athuras

Booklist

24 Jun 2014

I’ve finally decided to start recording the interesting things I’ve been reading, and watching. In no particular order (roughly reverse chronological based on when I finished it). This page itemizes some of the most memorable, influential, and powerful stories I’ve experienced (as well as most of the recent ones). The length of the review/commentary is proportional to how striking the experience was, and unfortunately inversely proportional to how long ago I read it. Each section isn’t really a ‘review’, but more of a commentary of the most salient features of the work, if you’re looking for comprehensive commentary, you’re gonna have a bad time.


Contents


Rating Scheme

I typically don’t invest significant amounts of time into something unless I enjoy it; similarly all of the items on this list that are rated, I have read/watched in their entirety, so I implicitly enjoyed them. Under a typical rating scheme (say the Netflix 5-Star scheme) I would rate everything as at least 3/5 (“I liked it”), as this doesn’t fully explore the rating space, my system uses the full 5-star range given that I had already enjoyed it. Overall (although my ratings are as yet still fairly sparse) I would expect the average to hover around 2/5, especially for longer works.

DNF: Couldn’t finish, reserved for works whose time commitment I couldn’t justify. There shouldn’t be many of these here.

1-Star: Good old fashioned mindless entertainment: flat characters and a tedious plot; would not read/watch again. Differentiated from “DNF” by virtue of having actually read/watched to completion.

2-Stars: Better than 1-Star, not deserving of 3, typically characterized by moments of noticeable tedium, but altogether enjoyable.

3-Stars: An immersing story that begets genuine attachment to the characters, the construction of a genuinely interesting universe, would conceivably read/watch again, but only if suitably novel ‘new’ material is unavailable.

4-Stars: At the end of such stories I am left with a profound melancholy that lingers for hours if not days. The sense of personal fulfillment at having taken part in such an experience is somewhat tinged with the regret that the story is over and I must carry on, alone. I’d wholeheartedly recommend anything at this rating to anyone who even vaguely expresses interest.

5-Stars: Reserved only for paradigm-shifting works that have significantly altered the way I perceive the world, memories of which are as strong as natural ones. When read again the story takes on different colours, and the previously unrealized masterful use of ambiguity opens up entire universes of interpretation. There is as much detail conveyed in what is said, than what is left unsaid. A work of art, and I’ll loudly and repeatedly recommend these to anyone nearby; whether they are interested or not.


Literature

Mostly (Science-)Fiction.

Malazan Book of the Fallen - Steven Erikson

This is an epic high-fantasy series with incredible scope, phenomenal world-building, and a huge cast of memorable characters. It is also quite meaty, with each novel coming in around 1.2k pages a piece, with the (now completed series) ending up around 12k pages. I highly recommend Gardens of the Moon as a way to test the waters, but all the others in the series that I’ve read (so far) have been more-or-less excellent.

My greatest criticism is that there are moments of noticeable tedium throughout each of the stories that do nothing other than serve as soap-boxes for intricate descriptions of the immediate environment. This is definitely a style preference, I would typically prefer that depth to go towards character development. Ultimately, I like the series so far, and will fill out the ratings if/when I complete them.

  1. Gardens of the Moon: 4-Stars
  2. Deadhouse Gates: 3-Stars
  3. Memories of Ice: 3-Stars
  4. House of Chains: 2-Stars
  5. Midnight Tides: 2-Stars
  6. The Bonehunters: 3-Stars
  7. Reaper’s Gale: TODO
  8. Toll of the Hounds: TODO
  9. Dust of Dreams: TODO
  10. The Crippled God: TODO

Old Man’s War - John Scalzi

Canonical Military sci-fi with a few gimmicks thrown in for interest. After reading Redshirts (see below for review) this novel has been periodically appearing in my amazon suggestions, and after perusing the reviews decided to jump in.

Comparing this to what I can remember of Redshirts, Old Man’s War exhibits a lot of the same stylistic elements (direct voice, witty banter, and some poignant emotional elements) albeit in a younger, possibly less refined state. This ultimately comes across rather well, but ultimately I found it a little simplistic. Since I had the same reaction to Redshirts it might be the case that as readers, we should just appreciate the story for what it is: entertainment; nothing more, nothing less.

With that in mind, I found it enjoyable (and there are some powerful emotional moments as well), as well as a good composition.

2-Stars, but definitely at the high-end of that grade.

