Dresden Files (book series)

Dresden Grave PerilThe Dresden Files is a series of books about a magical detective in Chicago, in modern times, written by Jim Butcher. Its an exploration of a number of fables and folklore associated with magic. Most of it is European origin, but there’s also some other parts incorporated into the mish-mash, as best the author could combine them. It doesn’t always make a great story, or hold together coherently, and the author freely advises new readers to skip the first two books (Storm Front and Fool Moon) and go to #3 Grave Peril. The writing is considerably better and more consistent at that point, and he gets better as they go.

However, while this is a series which builds on events and you need to read them in order, eventually you’re going to reach a natural stopping point, and you’ll know when that is. You really will. At that point the books and setting kind of go off the rails, and while its only halfway through the predicted duration of 24-30 books total, I get the idea that Butcher is getting tired of these characters, and a bored writer is unproductive, and tends to get sloppy too. I speak from personal experience there. He signed a contract but its probable these books will be some time coming. After the initial flurry of a book every 24 months, and an exploration of a few topics or folklore or religion in each story, he started writing other stuff as a distraction, probably more fun for him to do and fun writing is easy to write. It doesn’t drag at you. The Dresden Files starts fun and irreverent and is enjoyable horror-fiction. The books after the big change in the setting have been a bit of a slog, and like with Iain Banks, you have to understand, as a reader, that FINISHING the series isn’t actually necessary if it isn’t fun.

potter vs dresdenI encourage people who grew up reading the Harry Potter books, this is the grown-up version, though it was started at the same time as that other series. It was NOT inspired by it, in case you wondered. It references it and Buffy in the course of the books. Potter never references Buffy or Dresden, but Rowling went for timeless rather than timely. And now we know Whedon was a #fake feminist, sleeping with his underaged stars, according to his ex-wife and confirmed by some of the actors from that show. The only annoying feature of Dresden Files is Jim Butcher is a serious Christian and sometimes he gets preachy. There’s also a certain amount of repetition for new readers to understand some setting aspects, like the Soul Gaze. I personally think he should have left that out, but that’s what he chose to include so he’s stuck with it.

dresden filesI can’t recommend the Dresden Files TV series. It isn’t terrible, but its kind of low budget and only lasted a short season, suffering from bad ratings. It covers parts of Storm Front and Fool Moon (lite versions) in it, at least. But its flawed. Harry Dresden is played by an actor about 15 years too old though he’s good at getting the world weary feel. The special effects are inexpensive and don’t age well, so the series ends up more like Sabrina the Teenage Witch than the darker Dresden Files books.

That said, I think this series would make a great American Anime show. There’s already work being done to re-release the books as comics, and they’re quality work. A season or half season per book plus the intervening short stories and side stories? This would be great if animated like Heavy Metal or one of the more ornate Japanese gothic shows like Trinity Blood or Last Exile. Stylish and dark and churning with voice actors who emote properly, like the Japanese do. Not one-take wonders who end up flat.

James MarstersThe audiobooks of the novels are excellent. James Marsters, who played Spike in the Buffy TV series, reads them, complete with voices. Its top-quality work. You have to hear it to realize its him. You got so used to the English accent. This was careful training, btw. He’s a California boy, from Chico if the site I read was accurate. Wherever he’s from he’s still working and is a really great voice actor and I respect the heck out of him.

I think if Dresden Files become an anime it will be popular and if done with quality, receive critical support in the post-Hollywood era we’re entering. All those superhero movies wear on you, and I’m utterly disinterested in paying for yet another ticket that’s way too expensive for something which isn’t honest about what it is. When movies are 80% cartoons, why not go the remaining 20%? Marvel and DC did those BEFORE they got the big budget treatment with Miramax and Disney. I’d enjoy watching Dresden Files as part of Adult Swim or Netflix or Amazon animated content. Why the heck not?



No-rinNo-Rin is the story of a voice idol singer who gets sick of the whole thing and at the top of her career suddenly QUITS. And then she turns up as a student at an agriculture high school outside Tokyo (200 miles west in Gifu province, which is boonies), a feeder for the University in Moyashimon, which despite appearances is “in” Tokyo. Its just weird that way. Tokyo is HUGE. More than 100 miles across.

The singer becomes an agriculture student, working with other students growing tomatoes and learning about food crops and soil health on the student test fields. Its a pretty fascinating story because the male hero thinks she’s there for him, because he sent her a box of veggies (several times) right before she quit and she said it changed her mind about her career. Only, it is more complicated. The other characters are interesting and cleverly written moe characters and weirdoes so its entertaining.

