Book Review: A Silent Voice

A Silent Voice

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima

A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi, also translated The Shape of Voice) is not the type of story I normally write about, but I found it so powerful that I’m going to make an exception. A Silent Voice is a manga by Ooima Yoshitoki. If you don’t read manga or have never read manga, you might be surprised by this story. Note that a major part of manga is visual, and you read the images and text from the right to left. The visual nature of the storytelling allows for a lot of information to be received through images, which works particularly well in A Silent Voice, since a primary character is deaf. But the story isn’t really about being deaf. It’s not even about being either a bully or bullied, which is a primary plot focus. The story is about being a person on the outside–someone who is not part of the group. As the story develops and changes, it becomes more and more of a question as to whether someone can ever be forgiven or redeemed for the bad things they’ve done in their past.

Minor spoilers in the next paragraph as I give a basic plot picture.

A Silent Voice begins in late grade school upon the arrival of a new student, Shoko Nishimiya, who is deaf. The protagonist, Shoya Ishida, is a very unhappy boy who commits a continual series of risky behavior because “life is a war against boredom.” He immediately begins bullying Nishimiya, demonstrating truly repulsive behavior and gathering bullying accomplices. However, the tables turn after Nishimiya transfers and Ishida becomes the object of bullying. He is marked as a bad egg, even worse for having picked on Nishimiya, and none of his personal complaints are believed by those in authority. Time passes and Ishida tracks down Nishimiya again, searching for absolution of a sort, but perhaps simply seeking out someone else who was always separate like him. Slowly a group is gathered representative of individuals on both sides of the bullying line. Some hurt and feel they’ve made up for it, while some feel they never can or that they never did anything wrong. Others were hurt and feel they should now hurt in return or that it was somehow their fault all along for being hurt. Others rewrite their memories, insisting they never did anything wrong to begin with. Taken together these individuals allow for a thematic exploration of whether someone can ever truly be forgiven for or move past the shadows of their past.

A Silent Voice began as a one-shot release in Bessatsu Shoonen Magazine and then was written out into seven volumes of manga (in non-manga terms, consider that a short story transformed into a novel). Crunchyroll has the North American release rights; you can follow that link for access to the translated manga. The 2015 Kono Manga ga Sugoi! guidebook, which is created by hundreds of manga publishing professionals, has ranked A Silent Voice as the top pick for male readers. The final volume of A Silent Voice was released last month and within the cover announced that A Silent Voice will be made into a feature anime film–more details about when the feature film will be available have not yet been announced.

Individual isolation and bullying are certainly major issues today. While Nishimiya may be the central character of appeal for many readers, I was particularly drawn in by Ishida’s faceted nature and growth. Between the characters and the themes, I think readers will find something to capture their interest. I strongly recommend this story. I believe it’s one I will remember for the rest of my life.

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Book Review: Cruel Beauty

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge; This cover is terrific. The rose suggests Beauty and the Beast, while the entwined staircase suggests a mystery and its modern styling suggests a spin off the Gothic tale

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge; This cover is terrific. The rose suggests “Beauty and the Beast,” while the entwined staircase indicates a mystery and its modern styling hints at something new.

Cruel Beauty combines old tales with new twists. The heart of the story is “Beauty and the Beast,” with Nyx (Beauty) being surprisingly and perhaps refreshingly mean. From childhood Nyx has known that she must marry a monster and intends to kill him. Her world is built upon Hermetic magic, and the puzzle of the monster and Nyx revolves around this magic as much as it circles Pandora’s jar (so delightfully remaining a wax-stoppered jar rather than the now widely known and mistranslated “box”). It also revolves around a melange of classic myth and fairy tales. “Bluebeard,” “Rumplestiltskin,” and “Fitcher’s Bird” all play primary roles. Pandora and Persephone are perhaps the leading names in an absolute parade of Greek myth name dropping and story layering. The entire book felt like a game of “I Spy.” Mixed with story references are ideologies–a daemon here, a medieval magic system there–revealing an author with a firm background in medieval studies and occidental myth. From one perspective Cruel Beauty can be seen as a fairy-tail themed fantasy aimed at young adults (melodrama alert), but from another it’s an absolute treasure chest of mythical, fairy tale, and medieval references.

