thwart his plans.

So, in case the whole "I WANT TO STAB MY BABY WITH AN ICE PICK" thing didn't clue you in, this is a really fucked up novel. It's sort of like the Japanese Chuck Palahniuk novel, although I'm not familiar enough with Palahniuk's work to say which one it most resembles - I've only read Haunted and Rant. But based on that, if I had to make a comparison to those two Palahniuk novels, I'd have to say that Piercing is 1) a lot more focused in its narrative (both Haunted and Rant had multiple characters and multiple layers and layers of narration going on) and 2) derives most of its visceral squick factor from copious amounts of blood, as opposed to body fluids in general which may or may not include blood (which is what Palahniuk had an affinity for doing in the two novels I read).

The other part of the book's squick factor is, of course, the fact that Kawashima wants to stabbinate his kid. But I think that the overblown treatment that this book gives to Kawashima's destructive impulses nevertheless speaks to something that we all have in us: the desire to completely destroy anything good we've built. Or hell, to destroy anything we've built, good or not, since with Sanada Chiaki, she focuses her destructive tendencies on herself. The two of them eventually recognize that they are similar people, not that either of them specifically admit that to each other. All in all, the novel ends kind of ambiguously, albeit with a very obvious reference to novel's title. I'm really kind of ambivalent about this book; I appreciate the unorthodox structure and the story that Murakami set up, but have my doubts about the resolution of it. Overall, uh, if you like/can stomach Palahniuk's work, you may want to give Piercing a try. It's short enough that I was able to get through it on a one-way train ride from Midway Airport to the Western stop on the Brown Line, which was about an hour and a half long, but I'm a decently fast reader.

Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a YA fantasy novel set in a magical Nigeria. Taking the summary from the inside cover flap because I'm lazy:

In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl - she grows her own flora computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other children in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn't afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening - something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friend determine to investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari;s life is threatened, Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.

Zahrah the Windseeker has all the charm and structure of a timeless fairytale, which makes the book somewhat predictable but very satisfying. What makes the book stand out is the non-white heroine and the non-Euro-centric worldbuilding, which is very well-done. Zahrah and Dari are likable, relatable characters as well. Highly recommended.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer I really need to summarize this one by this point? It's about a whiny whitebread American girl named Bella and her sparkly vampire love. Oh, and there's some semblance of a plot crammed into the last 100 pages that doesn't really make any sense and serves no purpose other than to underscore how ~*~*~special~*~*~ the girl is.

Two things that mildly - emphasis on mildly - redeemed the book for me:

*Bella apparently likes to read. One of the (million and hundred) things that she hates about Forks is that their local library has a poor selection of books, so she makes plans to head out of town and hit up some used bookstores in a bigger town. Not that Bella seems to read anything besides what appears on high school reading lists, and since those are classics I find it difficult to believe that even a small town like Forks wouldn't have those in stock at the library. And she loses points from me for passing up the metaphysical bookstore.

*Edward's a pianist and composer, who wrote a song for Bella. Not that this hobby of his comes up ever again in the series, based on what I've read of [ profile] cleolinda's recaps.

*For some reason, despite so many people saying that this actually happened, I didn't really notice gratuitous overusage of the word "chagrin" in Twilight. (Not saying that it didn't happen; just that I didn't notice it.) I did, however, notice gratuitous overuse of the word "smouldering", usually used to describe Edward's omgsodaaaaark eyes or his gaze or whatshit.

[ profile] vyctori: Only use the word when something is actually on fire?

*You know what makes Edward really creepy? (Besides the obvious things like following her home and watching her sleep without her knowing about it, etc., etc.) The fact that he seems to have this dual...personality or mindset or whatever of being both a creepy old guy (where he constantly claims that he knows what's best for Bella and basically condescends to her) and a typical emotionally constipated teenager ("WE SHOULDN'T BE FRIENDS BECAUSE I AM TEH DANGEROUS BUT LET'S BE FRIENDS ANYWAY EVEN THOUGH IT'LL TOTALLY BE BAD FOR BOTH OF US BUT YOUR BLOOD SMELLS TASTY LIKE FLOWERS (wait did I say that out loud O SHI)~").


Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro by Satoko Kiyuduki is - okay, can I just pause here for a moment to tell you how much I loathe the title? Most awkward translation ever. The Japanese is fairly straightforward, y'know (棺担ぎのクロ) - they could've called it Coffin Carrier Kuro, which has the benefit of alliteration. True, it's still a bit of an odd title, but it sounds more standardly manga-ish.

Anyway, Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro is about a tomboyish girl named Kuro, who travels the world looking for a particular witch. She dresses in black and carries a coffin as large as she is, with the knowledge that she may have to use it by the end of her journey. She's frequently mistaken for a witch herself, as well as a boy, a vampire, a reaper, and other spooky things, but she has a good heart and leaves an impression wherever she goes. Accompanying her are: Sen the talking bat, who tends to be the snarky and slightly irresponsible, and the mysterious catgirl twins Nijuku and Sanju, whom Kuro found one day on her travels.