The Expanse Series - James S.A. Corey

A great noir-sci-fi that follows a small cast of characters caught up in events mostly out of their control. Packed with a hefty dose of post-Earth colonialism, and a great combination of character development, and world building; The Expanse offers just about everything anyone could want from a Space Opera. In general, I found Leviathan Wakes to be excellent, but the proceeding two novels lacking suitable plot depth. Cibola Burn was again excellent, but achieved that by allowing each of the protagonists to independently drive their own story arcs. I can see why a TV adaptation is planned; and I assume I’ll enjoy it.

  1. Leviathan Wakes: 3-Stars.

  2. Caliban’s War: 2-Stars.

  3. Abaddon’s Gate: 2-Stars.

  4. Cibola Burn: 3 Stars.

The Black Cloud - Fred Hoyle

Exemplary (perhaps genre-defining) hard-science-fiction. Equal parts astronomy, ecology, and making fun of the British; this novel is a great introduction to the genre and a quick easy read.

3-Stars.

Words of Radiance - Brian Sanderson

The second book in the Stormlight Archive and more-or-less the same quality as the first; which is to say “good”.

At times it seemed the pacing was a little off, but the world building is great (as one would expect from the creator of Mistborn).

2-Stars.

The Way of Kings - Brian Sanderson

The first of presumably many upcoming books in the Stormlight Archive saga. Generically good fantasy in the school of Wheel of Time (which makes sense, since Sanderson has contributed several novels to that series).

Some absolutely phenomenal fight scenes (more gripping than cinema).

3-Stars.

Shadows of Self - Brian Sanderson

The Sequel to The Alloy of Law, equally good; with some nice developments near the end.

I will read the final installment when it’s published. 2-Stars.

The Alloy of Law - Brian Sanderson

A short detective novel with witty banter set in the Mistborn universe.

Pulp Fiction. 2-Stars.

Ancillary Mercy - Ann Leckie

If you’re as enamoured with the previous books in the trilogy as I am, you had no choice but to read this the moment it was released (as I did). Ancillary Mercy is a great novel, but (similar to its prequel) isn’t quite the mind-expanding spectacle that Ancillary Justice was. I enjoyed it, due to a familiar cast of characters, and a great appreciation for the literary style.

2-Stars.

Green Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars continues where Red Mars left off, but focuses on a slightly smaller cast of characters. Ultimately, there isn’t much to say here that wasn’t already communicated in my review for its prequel. This time around, less of the focus is on the science and engineering aspects of colonization, than the political and socio-economic factors. We see the breakdown of colonialism, rebellion, and the formation of a ‘new society’. Some of the story arcs were well thought out and great additions, however even more so than he prequel; Green Mars has multi-hour segments of pure tedium, to the extent that I’m not really looking forward to reading its sequel until absolutely necessary.

2-Stars.

Red Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

Continuing down my (unordered) list of Hugo winners, we’ve got 1994’s winner: a true epic. A ridiculously detailed (and presumably well-researched) depiction of the human colonization, Red Mars is told through multiple first-person narratives of the early colonists (a.k.a. members of The First Hundred). What I liked the most, was the honest depiction of how cultural/societal problems develop and coalesce into a swirling maelstrom of mayhem. This (the first in KSR’s Mars trilogy) outlines the early colonization and subsequent exploitation of Mars, along with the political and ecological turmoil that involves. The tremendous detail allows for some pretty hard sci-fi—which may not appeal to everyone; but to those who commit to it, Red Mars tells some hauntingly beautiful stories, and a strong cast of characters.

3-Stars.

Redshirts - John Scalzi

A parody of the so-called ‘Star Trek Trope’, Redshirts is a superficially pulpy novel featuring clever writing, likeable characters, and some excellent literary commentaries. It was on my radar due to having won the Hugo for Best novel in 2013. I won’t go too much in depth, but I will say that the novel’s 3-codas add important and meaningful context to an otherwise fairly flat world. It is a good book, but relative to Ancillary Justice (another Hugo award winner), this book falls short.

2-Stars.

Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie

Carrying on where Ancillary Justice left off, the second installment shines in exactly the same ways. Solid characters, exquisite detail and emotional description, and excellent world building.

Poignant, and refreshing.

3-Stars.

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

On its own, a novel with all the great elements of an epic sci-fi; including some fantastic world building, but what struck me most of all was the refreshing style and strange perspective that is somewhere between third- and first-person. The novel poignantly captures our protagonists awkward sense of identity, surrounded in a social climate where gender is (finally) separated from class, to the extent that linguistic pronouns have been redefined; the entire experience is quite refreshing.

