Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker

I’m not reading a lot of print books right now, but I’m glad I made time for this cute tale.  The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang is a graphic novel for all ages with charming artwork and a message about being yourself and accepting others for who they are.

The two title characters are good friends Sebastian and Frances.  By day, Sebastian is a prince whose parents are trying to make a royal match for him; by night, he is Lady Crystallia, and Frances is the dressmaker who makes Crystallia’s fashion dreams come to life with her creations.  But Sebastian is continually worried that his secret will get out, and Frances starts to worry that she will never be able to reach her full potential.

Of course, they do manage to find their way through their troubles together, leading to an entertaining happy ending.

Frances and Sebastian

The writing and art go well together, whether it’s a scene of heartfelt and endearing simplicity…

…or a scene bursting with Parisian fashion and glamour.

Although I’m not an expert on LGBT literature, I thought Sebastian’s cross-dressing/genderfluidity was handled well.  Rather than discussing labels or gender pronouns as a contemporary story might do, it comes at it from a more organic perspective, letting Sebastian and the other characters tell their own truths with plain and honest language.  Sebastian explains:

“Some days I look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘That’s me, Prince Sebastian! I wear boy clothes and look like my father.’ Other days it doesn’t feel right at all. Those days I feel like I’m actually a princess.”

I would definitely recommend checking out this charming story.  I have a feeling it will be one of the most popular graphic novels this year.

 

Advertisements

Review: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card

34713646Most fans of anime will tell you that there was a “gateway drug,” so to speak: one show that hooked them and got them into the medium of anime in general.  Ask people of my generation, and they will name shows like Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon as shows still hold a special place in their hearts.

For me, it was Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP.

From my first viewing of the terrible English dub Cardcaptors, I was hooked.  The manga, with two story arcs of six volumes each, was even better, and remains to this day my favorite manga.  I own two versions of it, a boxed set of the volumes and an omnibus edition.  If you like magical girl anime, it doesn’t get any better than CCS.

When I heard a few months ago that CLAMP was putting out new volumes of Cardcaptor Sakura, I screamed so loud my husband came to ask me what was wrong.  Wrong?  Nothing’s wrong!  This is only the best day of my life!

happy cardcaptor sakura GIF

The first volume of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is now available in English, with more to follow in the next months, and the anime is currently running in simulcast on Crunchyroll and in “simuldub” on Funimation.  I have not seen the anime yet, but I devoured the first manga volume when I got it for my birthday recently.

The Clear Card story arc picks up exactly where the Sakura Card story arc left off.  The first chapter expands on the last scene of the last manga, where Syaoran surprises Sakura on her way to middle school, saying he’s returned to Tomoeda to stay for good.

20180131_104255.jpg
S+S shippers rejoice!

The story continues in a very familiar fashion, hiting all the typical Cardcaptor Sakura beats: a mysterious figure appearing in Sakura’s dreams, strange forces working in Tomoeda, new cards (this time they are transparent), a new, upgraded staff, and of course new costumes made by Tomoyo-chan!  All of Sakura’s friends and family are back as well.  I like that it has such a familiar feel, and I can’ wait to see what twists and turns are coming as the story develops more.  What secrets are Syaoran and Eriol keeping?

The artwork remains absolutely gorgeous.  There are so many beautiful large panels and two page spreads that really let you appreciate the art.

20180131_104441.jpg
Release!

I really enjoyed the experience of reading this volume, because for me it was the first time reading a CCS manga without having seen the anime first.  I’m sure I will watch the anime soon, maybe even before reading more volumes, but it was kinda fun to have an “all new” manga to read.

The only thing I found slightly jarring was the incorporation of modern technology in the story, like smart phones, email, and texting.  While it was worked seamlessly into the story, it was just surprising to me because the story takes place immediately after the original volumes which were produced in the 90s and therefore barely had the concept of primitive mobile phones. So it was a big jump forward in technology with no jump forward in time.  However, I don’t think they could have handled it any better and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

Basically, it’s just wonderful to be back in the CCS world after fifteen years away.  And this volume has only just whet my appetite for more.  This is just the beginning!

cardcaptor sakura cerberus GIF

Review: V for Vendetta (graphic novel)

V title page
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.

V for Vendetta, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, was originally published in the 1980s, but my recent reading revealed that it still has strong current relevance.  My rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

In a future Britain, war has led to societal collapse, and a fascist government has taken control, using fear to rule via surveillance programs and detention camps for undesirables.  Enter Codename: V, a terrorist with a penchant for bombs and knives who dedicates his life to overthrowing the government and restoring freedom to the people through anarchy.

screenshot_2016-10-18-20-31-04V typically wears a Guy Fawkes mask, referencing a member of the Gunpowder Plot that attempted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605.  V clearly sees himself as a contemporary Fawkes and does in fact blow up several London landmarks including Parliament and 10 Downing Street.  The Guy Fawkes mask has recently been co-opted by the hacker group Anonymous, which loosely shares V’s anti-censorship/pro-civil liberties views. The masks are frequently seen at protests, making a statement in addition to hiding identities.

The 2006 movie adaptation tones down the fascist-anarchist themes, instead targeting a US audience that was learning how to live in a post-9/11 world.  I absolutely love this movie, and I think it’s one of the best comic book movies ever made.  The cast, particularly Hugo Weaving as V, is wonderful.  There are some changes from the source material, some good, some not.