Lydia lent me the first volume of this series on Friday and I read it on the train home. I really like the art, even though it's kind of generically cute. I'm less fond of the fact that this manga is done in 4-koma format, which I feel really restricts the narrative possibilities of this work. Did Kiyuduki just not want to deal with large backgrounds or something? Which I can totally sympathize with, but she draws backgrounds nicely and I don't, which makes all the difference. The chapters themselves kind of skip around in terms of story time, going forward and then backward and then forward again, but I didn't find it too hard to follow. I'm intrigued enough that I'm going to bug Lydia for the second volume - I wish I knew how many volumes there were in total of this manga so I could figure out whether I'd be left on a cliffhanger or not.

Speaking of Lydia, I was discussing the latest manga developments of Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro with her. She's a fan of the anime, but gave up on the manga partway through the current story arc with Sicks and the New Bloodline. I was way more enthusiastic than her about the Bloodline story arc, but now that we've reached chapter 198, with Matsui stating that MTNN is definitely ending soon...I'm actually finding myself increasingly dissatisfied with the way this series has gone. I'm not sure if it's a legitimate gripe or if - due to reading fanfic or just too many discussions with [ profile] kiirobon or something else - I just wanted something different.

A minor part of my gripe has to do with the fact that it seems like Matsui's art has gotten worse at this point in things. Matsui was never a technically spectacular artist, which he himself has admitted, but the story and characters were compelling enough that one could overlook some of the weirder (or scarier) depictions and regard it in the same way as one would regard a beloved, intelligent, well-spoken friend who had a tendency for wearing things like stretch velour leopard print pants with a pleather lavender faux snakeskin jacket. (Disclaimer: I actually own both of these items, but despite my leanings towards bold fashions, I have enough sense not to pair the two together.)

But with the story now smack-dab in the middle of the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, the emphasis has to be on the visuals on the fight scene. This means that distortions and wonkily-drawn parts stand out more, and potentially distract the reader from the scene. And if my shoddy memory serves me correctly, I'm not remembering any visually impressive panels from this recent fight. Usually with major fight scenes in MTNN, you get a panel or two that's drawn awesomelikewhoah and it basically encapsulates that particular fight in a nutshell. (My favorite examples include Neuro using Evil Aqua in the fight against a mind-controlled Higuchi near the end of the HAL arc and Neuro using Evil Torture against DR near the beginning of the Bloodline arc.) But that doesn't seem to be the case with Neuro vs. Sicks. It's disappointing, especially because he gave us awesome demonic weapons like Evil Aqua and Evil Torture, but now all we've got is Evil Metal, which is...I don't even know what the hell it is. A silver bullet? (LOL) Neuro turned Sicks into metal and broke him apart? Something? I mean, undoubtedly, it's gotta hurt, but it lacks that oomph of Evil Torture or Evil Aqua. Is Matsui just kind of rushing to be done with this series? Or have we just not seen the best that Neuro has to offer for this particular fight?

The other problem I'm wrestling with for MTNN is the progression of the various thematic elements in the story, the "evolution" of humans and where such evolution places them in relation to a demon like Neuro. But my thoughts are still kind of scattered on this one, and I've spent enough time typing up this long-ass entry, so I may just return to this particular theme once MTNN finishes its Shonen Jump run.

and lying to your own reflection, you thought you could hide

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-23 07:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*raises hand* I hear you on Neuro. I wasn't sure if it was just me, and I'm still behind since I'm reading the english translations as they come up, but... the latest comparison on the credits page between Higuchi's "omg no!" face and Yako's, poor scanning or whatnot, really underscored a big artistic difference in the quality of the work that I thought reflected on the turn the story has taken... I mean, some of the bloodline stuff has been interesting, but compared to even just the Hal arc, it seems like there's something missing... and I may know what it is.
Matsui said that with Sicks, his intention was to create a villain that was wholly, unabashedly evil. And I think, now that he's done so, we see precisely why that doesn't work - it's impossible to relate or empathesize with the villain in any sense of the word, since everything he does just comes across as being evil for the sake of evil. And likewise, the devotion his followers feel for him, to the point where they do anything for him (see: "You are... my god")... it just seems hollow and contrived, since there's no real reason they should feel so. Sicks is just unabashedly evil and dedicated to a one-sided destruction of humanity. I mean, on some levels I can understand that he's supposed to be the most evolved human possible
to the point where he's not even human anymore, but there hasn't really been a lot to connect that with us. It's like "Okay, this guy's evil... but that also means he's extremely one-dimensional and his every action is extremely predictable." Compare and contrast to Harakawa and Hal, who did everything out of love and whatever, and it just seems lacking.

And... yeah. >_> Random rant. Informative post though, Sora, thanks!

Appropriate icon is appropriate!

Date: 2009-03-23 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Matsui said that with Sicks, his intention was to create a villain that was wholly, unabashedly evil. And I think, now that he's done so, we see precisely why that doesn't work - it's impossible to relate or empathesize with the villain in any sense of the word, since everything he does just comes across as being evil for the sake of evil.

Even Neuro isn't evil for the sake of evil - he has tendencies and character traits that come across as very negative to humans, but we can empathize with him a little because double-N just wants some sweet snax up in da 'hood, gitwhadI'msayin'?