4-stars.

The Martian - Andy Weir

Looking for something considerably lighter than Dan Simmons’ Illium and Olympos, I bit the bullet and picked up a copy of The Martian (figuratively of-course, since I’m a die-hard kindle user).

The best way the atmosphere and plot of this book can be described is by saying it can very naturally be adapted to film. With that comes a certain lack of depth that I’ve only really found in literature. The protagonist isn’t the most interesting fellow, but he’s still quite relateable (especially to the engineers in the audience). The story is relatively straightforward: Man gets left on mars, must survive in isolation in a barren wasteland with only his wits and sense of humour; and (SPOILER) gets rescued at the end.

Approachable, entertaining, and ultimately a quick read.

2-Stars.

Olympos - Dan Simmons

The second part of Simmons’ Illium/Olympos Cycle, it sets off where Illium ended, and more-or-less continues the same trajectory, but starts to blend the various story-lines together. Shares the same shortcomings as the first one, but (perhaps since it is still fresh in my mind) I feel like I enjoyed it more.

2-Stars.

Illium - Dan Simmons

Illium is an imaginative sci-fi blend of Homer’s Illiad, various Shakespearian works (in particular: The Tempest), and Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as (naturally) original material. Not quite of the same calibre as Hyperion (which originally lead me to this novel and its sequel), it is still nonetheless an entertaining story that brings together a refreshingly novel cast of characters and time lines. My minor gripe with this work is that most of the characters are relatively flat, and (to some extent) boring. After reading more than 5,000 pages of Simmons’ work by this point, I’m beginning to sense that this is a stylistic shortcoming.

2-Stars.

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Page-turner dystopic sci-fi taking inspiration from the likes of Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Reamde, but with a style somehow reminiscent of Philip K. Dick. Honest, heartwarming, and with massive waves of nostalgia (who doesn’t love Zork?), RPO is an easy read that begets genuine attachment to the protagonists, and critical evaluation of the social environment surrounding video games, and new-age ‘digital society’ in general. There is a thoroughly ridiculous amount of video game lore embedded in this novel. Ernest Cline is either a genius, or a madman; or both.

3-Stars.

The Rise of Endymion - Dan Simmons

The conclusion to the story set forth in Endymion, The Rise of Endymion continues along the trajectory set forth in the former story. Another beautiful work by what is now one of my favorite authors, it is astounding how natural so many of these worlds and cultures feel after a few short pages; owing to the talent of Simmons.

I’m sure there is some word in dead languages that expresses the simultaneous emotions of joy and loss; happiness and sadness. If there is, that is how I’d describe the ending to this tale.

4-Stars.

Endymion - Dan Simmons

The second core story in the Cantos, Endymion is a gorgeous adventure through alien worlds, philosophy, and love.

3-Stars.

The Fall of Hyperion - Dan Simmons

Taking up where Hyperion left off, The Fall of Hyperion could really be considered where the core story-line starts. Perhaps lacking in the pure poignancy of its predecessor, the story definitely pulls through with more standard devices like plot twists and intrigue. What really impresses me, is the talent Simmons has for description and imagery; while interspersing poetry throughout, the world is thoroughly engrossing and very real.

Still a great story in its own right, but it ultimately became a little (dare I say it) conventional.

3-Stars.

Hyperion - Dan Simmons

At its heart, a character drama, Hyperion demonstrates that it is possible to have an interesting cast of characters; each with their own idiosyncrasies, all the while delivering wold-building that is in step with Herbert or Tolkein. What I loved most about the first book in what is widely acclaimed to be a fantastic series (Hyperion won the Hugo in 1989), was that the novel is built from composing the back stories of each of the main characters. Each has its own style, and serves to draw out what life is like in the very distant future.

Stunning Sci-Fi, amazing universe, and I’m already reading the second in the series.

4-Stars.

Ubik - Philip K. Dick

Heralded by many as a genre-defining work, Ubik is classic sci-fi, and one of the best by an author renowned for his simultaneously charming and surreal imagery. The story is solid, and outlines some classic tropes about our collective perception of reality, but I just can’t bring myself to love this work the way so many others do (perhaps out of nostalgia).

There, I said it.

I like dark sci-fi, and ultimately Philip K Dick’s brand just doesn’t cut it for me. While I can appreciate the way this admittedly well-crafted story dances with thought-provoking questions, Ubik exhibits symptoms of classic-sci-fi-syndrome including a pronounced lack of character development, and general frivolity. The first time we came across the coin-operated appliances; I’ll admit I smiled, but by the 10th it was just white noise.