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Mad Happy (from Fairy Tail)

"Mad Happy," watercolor & ink

“Mad Happy,” 4″ x 6″ watercolor & ink

I was utterly delighted when I saw Happy from Fairy Tail strike this pose. If you’re familiar with this scene, you may notice that Charle is missing. Yup. Not an accident.

sketch

Happy sketch

I began with a fairly quick sketch. I set a single vanishing point right in the middle of Happy’s bared teeth, and that worked to pull together the background. Yes, I see that the railing is incomplete. I was sketching one day and painting another and I guess I decided on the painting day that the sketch was done when it really wasn’t.

In color, I really liked the dramatic and incredibly rounded face shadow on Happy that suggested a downturned head with lighting from above and behind. The weird part was that the lighting was coming from the right, through the arches. I decided what-the-hell and went for the cartoon mix. In the screen capture, all of Happy’s shading suggested the same lighting from above and behind. I kept it except for the big shadow on the tail where it should be getting the most light. I just couldn’t do it. That was pretty much the extent of my compromise.

This one is cropped like the screen capture.

This one is cropped like the screen capture.

The screen shot has more drama with Happy overflowing the boundaries. I like his little feet, though, so I’m not sure if I’ll crop my painting.

Sad Happy
Happy Happy

 

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Sad Happy (from Fairy Tail)

"Sad Happy," mixed media

“Sad Happy,” mixed media

Here’s Happy from Fairy Tail looking sad. I worked from a screen shot of the image, dropping the background. I have no excuses this round about my blue being less than ideal. (Click for a happy Happy and excuses.) I know watercolor blue lifts very easily. For the non-painters, I just mean you can take the color back off easily by brushing it with water. I wanted a bold cerulean blue, so I intended to paint several layers, but subsequent layers tended to lift previous layers. My round brushes were particularly streaky, so I switched to a flat, which, of course, wouldn’t work in the nooks and crannies. I used Cotman’s blue, which is a student grade paint made by Windsor & Newton. I only have a couple tubes of Cotman’s and the Payne’s gray is so separated and awful that I vowed to evade Cotman’s forevermore. I don’t know if I can blame Cotman’s for this, though–seems like user error. I have another cerulean by a brand named Soho, which is so cheap I’m a little afraid of it. My Soho blacks are chalky and clumpy, but after vigorous mixing they seem alright. Maybe I could try Happy in another blue.

Blue aside, I received an early birthday present of Faber-Castell pens. (Hurray!) It’s a set of eight Pitt pens, the wallet set. I used the smallest size (XS) for my outlining. I need to get better at speed lines to keep the widths the same. When I wobbled too much, I tried to hide it with a thicker line, which might be worse than leaving the wobble. I’ll just have to keep practicing. I used the widest round-tip pen in the set for the eyes, and by the end there was a piece of marker string trailing like a loose hair on a paintbrush. I don’t know if that was a fluke or a sign that the pens aren’t so super after all. I really liked the idea of avoiding the need to deal with cleaning and changing ink cartridges, which just might be the only way of having and using true art pens.

After the outlining, some of the shading looked even paler than before, and the blush lines on Happy’s cheeks and nose had pretty much disappeared. I had painted over the blue with a fine brush using predominantly alizarin crimson, but it wasn’t nearly bold enough. Using watercolor pencils, I added lines, but I didn’t add water to them, so they’re really just pencil lines. I also traced a shadow line around the interior of the eye outline because the starkness was just wrong and the shading I had used before, again, had become too pale against the contrast of the black ink.

There you have it–sad Happy, runny nose and all.

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Book Review: Shifting Shadows

Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs; Cover art by Dan Dos Santos--Normally I totally love any cover by Dos Santos, but this one struck me as a bit too passive and generic, which may have been a bit of the goal since it's a collection of stories, mostly without Mercy in them.

Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs; Cover art by Dan Dos Santos–Normally I totally love any cover by Dos Santos, but this one struck me as too passive and generic, which may have been a bit of the goal since it’s a collection of stories, mostly without Mercy in them.

Shifting Shadows is a collection by Patricia Briggs of stories set in her Mercy Thompson world. I suppose if you’re a bigger fan of the short story than the novel this could be the place for you to start reading about Mercy’s world, but really Shifting Shadows is meant to deliver the more, more, more that Briggs’ fans want.