Harukawa/HAL had sympathetic character motivations, and so did X - he just wanted to figure out who the hell he was. But Sicks? Yeah, evil!Jesicks is evil, and he kind of makes Satan seem like Jesus' twin brother. Especially if one considers the new information about Sicks' life that just came to light in the most recent raw chapter...this guy just has nothing we can empathize with. This chapter and the recent chapters before it doesn't even have Sicks doing anything horrifically badass that make us go "holy shit that was so horrible but he looked badass doing it anyway", like in that one chapter where he invited Neuro for tea by having a guy vomit out blood in the shape of the number "6".

Although this chapter did have a pretty sweet picture of teenage!Sicks ( But that was about it.

One other thing I'm disappointed about is that we're not going to see a demonic counterpoint to Sicks and the New Bloodline arc. We're not going to see more of Neuro's demonic heritage, where he comes from, etc. and so forth, and that's really disappointing not in the least because it's Neuro who gives this series its weight. I like Yako, Sasazuka, Godai, and Akane well enough, but they come off as somewhat two-dimensional. Neuro does too, to some extent, but we tend to excuse it because, hello, mystery-eating bird demon! But what I'm trying to say is that basically we're in it - and have been in it - to see what the hell is up with NeuroNeuroNeuro. Yako, while certainly sensitive and amusing in her own right, basically serves as the reader's, um, "translator", I suppose, for these strange events involving Neuro.

People over at [ profile] nougami_neuro have started taking bets on what chapter the series is gonna end on, haha. Most people are guessing between 200 and 210. My money would probably be somewhere between 200 and 205.

Re: Appropriate icon is appropriate!

Date: 2009-03-23 10:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Really, you felt Yako was two dimensional? o.o I thought she was one of the roundest characters there... struggling with feelings of uselessness when your only ability is natural empathy and the ability to understand people (which in itself is a great inversion of magical girl powers), and makes her the perfect companion to Neuro. Not to mention her massive hungry isn't just a cute gag, but a compelling parallel to Neuro's own hunger, which in many ways dwarfs even Yako.

And lolz, teenage!Sicks looks like... X! xD
And hmm, new information about Sicks' life? I'd been wondering about that myself... can't wait to see how that turns out.
I mean, the latest chapters do have some great stuff, but it doesn't feel like it's given enough awesome in its own right, but rather just stands on past awesomes to achieve its awesome (the thing with hobo's daughter and Sicks, and especially especially, XI looking into Sasazuka's eyes - that latter page in particular was one of the most gorgeous I'd seen in a while, and a great way to wrap that up).

In many ways, I loved Matsui's style of not just relying on straight scenery pr0n, so to speak, but rather by using creativity and atypical ways of drawing to get across his ideas through symbolism or skewed drawing - recently (to me at least), Neuro as a folding paper character, stuff like that. That's what made his style so unique, and what was part of Neuro's charm. But you're right, it seems as if he has, in some ways, been slacking off on the kind of connections and extra-articular stuff that made Neuro so unique.

And now that I'm thinking of it, there have definitely been some scenes of AWESOME even relatively lately - Genuine initially discovering her killing side made the interaction between sword and blood and user look gorgeous.
But yeah, I take beef with Sicks lately - although stopping to talk to Yako after offing S was pretty badass in that he didn't mindlessly kill her, for once. >.>

Re: Appropriate icon is appropriate!

Date: 2009-03-23 10:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have mixed feelings on Yako. I do like her, yeah, but she sort of straddles the line between two-dimensional and three-dimensional for me, and I'm not sure why. And something happened in the past two or three (...can't remember, maybe it was earlier) chapters that does some really nice things for the Yako/Neuro interaction, which is why I've been struggling with how I feel about the development of certain themes throughout the series.

I really loved the Genuine flashback! But since I've been following the raw chapters, that feels like ages ago to me, lol, so that's not what I was referring to when I said there seemed to be a distinct lack of awesome panels in MTNN lately.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-23 11:05 pm (UTC)
ext_808: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I've heard such good things about Zahrah the Windseeker, now I'm really curious to read it.

Also, I'm impressed you actually got through Twilight. God knows I tried, but had to stop after a chapter because Bella annoyed me so much. Mocking Twilight is so much more fun than actually reading it, heh.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-24 01:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Zahrah the Windseeker is pretty good; I'd definitely recommend it!

And yeah, the only reason I got through Twilight was because I had a friend's copy that she lent to me, like, a year and a half ago and she's moving away this Friday, soooo I kinda have to give it back to her soon, haha.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-06 11:27 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm a fan of Priscilla's music but she's not very known and I am spanish too!! I found this looking precisely information about her :), well she does sing in english, sometimes in other languages too, rarely in spanish. She's rather friendly too, I've met her three times and I saw her once live in japanese. About "away" and "willow's lullaby" lyrics they're on the cd booklets also translated into spanish with drawings, cd was pretty with lots of drawings, but I am awaiting the new album and never comes ...grr


reileen: (Default)
Reileen van Kaile

April 2010


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