No-Rin is worth watching because it is pretty, interesting, educational about real-world farming issues, and a genre buster. This is not a harem anime. And the hero doesn’t win her over like you’d think. It has a surprise ending I won’t spoil. It is currently hosted on Crunchyroll.com.

Last Fam Blood Trinity Exile

So you should be aware that anime is more willing to take risks, especially when it comes to scifi. There are actually a whole bunch of them about colony ships, properly known as generation ships.

Vash StampedeTrigun is about a largely failed colony ship fleet which eventually crash landed on a desert planet without any serious preparation so it isn’t very good for life, and the population somehow only retained information from the Old West, so build their social structure on that, including clothes and guns and buildings. Except for the fact that they’ve got some weird giant light bulb things which makes water and power, so they can have settlements and not just die. Trigun is actually a pretty serious show despite all the goofy moments, and takes much of its design and plots from Ruroni Kenshin, aka Samurai X. Trigun has great characters, because its from the old days when that still mattered and it wasn’t all repeats of last season. Stun Gun Millie, Derringer Merrill, Wolf, Vash The Stampede, Knives. These are fun characters and well acted, even if the show is 20 years old.

Trinity BloodThere’s a remake of Trigun called Trinity Blood, which is about a colony ship which gets recalled before its launched and its crew are wandering around on Earth, but because they were enhanced by mutated/modified nanotech have destroyed much of the old world governments and reforged something like the Western and Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church, and infighting between them. With monsters and evil priests and various horrific battles. It isn’t very long because its an obvious copy of Trigun.

Wolfs Rain is about a planet which got its ship settled down, but there’s been modified crew, once more, running around disturbing their perfect world. The revolutionaries have a very similar path and characters to those of the captain in Last Exile.

DearS gndDearS is about an alien colony ship whose crew dies on the way to Earth, which they didn’t realize was populated. They land in Tokyo Bay, and get admitted into Japan under the refugee act, causing various amounts of trouble as they try to make themselves useful in a world that doesn’t want or need slaves like them. This has the best “girl next door” in all of anime. She actually prepares her man with horror movies so he’s terrified of aliens shaped like girls and he literally can’t get it on with them. She is clever and devious and one of the few you can be sure still keeps him after all is said and done. Doesn’t look like much, but she’s a historical figure of note.

Niea_7 is mostly the same, only the aliens in Niea are slightly more incompetent than DearS. It is a comedy, only its based on the first anime which actually admitted Japan’s economy was screwed, and this remains true 12 years later.

Last ExileLast Exile is about a generation (colony) ship that hit something in space and its heavily damaged but still flying on, coasting because that’s how a large mass works in space. The crew have mutinied and have been threatening the passengers, who have been awake and breeding in the wreckage of the still flying ship to forget they’re in space, much less on the ship going somewhere. They have envelope technology so the sky looks like sky rather than open space, which is part of the reason they aren’t aware of the actual situation. The locals have been building houses and mansions in the wreckage, out of stone, and hoard water based on how clean it is because that’s critical for life. There’s also very odd steampunk technology and antigravity flying ships with Napoleonic Wars tactics (stand and fire!) stupidity which is meant to kill lots of your own side. This is why the show is so confusing. The crew are gene-modified ultra-pale elitists, with superior intelligence, reflexes, and resistance to damage and extended lifespans. They’re supermen, and know it. They are also vicious, murderous, and arrogant, and have access to advanced technology despite being unable to fix their broken ship. This ship is going somewhere, probably a prepared colony world.

The sequel, which is after the unreleased OVA nobody outside Japan has seen for “reasons”, is called Fam The Silver Wing, and takes place on the actual colony world. Unlike Trigun, this place has lots of water and clouds, but they still have antigravity ships and sky pirates. Only now there’s actual oceans, only its fresh water, not salt. There’s also some odd non-intelligent life such as birds and whales and such, but the human factions have formed countries and are happy to murder each other with genocidal wars of domination and destruction. I have to say it isn’t as much fun as Last Exile, which is itself best only watched for its first 6 episodes, after which it turns into poop.

The Pilots Love Story is another example of a colony ship which has lost control and its passengers think they’re on a planet. It becomes clear during the story that the series of discs and waterfalls can’t be natural.