Take the character of Evey for example.  We meet her in the first pages of the graphic novel as a sixteen-year-old going out to begin prostituting herself; she then forms romantic attachments to two adult men over the course of the story.  To me, this screams “female character written/seen through male perspective.”  (I don’t think the other females characters fare much better in this regard.)  Hence I prefer Natalie Portman’s version of Evey, questionable accent included, because she has more independence and agency to start with.  But does that perhaps lessen the necessity and impact of the “re-education” that V puts her through?

Similarly, in the graphic novel we get a much better picture of the workings of the government.  Each branch is detailed: the Mouth sends out propaganda, the Ear does surveillance, the Nose investigates, etc.  And the Leader, very much a flat character in the movie, is given some interesting development.  But the movie also streamlines many of the government characters and plots that I found a bit confusing in the novel.  After a bit, a lot of white men in suits start to look alike.  Detective Finch also gets a slightly more heroic character arc in the movie, which I think lends more optimism to the ending.

Now, I posted this today specifically for several reasons.  First, because Saturday is the 5th of November, so that felt appropriate.  Second, because the US is about to have an election, and this story has a whole lot to say about the relationship between the government and its people.

Those following the presidential election here will understand why I did a serious double take on the second page, where a minister in the fascist government espouses his desire to “make Britain great again.”

make Britain great again

Can you believe that something written in the 80s has such relevance today?  V for Vendetta is explicitly saying that the politicians that use this kind of rhetoric are also the kind that rule by fear, the kind that curb our civil liberties, the kind that persecute minorities for the sake of “strength” and “unity.”

Further, if these are the politicians in power, V asks, whose fault is that?  Only our own.

So I will conclude by simply saying: please go vote next Tuesday and have your say in our government, without having to blow up anything at all.

If you really want to hear more about Alan Moore’s opinions on current politics, check out his interesting recent interview here.

One last, more frivolous note: I’ve started reading comics on my Kindle Fire, and it’s really pretty good.  You can double tap a panel to enlarge it, which is super important in a comic like V for Vendetta where there’s all kinds of details in the backgrounds.  I also have access to a lot of digital comics for free from my public library through Overdrive; if you live in Ohio, check it out here.  I think I’m going to try Fables next.

Review: Runaways (v1)

So going along with my well-established love of stories about teenagers with superpowers comes the collected first volume of Marvel’s Runaways.  I picked it up because I love love love the writer Brian K. Vaughan’s current work Saga, and the premise sounded interesting: what if you discovered as a teenager that your parents really were evil?

runawaysI totally devoured this in a weekend, and there’re just so many things to love about it.  Great character design, quirky humor, drama and plot twists, and small nods to the wider Marvel universe.

The cast of characters is so great it’s hard to pick a favorite.  Gertrude, Nico, Alex, Chase, Karolina, and Molly decide to band together and run away from home when they discover their parents are all part of some sort of the secret evil organization.  They all have special abilities and items, from pet velociraptor to magic staff to alien psychedelic flight.  But one or more of them may actually have ulterior motives…

Nico Minoru

I particularly enjoyed the four female Runaways, and I especially gravitated toward Nico Minoru, aka Sister Grimm.  Maybe it has something to do with the Asian goth vibe she has, like Scarlet Witch meets an anime magical girl.  She’s smart and loyal, has great fashion sense, and her magic is interesting with potential to be really powerful.

This volume is really great because it compiles the first 18 issues of the comic, which is a complete story arc.  So the volume is a completely self-contained story, and you don’t need to read any other comics at all to enjoy it.

I would also give a special shoutout to issues 11 and 12, which were drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa in a slightly more anime style and feature a story arc with Cloak and Dagger, two Marvel characters who were themselves young runaways.  I really loved meeting these two and am looking forward to their upcoming TV show on the Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family).

5 / 5 stars

Review: I am Princess X

17408897I am Princess X is the YA debut of steampunk author Cherie Priest.  I happened to stumble upon it at the library after seeing it recommended by some bloggers.

May is a young teenager living in Seattle with her parents when her best friend Libby dies in a tragic car accident.  Three years later she’s back in Seattle with her dad when she begins to notice street art featuring Princess X, a character that she created with Libby as children.  She becomes convinced that Libby is still alive and, what’s more, is sending her secret messages through the popular webcomic, I am Princess X.

This book is a fascinating mix of novel and graphic novel; it regularly features whole strips from the Princess X comic as May tries to dissect its secrets and discover Libby’s true fate.  The artwork is incredible and fits the story perfectly.  I felt like there was some manga influence in the drawing style and layout, which works thematically, considering that Libby originally conceived Princess X as looking like herself (half-Japanese) and wielding a katana.

The setting is contemporary and urban, but the Princess X comic features a lot of fantasy elements.  I loved the crossover between real-life Seattle and the fantasy world of Silverdale, home of Princess X.  It adds a layer of surrealness (surreality? someone help me out here) to the mystery/thriller aspect of the story.

This story is not long, and it’s so engaging that I read it straight through in one evening.  The plot unfolds beautifully, everything in its place, though perhaps a bit simple and convenient at times.  The “hacking” and other tech elements of the story are perhaps not perfect, but they’re not laughably bad either.

The characters are great, too (Jackdaw was my favorite).  Princess X’s antagonist, The Needle Man, is rather scary in his ruthlessness.  I liked that our teenage protagonists do their best to be brave and smart, but they do make mistakes; they don’t have any kind of special powers or training.  It was also refreshing to see a YA story with multiple female main characters and no romance subplots.

4/5 stars