If someone were to come up to me and ask for a sci-fi book recommendation, I’d tell them to read Dune. If however, they wanted a short, feel-good story—with just enough depth to be interesting, and wanted the selection to representative of works in the late 60s/early 70s, I might recommend Ubik.

2-Stars.

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami (tr. Philip Gabriel)

My second Murakami book, and likely not my last. 1Q84 combines many elements that I find inherently appealing, including surreality, ambiguity, and great character development. As an introductory Murakami book, I would definitely recommend “Colorless Tsukuru” over this, by virtue of the fact that it is both significantly shorter, and delivers significantly more emotional intensity.

Great read, but not nearly as engaging relative to other works.

3-Stars.

A Slow Regard of Silent Things - Patrick Rothfuss

This short-and-sweet novella follows Auri (from “The Name of the Wind”) around in her day-to-day life. For readers of “The Name of the Wind”, that should be enough of a selling point. For others, I would definitely recommend reading the earlier works first as they set up the necessary context.

A truly beautiful story.

4-Stars.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami (tr. Philip Gabriel)

Murakami came highly recommended to me (specifically 1Q84), so I thought this would be a suitable introduction. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is first and foremost a story about a single character, and his internal struggle coming to terms with past psychological damage. Poignant, surreal, and poetic:this will not be my last Murakami novel. As an added bonus, the work is relatively short (great airplane reading, so long as you can hide your tears from the person sitting beside you). The resolution is perfect.

4-Stars.

Mistborn Trilogy - Brian Sanderson

I got the whole trilogy from Amazon in a single volume, and read through it without really paying attention to when each individual volume began or ended, so I’ll review the entire work rather than its constituent parts. The novels are marked by noticeable periods of tedium, (a la Song of Ice and Fire), and there are times when basic elements of the story are repeated. While this could just be the prerequisite beginning-of-next-novel-in-the-series repetition, I found it almost insulting. By the time I’ve invested 40 hours into this series, please don’t take 4 pages to reiterate Sazed’s motivation; we all get it; please continue with the story.

The character development is comprehensive; although—and this will be a recurring theme, not outstandingly, and the story is set on a suitably epic scale; features some very comprehensive world-building. Mistborn is very much a sword-and-sorcery style series, and if it has one shining virtue, it’s the fantastically nuanced “magic” system (allomancy). In fact, it’s worth reading only the first book just to appreciate the depth of thought that went into designing it, and if Sanderson did nothing else, he would justifiably deserve continuous accolades for it.

Ultimately, the novel(s) can be summed up with the following headline: “Protagonist starts from nothing; becomes god.” There are definitely some clever plot twists along the way, but I was repeatedly irritated by needless repetition that should really have been edited out.

On a similar note, I’ve always appreciated the skillful use of ambiguity, and found very little of it here. This would be a great stage for a MMORPG.

2-Stars.

The Wise Man’s Fear - Patrick Rothfuss

The second in “The Kingkiller Chronicle”, I enjoyed this exactly as much as The Name of The Wind. Very much the same style, the frame story progresses very slowly, and it again is a very easy, enjoyable read. While many criticise the ‘coming of age’ aspects of this particular installment in the series, I’m always open to a well told coming-of-age story. I’m sincerely looking forward to the final installment of the trilogy, but unfortunately it appears like it will be some time indeed before Rothfuss is finished.

3-Stars.

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

Everything anyone could possibly want from a fantasy novel. Great prose, an engaging story, and interesting characters. I powered through this one really quickly and immediately started reading the next in the series, so I very clearly enjoyed it. My one issue is that while ultimately a fairly dark novel (story wise) it still seems childish at times (which is understandable, considering the protagonist/narrator for all intents and purposes a child). The story is a great read, but its also broken up really well. Each chapter is a solid short-story, and that means you can pick up the novel (which I found myself doing frequently) and start reading at almost any time, and not be obsessing about the time commitment to finish the chapter. I would pick it up at breakfast, on a coffee break, during lunch, after dinner, before bed; and any other conceivable time, it just works.

Highly recommended.

3-Stars.

Moonwalking with Einstein - Joshua Foer

Verging dangerously close to pop science, Moonwalking with Einstein is an almost biographical expose on memory training. A relatively quick read, it manages to convey how surreal the “Mental Athletics” scene is while also venerating some of the more practical implications associated with memory. While I can’t say its the most engaging novel I’ve read in a while, it has definitely influenced how I think about my own memory.