Shifting Shadows consists of ten short stories and two outtakes from Silver Borne and Night Broken–to clarify, these are not scenes from those books, but scenes not included in those novels. Of the short stories, four have never been published before. Briggs assures us that this collection contains every Mercy Thompson story written to date, so this is a way to have them all in one place. Each story is preceded by commentary from Briggs clarifying why that story was written and where it fits within the timeline of the novels.

As aways, I was delighted with Briggs’ work. It’s hard not to gush. The stories are wonderful–I love her writing. Instead of prolonged praise, I’ll give you a quick idea of what each story is about.

Silver: “Silver” tells about Samuel and Bran becoming werewolves and meeting Ariana. It’s the saddest tale in the set, but we know what happens later.

Fairy Gifts: “Fairy Gifts” tells of the son of Chinese immigrants in Butte, Montana. Thomas encounters a vampire and a faery in a story of hate, revenge, and love. You know Briggs makes it feel good in the end.

Gray: “Gray” is a ghost-vampire love story set in Chicago.

Seeing Eye: “Seeing Eye” tells of Tom meeting Moira as he searches for his kidnapped, undercover brother.

Alpha and Omega: “Alpha and Omega” is the story of Charles meeting Anna, and the only story in the collection I had already read. I liked it so much I had hunted down a used copy of Alpha & Omega, the SFBC edition that included this short story plus Hunting Ground, Cry Wolf, and Fair Game.

The Star of David: “The Star of David” tells David Christiansen’s story of his daughter, who had never wanted to see him again, calling him up for a favor and possibly redemption.

Roses in Winter: “Roses in Winter” is a really terrific story (I’m holding back on the gushing) of the Moor and Kara, the child who was turned too young into a werewolf–her father appealed to Mercy for help about his daughter in Blood Bound.

In Red, with Pearls: “In Red, with Pearls” is a mystery told from Warren’s perspective that begins with an attack on Kyle.

Redemption: “Redemption” is told from Ben’s perspective and shows him uncomfortably reacting to the need to protect one of his coworkers. Briggs includes a bet with Adam that Ben can’t avoid cursing for a certain length of time to avoid what would have been the otherwise obligatory curse every other word of the narrative.

Hollow: “Hollow” is the only Mercy story in the bunch. Mercy takes on a ghost case after the events in Night Broken.

Silver Borne Outtake: This scene shows Samuel and Ariana together.

Night Broken Outtake: This scene shows Adam and Coyote in the hospital.

If you like Mercy and Anna’s world, then you really should read these (along with everything else Briggs has written).

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Lap Dragon

Lap Dragon with Pixie

“Lap Dragon with Pixie,” 7.5″ x 6″ watercolor, Kirito, Pina, and Yui from SAO II 

Winter is coming–the forecast predicts a night of ice and snow. What better time could there be for a feathery, blue lap dragon? And if that wasn’t enough, his blue fluffiness is cushioning a slumbering pixie. When this image appeared in last week’s Sword Art Online I thought I might just die of the cuteness. Kawaii!!

Pina and Yui

Pina, Yui, and Kirito

For those not aware, that’s our hero Kirito in his tell-tale black taking a nap in his cabin with Pina the dragon and Yui the sometimes pixie. 

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Sword Art Online: Sinon

Sinon in watercolor

Sinon in watercolor

As far as currently running anime go, my favorite is Sword Art Online. My favorite female character in SAO is Sinon, pictured above with her fabulous green-blue hair and eyes. Sinon appears in Sword Art Online II.

Sword Art Online begins as an online game that goes wrong. Players log into the game using head gear that puts them in a brand new type of full-sensory virtual reality, which consists of an entire fantasy world. Players can experience a complete fantasy life, engaging in adventures or setting up house. At least that’s the idea. But as soon as hoards of excited gamers log in, the Game Master removes their ability to log out. The only way to return to the real world, he explains, is to defeat the one hundred floors of the game. If a player dies in the game, that player dies in real life. If a family member unplugs that player, then the player dies in real life. As players begin dying, survivors must quickly adapt to the lifestyle and dangers of the virtual world. Those eager to escape press forward, facing increasingly difficult obstacles. Others take advantage of a world without law, and others simply give up.