The lost colony and crazy passengers who don’t realize they’re on a ship starts to look like a pattern, but its not exactly something you find in USA’s movies. Japan did it first, after American authors wrote about it and were ignored by those Hollywood coke fiends and their casting couch hookers. I’m not surprised. Hollywood only cares about sure bets when they decide to make a movie, though they seem to have broken that metric lately. Their business practices make for repetitive tripe and offended moviegoers who are finding something else to do. Anime wins when Hollywood blunders.

Crossover Anime Fanfic Ideas

osaka dancingWhat if Osaka from Azumanga Daioh went to college after high school and ended up at a certain school in Tokyo, where Golden Time and Genshiken both took place. Notice that Nana is also explicitly next door to the poor hero of Golden Time. That Nana, from that show about the musician and the bimbo. What if Osaka ended up the sempai of Popura from Wagnaria who goes off to college in Tokyo instead of attending a local college in Hokkaido because she’s not interested in either engineering or agriculture (Silver Spoon), which is the primary classes taught in Hokkaido. I also can’t see her going to the ag school Tokyo, so she won’t be at Moyashimon or No-Rin. She doesn’t have the grades for Tokyo U, meaning that Golden Time (school name is never actually stated in the show) is more likely. Popura Chan is adorable, short, and motivated. She is smart, but she’s easily distracted by people teasing her. Remove the teasing and she’s able to focus on her education. How would Popura get along with an older and wiser Osaka, who is also beyond her own teasing and able to use her actual name rather than the town she’s from? Popura_Taneshima

This is the sort of question which spawns fanfiction. You ponder and question and start imagining dialogue and a place to have it. Its fascinating if you do things right.

The Laundry Files

The Laundry Files are a series of occult novels by Charlie Stross, who used to write cyberpunk back in the day. The Laundry Files are what happens when you combine cyberpunk with cthulhu mythos. The first couple books are the best, especially Jennifer Morgue which is a wonderful xover with the Bond movies, only with a twist. Several twists. Its a really fun book, and I enjoyed the heck out of the audiobook. Its really quite fun.

Laundry Files Jennifer MorgueThere are more books, but this is a series where you need to know which books NOT to read/listen-to. Fuller Memorandum is great. Worth reading. So is The Atrocity Archives and Apocalypse Codex. These are good and fun reading in a very strange setting. Skip the Annihilation Score. Characters change with Rhesus Chart and Nightmare Stacks, but these also spell the end of the series better books. Don’t bother with the last book. He basically destroys the setting. When you’re dealing with this kind of story, it requires maintaining the “masquerade” where the secret world never comes to light in public TV media. As soon as the hidden world is found, your series dies. Its like when the main characters in Moonlighting finally slept together. The show died. Both went on to new careers, one much longer than the other.

Stross has a great understanding of IT people, of which I have worked as one for the last 25 years. He really gets us. He tells jokes IT guys get. Non-IT will scratch their heads, but they generally do. They “just want it to work” and don’t care how their abuses destroyed it. Sort of like morons who smear a CD with french fry oil and then shove it into their car CD player, then throw a fit when it all stops working. Duh. Just in case you wondered, IT guys like me faced with that recurring story still find murderous rage as the appropriate response. Just in case you wondered. The only upside is the destruction isn’t our money to pay for. We can smirk as we tell them they are morons. There’s quite a few moments in the Laundry Files where the hero gets to drop similar smirks on morons who don’t read the manual and suffer the consequences. It is a series with a lot of books worth reading, and few to avoid.

Not That Kind Of Show

The thing about certain kinds of anime is they’re all about either metaphor or style or both. They aren’t meant to be examined for logic. They’re just there to pass the time. I think some reviewers of Darling in the FranXX are overthinking it.

Usul has called us a big one. – me

FranXX is a pretty show. Its drawn by the same people who did FLCL and Luluco and Gurren Lagan aka “Drill is a man’s romance” and VampireThread Scissor-Half. When you watch a lot of anime you start renaming them based on what they’re about rather than what they’re named. It makes sense after you’ve been watching these for 30 years, I promise. All those shows are about flashy animation and loudness. They aren’t logical settings. Kino’s Journey isn’t logical. Its metaphor and pretty.