2-Stars.

The Wizard Knight - Gene Wolfe

Its difficult to describe this as anything other than a (pair of) classic Sword and Sorcery novel(s), with Wolfe’s signature fragmentary first-person narrative style. On the whole and entertaining book, but at times dull, and dare I say: straightforward. However linear (with several notable exceptions), the novel does employ a fair amount of world-building; which I always like.

2-Stars.

Home Fires - Gene Wolfe

One of (I believe) Wolfe’s more recent works, Home Fires is first and foremost a love story. With that in mind, this is the first Wolfe novel that I’ve read that can be construed as a detective novel, except with lawyers, Caribbean tourism, and human reanimation. Ultimately, through the violence, and betrayal; the reflection and longing; this is an incredibly fast-paced novel, which I believe to be simultaneously its greatest strength and weakness. Few authors could so carefully and beautifully construct such flawed characters amid the whirling chaos that is the storyline, and indeed it is to Wolfe’s credit that everything makes sense—albeit always just a minute too late. I believe this was intended, and the effect is by no means lost on me: I read through Home Fires in a day—it’s an addicting experience.

While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I can’t quite bring myself to give it 4-stars—even though the story was solid, the characters deep and flawed, and the execution; superb. It just didn’t hold the same magic for me, in retrospect I think it’s a better read than (but in the same category as) Stephenson’s “Reamde”, but not as good as “The Book of the New Sun” (TBotNS).

And yet, I’m still conflicted. After recently re-reading some of TBotNS, I sincerely believe Home Fires was better written (albeit in a different, arguably more developed/mature style). It’s a fantastic read (highly recommended), relatively short, but (perhaps due to its lack of scope) I can’t in good conscience give it a higher rating.

3-Stars

A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin

A good time was had by all–although in “A Dance With Dragons” I found some of the story arcs tedious.

3-Stars

Latro in the Mist - Gene Wolfe

Technically “Soldier of the Mist”, and “Soldier of Arete”, Latro in the Mist follows a roman mercenary through Greece and beyond, the interesting plot mechanic, is that Latro suffers from sever short-term memory loss; he forgets everything when he sleeps. The novels are well written (Gene Wolfe remains one of my favourite authors), and Latro’s poignantly tenuous hold on reality–and himself, lead to some fantastical adventures. As with everything else Gene Wolfe writes, there are always dark layers just hidden below the surface, and these novels are no different–allowing us an interesting look into the mind of someone who may have a serious mental illness.

3-Stars

The Book of the New Sun - Gene Wolfe

To date, the single most intellectually pervasive series I have read. I’ve reread it several times over about a decade, and each time it feels fresh and new.

Arguably one of Gene Wolfe’s best works, The Book of the New Sun features some stunning world building, intriguing characters, and incredibly deep meta-narratives. There is a particular chapter, written entirely in metaphor (The “Ascian’s Tale”), which I think should be required reading for anyone interested in the subject. We follow Severian, a torturer by trade, as he explores the mind-bending reality of a civilization surrounding a dying star, and ultimately, through the most haunting depiction of time-travel ever written. As we learn more about the civilization, (particularly in “Urth of the New Sun”—which some view as not part of the original series) the imagery Wolfe paints casts shadows on all our prior understanding of the culture and characters in the novels, leading to a series that when reread comes off as a different story entirely.

Pure magic.

5-Stars.

The Book of the Long Sun - Gene Wolfe

Admittedly, my recollection of this is a little fuzzy, I remember it seeming strange, quirky, and mysterious. I feel like this series gets overshadowed by The Book of The New Sun, but that could just be my unique perspective. As with everything written by Gene Wolfe, worth reading.

3-Stars.

Anathem - Neil Stephenson

A lot of people don’t like Stephenson, perhaps they (like me a couple times) got tired reading through the slightly monotonous Quicksilver series. However I will say that Anathem hits the marks where Quicksilver missed it. We get the same dense imagery, the same rigorous detail, but in a world that (for me at least) is inherently appealing.

4-Stars.

The Cryptonomicon - Neil Stephenson

One of Stephenson’s most popular novels, and deservingly so. The Cryptonomicon is probably the most appealing method of simultaneously teaching people about the culture of WWII England, elementary cryptographic methodology, and modern network engineering.