Kirito is the hero of SAO. Kirito is predominantly calm and collected. He earnestly wishes to do the right thing, and as he battles against the difficulties of SAO, he uses his brain, skills, and brawn to move forward–he’s a very likable character. Kirito decides that it’s his responsibility–along with that of other capable players–to clear all of the floors and save everyone, especially those incapable of taking on major battles. Kirito begins as the classic loner, but as the story progresses, he accrues friends and allies, most notably Asuna, a leader of one of the organized fighting groups.

Sword Art Online has been a major fan success. The characters are engaging, the anime artwork is beautiful, and the story has depth and originality. After the initial story arc completed, new ones were added, including new virtual worlds and dangers. Along with the traditional fantasy world of SAO, there is a world built on Nordic and Celtic myth, called Alfheim Online (ALO). Characters in ALO select a fairy creature for their avatar, so familiar faces change somewhat, particularly with the addition of elf or cat ears. The myth smash-ups in ALO make my head want to explode, but the story’s still fun. Gun Gale Online (GGO) offers a post-apocalyptic looking world full of guns and mercenaries, but our hero manages to bring the SAO feel back by picking up a GGO-version of a light saber. Sword Art Online began as a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara. Along with the anime, SAO is also available in manga form. I’m sure we’ll continue to see new worlds for as long as the fan base is eager and the writer is writing.

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Happy from Fairy Tail

Happy, watercolor and pen

“Aye, Sir!” Happy, watercolor and pen

Here’s Happy, the flying cat from Fairy Tail. I painted him at night when the light wasn’t so great, so I deserve the splotchy blue I created. Also, I’m an utter newbie with pen AND I grabbed a size larger than I thought I had, so I about swallowed my tongue when I started drawing with it. Still, Happy just makes you want to smile, doesn’t he? I like him, but my husband thinks he’s mean.

Fairy Tail is an anime that isn’t really based on fairy tales. Instead, the story is set in a world of magic. Magic users join guilds and take on jobs posted at their guilds. Fairy Tail is the name of one guild, and Fairy Tail follows the adventures the characters of that guild pursue. It’s a light-hearted, child-friendly series that’s just plain fun.

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Book Review: Hell Bent

Hell Bent by Devon Monk

Hell Bent by Devon Monk: This is another cover that did not work for me. Generally speaking, person-with-gun on cover equals an instant rejection. Devon Monk’s name is the reason I read the back jacket copy. Counter to the cover, guns do not dominate in the fighting within the story. It would have been way cooler to see artwork illustrating the protagonist’s ability to destroy anything around him. In fact, he has to work hard not to.

Hell Bent is the first book in Devon Monk’s Broken Magic series, which focuses on some minor characters from her Allie Beckstrom series. You don’t need to have read them in order to read Hell Bent. Just know that some minor characters in Hell Bent get special moments now and then because they’re major characters in the Allie Beckstrom series.

Back to Hell Bent.

Hell Bent is that rare urban fantasy with a male protagonist, Shamus Flynn, and possibly even aimed at a male audience. Within a firmly gritty atmosphere, Shame notches the stakes up to downright abrasive. He’s so dislikable that you wonder why you kind of like him. Shame is a death magic user, and it becomes more and more clear that his magic is doing something to him that causes him to act like an addict. Shame zones in and out without realizing it, and his difficulties with other people have a great deal to do with the fact that he really doesn’t want to suck the very life out of them–except that’s just what his magic wants to do.

Shame is a breaker. Only when two magic users are soul complements do breakers exist, and their magic is deadly. Shame’s breaker partner is Terric Conley, a life magic user whom Shame has been avoiding for years. However, the government has discovered breaker potential and is hunting down breakers for use as weapons. People Shame cares about are being targeted, and an assassin Shame would rather kiss than kill is on his tail. As the plot heats up, Shame must foster the death magic within him while somehow managing not to kill the people he’s trying to protect.

Monk’s voice is really strong in Hell Bent. Shame is a very distinct protagonist. In the first chapters I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep reading about such a jerk, but Monk revealed just enough reasons why he might be acting the way he was acting to keep me curious and reading.

The story is set in Portland, with a focus on NoPo, although the characters get around town. Shame is a hard drinking, heavy smoking, quickly killing kind of guy. His breaker partner is a gay graphic designer, and most soul complements are couples. While Shame has difficulty carrying on a regular conversation with someone, Terric has been running a high-level city position and covering for Shame’s multi-year hiatus from work. In this world and time, breakers “break” magic in order to accomplish magical wonders, but it becomes increasingly clear that something else about Shame is broken, too, and possibly-maybe Terric is broken as well.