There are also shows which are great because they have a slow pacing, adorable characters, and little happens but you still wish they didn’t end so quickly. Cafe Alpha aka Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou aka Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip was a fantastic manga with a few episodes of animation. Its post-post apocalypse, meaning all the mean crazy people are dead so the pacifist survivors are the only ones left and nature is taking over and the androids are the only unchanging people since humans are mostly not breeding anymore. The animation team lost funding but got more for a similar show called Aria, which is best described as Venice on Mars with girls being gondoliers. Lovely show, beautiful and slow paced. These are less frenetic than cute girls being cute, but a similar idea only slower.

Laid back camp tentThis season the best and most entrancing cute girls show is Laid Back Camp. I tend to end an evening of anime watching with that show because its just that lovely. As an experienced camper I know the bitter cold of real camping, and these girls are WINTER camping so you can’t get things wrong without consequences, but they manage and they have a lovely time, with a great deal of time in the show put into the scenery and still moments. Its lovely that way, and you can certainly recognize the essential genius of the animators for creating something so much more Japanese and less the usual Tokyo meth-girls frenzy. In its way, Laid Back Camp (aka Yuru Camp)  is my favorite this season. But FranXX is fine for what it is: loud and flashy. Start your evening with that one, finish with Yuru Camp.

Perfect Anime For Valentines


There actually IS one, too.

It is called WWW.WAGNARIA!! and its the sequel, or prequel if you are a purist, to Wagnaria, aka Working. Most of the plot revolves around a girl who is notoriously bad at cooking trying to feed possibly evil chocolates to the guy she likes, which usually puts him so close to death he meets St. Valentine, who is short. The Japanese have trouble with Christianity, mainly with understanding how it works. In Japan everyone is born Shinto, Marries Xtian, and Dies Buddhist. This is an indirect translation of a saying everyone knows there. Most people consider it very self-serving and probably doomed if any of these religions were right. All of them think the Japanese are going straight to hell, whether is the Xtian hell or the hell of upside down sitters, I have no idea. I’m a heretic, not religious.

See? Perfect example of what romance is on Valentines. This anime was MADE FOR TODAY. Enjoy it. With wine. And with chocolate if you have them, or chocolate chips if you don’t, which is better anyway. Bitter chocolate goes better with being single in the first place. And its cheaper than a spouse.

Discworld: Night Watch

Night WatchI am a Discworld fan. The books are amazingly well written. Pratchett worked very hard to make them consistently funny, and beautifully written on every page. Night Watch is one of the watch novels, about Commander Vimes. Its also a parody of Tale of Two Cities, which is of course, Dickens’ take on the French Revolution. This version takes place in Anhk Morpork, which is sort of like a cross between Paris, London, Cairo, Istanbul, and possibly Buda-Pesht (Buda is one side of the river, Pesht is the other). Anhk-Morpork is also a city divided by a dirty river, so its very like the above cities. Division and transportation geography makes for certain types of consequences. Geography is how geology affects people, roughly speaking. Much like the Dickens’ classic, the hero is in the middle of a civil war brewing and about to erupt, but unlike the characters, he’s time travelled from the future and knows how it goes. Its fascinating seeing just how the city has changed due to his own efforts and willingness to accept non-humans as people and putting them into the Watch, making them police. Pratchett was a devout humanist, like Iain Banks and Stephen Fry. A proper humanist is also an atheist and rejects religion as merely a distraction from fixing what is wrong with humanity and its living conditions. A humanist never commits genocide, btw. So Pol Pot and Hitler and Clinton are not humanists. They hurt people, lots of them. When millions suffer or die because you are evil, you don’t get to pretend to be a humanist.

Night Watch is a really interesting story, despite the poor audio quality (it has suffered some loss of audio quality due to problems in the original master recording but the reading is excellent despite this). It includes references to the Monks of Time, who are so secret they even have a weapons designer named Que, and spies named sweepers, because who pays attention to a sweeper? It is also about the nature of destiny and time travel, which are core to the plotline. It’s a fascinating tale and helps explain why Vimes becomes so very determined by the time he’s dealing with Monstrous Regiment (Borogravia), and the following watch stories.

Small-gods-coverDiscworld is oddly consistent. Many series stories can’t be read individually but Discworld can. Many series can’t retain good writing quality through their books, but Discworld does. Few series can be funny on every page, but Discworld does. Even its inspirations don’t pull that off. Douglas Adams does it often, but not consistently. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster) tries but rarely gets enough laughs. It might be a translation problem since English isn’t exactly english. Its the great writing, which remains excellent on the second and third reads through which is why I keep recommending the Discworld.