3-Stars

Reamde - Neil Stephenson

A sort of spin-off of “The Cryptonomicon”, Reamde is an action-adventure novel for technophiles a-la Robert Ludlum. A great combination of crypto, economics, virtual reality, and mafioso hit squads.

3-Stars.

Homer’s Illiad & Odyssey. - Robert Fagles (Translator)

Perhaps seeming a little out of character with the other works included here, I thoroughly enjoy ancient stories, particularly the diction/verse. I’ve read both the Fagles and Butler translations, and I prefer Fagles (although it was the first one I read, so there is the novelty affect). Of particular interest—especially of The Odyssey, is the abstract realization of “The Prototypical Story”, and how tales of tricksters and heroes are subtly and mysteriously worked (over thousands of years) and reworked into the modern fabric of pop-culture.

3-Stars.


Video

Mostly Anime

From the New World (Shinsekai Yori, 2012)

Dark, suspenseful, and keeps you on your toes. This series is gritty, poignant, and paints a picture of a really novel dystopic future.

3-Stars.

Tenchi Muyo Franchise (1994 - 2014?)

I wasn’t feeling well and binged some classic anime. Tenchi Muyo: Ryo-Ohki was my favorite, but I won’t watch any of them again. The movies are decent however.

1-Star.

kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte, 2014)

A subtler, more interesting series that evokes memories of Tokyo Ghoul. The season is well put together, and we see some masterful character development of the protagonist across a couple arcs. A good way to burn a few hours.

3-Stars.

Kimi no Na wa (2016)

Now that I’m clearly on a Makoto Shinkai binge, all I can say is that this is beautiful and everyone should watch it. (FYI: English name is “Your Name”).

4-Stars.

5 Centimeters per Second (2007)

Hard hitting, quirky, and beautifully animated. Another Makoto Shinkai hit.

4-Stars.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

Also beautiful, stylistically similar to “Your Name” (same director). Also beautiful, but I didn’t find it nearly as hard-hitting as “Your Name”.

3-Stars.

Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari (2009)

This is a surprisingly simple, moderately entertaining sci-fi giant-robot harem anime done really well. Apparently a spiritual spin-off of Tenchi Muyo!, which is likely worth watching. Despite being fairly straightforward, it is surprisingly engaging.

2-Stars.

Berserk (1997, 2016, 2017)

Super dark, violent, and stylized. The gritty feel of this anime is what really sets it apart from its compatriots. I think the most recent adaptation keeps the same feel (despite significant changes in animation technology).

2-Stars.

#

Kara No Kyokai (2007)

A set of darkly themed animated films done by ufotable; with some strange parallels (which are allegedly explained better in the light novels) to Tsukihime. What I liked most, was that each of the 7 films is one self-contained chapter in the larger narrative; there is great continuity, with just enough separation between them to give each film its own feel.

3-Stars.

C Cube (2011)

Some interesting art/music, but otherwise not that great.

1-Star.

C (2011)

A strange and beautiful anime about alternate reality, financial systems, and making trade-offs between the present, and future.

2-Stars.

Shingetsutan Tsukihime (2013)

A dark supernatural/mystery with enough intrigue to keep things interesting. Great sound-track, and a well-constructed story; but the characters aren’t that interesting.

2-Stars.

Carnival Phantasm (2013)

Carnival Phantasm is a zany mash-up/parody of Takenashi Eri’s Take Moon manga. Featuring maniacally paced short episodes jam-packed with inside jokes, and satirical homages; it is well worth watching.

3-Stars.

Black Bullet (2014)

Tedious, but sprinkled with some great banter; and quality artwork.

1-Star.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April, 2015)

If you like classical music, paired with a touching, poignant, and profoundly emotional story; you’re in for a treat. A beautiful work of art.

4-Stars.

Darker than Black (2007)

D-Black, is a gritty supernatural/sci-fi evocative of a Noir Cowboy Bebop (Yoko Kanno is amazing as always). What I liked (aside from the style) is that the plot isn’t spoon fed to you. For the first few episodes we don’t even know whats going on, or who the protagonist is, but everything fits into place.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

3-Stars.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk (Asterisk War, 2015)

Pretty much summed up by the genres: “Action, Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, School, Sci-Fi”. Generically pretty mediocre, but the final credit song is really nice.

2-Stars.

Grisaia No Kajitsu (2014)

Once you get past the gratuitist fan service, you get to experience some mature psychological drama tackling themes of identity, mental illness, and general emotional turmoil.