The protagonist’s name caught my attention. My brother’s name is Seamus, so at first I was just weirded out by how wrong the spelling was, but I also had a really hard time believing–I still haven’t–that anyone named Seamus would accept the nickname Shame. Even if the person would embrace that name, how could their friends call them that? It was jarring enough to constantly remind me that this was fiction in a way that people flinging about magic just didn’t do. I imagine the nickname was supposed to tie into the character’s darker feelings, but…

If you’re genuinely looking for a gritty urban fantasy, Hell Bent delivers.

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Werewolves: A Painting

Werewolves (12"x10") is a watercolor based on the artwork of Francis Tsai

Werewolves (12″x10″) is a watercolor based on the artwork of Francis Tsai

I love the writing of Patricia Briggs and lately I’ve been paying more attention to graphic novels as I’ve recently taken the plunge into manga. It only made sense that I pick up the graphic novel representations of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series. (I confused myself a fair amount on the first book by reading–or trying to read–it from right to left–it actually took me a couple pages of wondering at the incongruities before I could break free of my own idiocy. Baka!) Amongst the books, I immediately and strongly preferred Mercy Thompson Homecoming, the graphic novel of an original story, over the remakes of her regular novels. It’s hard not to compare two versions of the same story, and my love for the originals runs deep, so it would have really taken a lot to for a remake of any kind to shine nearly as bright. I also preferred the artwork of Homecoming, which was done by Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo. (The covers are by Dan Dos Santos. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a definite weakness for picking up books with covers by Dos Santos. I can’t quite seem to help it.)

I added glow around the wolves eyes.

I added glow around the wolves’ eyes. At first I didn’t want to go with the square teeth, but then I decided they added a bit more were to the wolf, so I kept them square. I kind of love that his ears are glowing even without obvious back light. Minor regret: I wish I’d angled the head to the side a bit more like Tsai had. Mine isn’t nearly as menacing. Note to self: there is much power in the angle of the head.

One of the most impressive things to me about comic art is how they work the perspective. The first two pages of Homecoming are really engaging. Page one shows several shots of open landscape in four thin panels. The bottom panel involves looking down at a chain link fence. Turn the page and you have a full spread that I attempted to remake in the image at the top. The biggest difference (besides skill level) is that Tsai was not using watercolors and achieved much darker images, the wolves coming at you in menacing black with the background all sketchy, blotchy fabulousness–and a smooth, glowing moon. I really like how his design achieves a sense of “Oh, shit!” because the monsters are on you NOW.

Rarr!

Full size, although the photo isn’t as clear as it could be. I like how splotchy his body turned out, but I don’t think I got the watercolor dark enough to merit the push off foot being the same shade as the fence pole. Ah, another regret.

Not until I looked at Tsai’s painting did I realize the true perspective potential of a chain link fence. Toss hundreds of pounds of werewolf on a fence, and it’s going to bend. Want some diagonal lines to indicate action? Want some odd perspective to make the viewer feel off balance? Use a chain link fence being vaulted across by werewolves! A little moonlight supplies a gleam to one side of the metal and suddenly with the simplest lines they’ve got clear depth and connectivity with the overall image. I have never felt so much warmth towards a chain link fence! I admit, I drew parts of it over and over. I decided to freehand it for irregularity in the smash up, but I wasn’t sure how best to bend it. I wanted it more bent up than the original, mostly just because it seemed fun, but then I decided to quit playing around before I messed up my paper.

I used a white gel pen to highlight over the watercolor.

I used a white gel pen to highlight over the watercolor. This one claimed to be a .4 but it was the same size as the .8 that I also picked out. Ah, well. Maybe I’ll get my hands on a thinner white next time.  I really like how malformed the werewolf on the right is. He is an amalgam of man and wolf, distorted into the monster you see before you. The wolf to the left has a lovely coat of ivory black–warmer than the others–and his glowing eyes and wolf teeth both came out nicely.

I took longer on this project than average as I determined how I would try to do various things, but I liked seeing it on the easel. They look so fierce! I’d see them and go “Rarr!” which brought up a recurring discussion with my husband. He doesn’t think “Rarr!” is appropriate for werewolves. But I don’t think they’re in howl mode. They’re in eat-you mode. Rarr!

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