Anthony_Bourdain_2014There’s a sort of international ambassador at large who goes to various countries, hunts down the poor people while strictly avoiding the rich, and eats what the poor eat. If this means strange parts of animals while saying “Ummm! That’s GOOD!” with gusto, that’s what he does. If he’s sick after, it doesn’t end up on the show. Anthony Bourdain is a former chef from Massachusetts, and he’s gone around the world cooking before he got the gig of going around the world eating and visiting his former chef buddies in their semi-retired states. Bourdain is working class, so he’s positive about a lot of things, including strict tolerance for the weird, something all of us can afford to do provided the weird isn’t taxing us to pay for their hobbies. And most of the world doesn’t try, so this works out. Its only in the USA and EU where the weird try to fund their weird through taxation.

Anthony Bourdain has several cooking and travel shows, but the most recent is called Parts Unknown. Its got quite a few seasons, and like Top Gear, is curmudgeonly, irascible and irreverent. Bourdain sometimes admits to being a former drug addict, and eating weird foods like blood sausage (which is delicious btw), and strict carnivortarianism (always try the bbq), has helped him recover from the bad places he’d fallen into. He’s also got a 10 year old daughter, which is a fantastically valuable grounding for an adult man in his later years. I wonder if someday I’ll have a daughter to ground me, but I digress.

Bourdain travels to so many really interesting places. He flies to the main airport, then goes to ground to get around. Sometimes by train or jeep or truck or ferry boat. The way poor people move around once they arrive. He gets on the broken down trains that limp around at 25 mph because if they go 30 they hop off the tracks and wreck. Btw: India and Africa? Fix your 5h17. You aren’t impressing anyone by letting English rail projects rot. Fix it. Its YOURS now. Tourists might show up if they can get around comfortably. Duh! He has even gotten around by musclecar (in Tennessee) and canoe in Borneo. Why not? It builds your appetite.

Bourdain eatingThe most difficult part of watching Parts Unknown is keeping up with the recipes dropped for things which you immediately say “I would eat that!”. You can safely mock the stuff you wouldn’t eat. There’s a fair bit of those things too. Like the above blood sausage, not everyone realizes that the goo that comes out of a beef roast that looks like pudding? That’s blood pudding. Everyone has tasted that and know its delicious. Blood sausage, as opposed to blood pudding, goes in a casing. That’s the main difference. Its been around since the Mesopotamians, since Gilgamesh. He wrote about making blood sausage.

The important thing is that Parts Unknown is on Netflix, and you can watch lots of seasons there, and its produced by CNN “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. Cheers!


Sick of Tokyo

Many anime take place in Tokyo, but not all of them. silver spoonSilver Spoon is in Hokkaido, in the northernmost island of Japan. Rocket Girls is in the Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific. Macross (aka Robotech) takes place (at its beginning) in the North Pacific, several thousand miles from Japan. Martian Successor Nadesico starts somewhere entirely weird and never quite specified, but isn’t Japan. Heavy ObjectHeavy Object starts in Alaska, and goes around the world, never to Japan. Barakamon starts in Tokyo, but spends the rest of the show elsewhere, on a southern Island which might be near Okinawa but is never really stated. Eureka 7 starts in Okinawa. Asobi-ni-Iku-yo ErisSo does Asobi ni Ikuyo, and runs most of its story there. Please Teacher and Please Twins both take place in northern Japan’s lake country, with trips to Okinawa. Wagnaria is in Hokkaido, like Silver Spoon. Excel Saga takes place in the city of F and the prefecture of F, also known as Fukuoka, which ISN’T Tokyo. Kamichu! takes place in southern Japan, in the strait/fjord where the doomed Yamato was built. There’s lots of anime which aren’t taking place in Tokyo. Even sports anime won’t necesarily take place there. SNAFU is in Chiba City, famous by both Sonny Chiba and Neuromancer: “The sky over the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Ghost in the Shell movie is in Hong Kong, not Tokyo. The anime is in Japan, mostly Tokyo, but the movie isn’t. Black Lagoon is in an analogue to Bangkok, Thailand. So yes, if you’re sick of Tokyo, you’ve got lots of alternative choices. Bridge To A Starry Sky: countryside. Lots of choices. Embrace them. IS academyInfinite Stratos is in Barcelona, Spain. See that antenna tower? Only one like it in the world. Sora no Woto townSora No Woto is also in Spain, but claims to be Helvetica (Switzerland). Embrace the weirdness of anime.