2-Stars.

Heavy Object (2015)

Nothing to see here. To quote a random comment from the shady site where I watched this “I pity the fool who’s looking for a second season”.

1-Star.

Monogatari (2009 - 2015)

At first I didn’t really know what to make of this show, and to tell the truth after something like 100 episodes I still don’t have a strong opinion. If it helps I watched the series in the following order (which I had to research since it has little enough continuity as is), and was thoroughly enthralled.

Monogatari is a strange mix of off-beat pacing, seemingly unguided dialogue, panning surrealist art, and for lack of a better term general Japanese weirdness (for example, there is a scene where Araragi brushes his sister’s teeth that legitimately made me uncomfortable).

The various seasons all blur together into one timeless piece of art that is both strange and wonderful. I watched them in the following order (and you should too!).

  1. Bakemonogatari
  2. Nisemonogatari
  3. Nekomonogatari: Kuro
  4. Nekomonogatari: Shiro
  5. Kabukimonogatari
  6. Otorimonogatari
  7. Onimonogatari
  8. Koimonogatari
  9. Hanamonogatari
  10. Tsukimonogatari
  11. Owarimonogatari

In general, I highly recommend just kicking back, zoning out; and watching the first few episodes of Bakemonogatari as a trial.

3-Stars.

GATE (2015)

This is a great example of a more-or-less empty story held together by really great characters. It has its fair share of light fan service with comic flair. Strangely similar to Outbreak Company in theme, but taken from a more mature standpoint. The niftiest part, is art that juxtaposes classic fantasy landscapes with modern technology.

2-Stars.

Noragami: Aragoto (2015)

The second season. Great art, phenomenal intro music, and some cool plot twists.

2-Stars.

Noragami (2014)

Slightly more mature shonen anime with some good moments. As an added bonus this was available on Netflix (English subs), so I didn’t have to feel like an otaku.

2-Stars.

Aquarion Evol (2012)

Epic sci-fi/fantasy mecha romance, with some absolutely gorgeous art, and a surprisingly good soundtrack. The story and characters are relatively flat, but that doesn’t really detract from what is a generally entertaining story. Aquarion Evol wildly oscillates between gripping self-conscious angst dripping with irony, and utter banality, and the net effect is positive.

2-Stars.

Outbreak Company (2013)

All around ‘fun’ anime that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Originally on my radar since it was so loved on Random Curiosity.

2-Stars.

Chaos;Head (2008)

This is a fairly weird anime; set in Shibuya Tokyo, Chaos Head follows an otaku through various antics/delusions. There are some great plot twists, and as a series it does a great job playing with perception—we aren’t entirely sure what is going on until the very end. Throughout the mind-games are some loveable supporting characters that form a relatively non-standard take on the typical harem anime.

Noticeable shortcomings include a lack of interesting dialogue; weird animation glitches (particularly character speech) and a fairly shallow plot.

2-Stars.

Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki No Deja Vu (2013)

Set one year after the events in the series, this movie follows Kurisu as she is wracked by guilt, and deja vu. Like the series, it is full of heartwarming/wrenching drama and loveable characters, however it somewhat lacks for depth (but then again in the movie format it does an admirable job).

Loved it.

4-Stars.

Akame ga Kill (2014)

Great characters, some witty dialogue, and topped off with some great fight scenes. Occasionally monotonous at times, but leads up to some powerfully dramatic moments later on.

1-Star.

Arslan Senki (2015)

The recent anime adaptation of a long history of novels and a 1991 movie (The Heroic Tale of Arslan), Arslan Senki is a medieval drama that more-or-less plays out like a good strategic board game. A reasonably large cast of monochromatic characters keeps it somewhat interesting, as well as some interesting plot developments and back-stories.

Tremendously intense sword fights.

2-Stars.

Aldnoah.Zero (2015)

Giant Robot Anime, with a great cast, great art, and a real plot. The first season was sublime, and the second rounded out the series nicely.

My only complaints involve the general lack of supporting character development; and the fact that the protagonist isn’t really fleshed out (but really should have been). We like him because the story is told (mostly) from his perspective, not out of any sense of camaraderie or sympathy.

Not to put too fine a point on it; but why is Spike from Cowboy Bebop an awesome character? Is it because he knows kung-fu? Because he is a phenomenal pilot? No. Spike’s story is told in fragments, each of which is exquisitely painful and poignant. We relate to Spike because we can (at the very least) understand where he is coming from, and the struggles that he has endured. We get exactly zero of that with Inaho (one of the protagonists); and spolier; when he is half robot, his personality doesn’t change in the slightest. It is (arguably) little problems like this scattered throughout that ultimately demerit this series; which otherwise is quite enjoyable—but don’t even get me started on the series finale…

Sub-genre (Giant Robot Anime) defining series, but not without its problems.

3-Stars.

Plastic Memories (2015)

At its heart, Plastic Memories is a bittersweet love story with sensitive dialogue and wonderful art (the sunsets are stunning). A poignant story that explores how we cope with love and loss. Plastic Memories separates itself from lesser works by achieving emotional balance; with moments of levity written in to provide respite from the onslaught of feels (for lack of a better word: crying out of happiness; simultaneous grief, elation, and relief; sadness and happiness, enjoying the moment while appreciating that it won’t last forever).

Short, sweet, and structurally very well contained within a single season. Highly recommended.

4-Stars.

Elfen Leid (2004)

Unfortunately known for gratuitist nudity, violence, and gore; the series is fantastic due to its emotional depth, and occult references. Well composed, and with a great ending; but occasionally falls into harem anime tropes.

2-Stars.

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (2015)

I loved Fate/Zero and I thoroughly enjoyed this for the same reasons: gorgeous animation, tremendous imagination, and dark themes. Fate/stay night follows up with the next generation of ‘Holy Grail War’ champions, and drama ensues. Not quite as interesting plot-wise as its prologue, but altogether enjoyable, and with artwork good enough to mask the relative lack of depth. The second season saves it, and leaves us with a touching epilogue.

3-Stars.

Sword Art Online II (2014)

I wanted this to be SAO like I remembered it, with the nuance, the charm, and the sweet nostalgia; but perhaps the hype was too much. SAO 2 fails in almost every way that the ‘prequel’ succeeded: lack of strong supporting characters, less interesting art, and no significant side-stories. Part of the fun of the original was the idea that even though Kirito (the protagonist) was fully capable of ‘going bad-ass’ on everyone, it didn’t matter. It was a reflection of how no matter how skilled or successful one is, they still can’t control everything (or maybe I’m just projecting). Fans of the series will watch it because they have to (like I did), but it won’t be the same.

2-Stars.

Bleach (2004)

For some reason it took me 2 seasons to realise this is executed as one of those ‘level-up’-style anime. Wherein the characters struggle, and (almost) lose everything, have some great inner realisation, and ascend to the next level; wherein everything explodes. The characters are all flat, and there is very little of substance but if you can stomach the tedium, there are some nice plot twists along the way. Worth repeating? Absolutely not. Good background noise for multitasking? Yup. For what it’s worth, I did finish the series; and I’m worried about what that says about my personality…

1-Star.

K (2012)

Some great style, with a well constructed plot. This one gets a bonus point for catering to my love of perceptual quirks (i.e. memory loss, hallucination etc.). Apparently there is a film sequel, which I’ll get my hands on at some point. Short, and relatively sweet.

2-Stars.

The Irregular at Magic High School (2014)

Nothing to see here.

1-Star.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 Season 1 (2007)

My first official foray into the Giant Robot genre (well, I guess Knights of Sidonia counts), MSG 00 delivers as advertised. While I acknowledge that half the point of Giant Robot Anime is showing giant robots doing giant robot things, it does get a little tedious. If this season were condensed into say 12 episodes, with all the character development and back story taking center stage instead of repetitive Giant Robot Battles, this would be a truly genre-defining series.

Don’t get me wrong: the Giant Robot Battles are pretty cool, and feature some cool artwork, but I think there can be more to it than that. Maybe I’m missing the point.

2-Stars.

No Game No Life (2014)

Clever, quirky, and featuring fantastically surreal art, No Game No Life delivers entertainment, and some times, all you want is a little entertainment. The characters are a little flat, and some memes are overplayed (fan service gets obnoxious at times), but otherwise fun.

2-Stars.

Code Geass (2006-2008)

All around enjoyable. Some great plot twists, marked by moments of noticeable tedium. Above all, a character drama with elements (successfully) taken from Death Note. Of course, R1 was the better of the two series, but I found R2 (which got a little ridiculous at time) moderately enjoyable.

Coming-of-age + giant robots + emotional turmoil. Worth watching, once only.

2-Stars.

Psycho-Pass (2013)

I like dark/dystopian themes, and this sci-fi/cyberpunk show was thought-provoking and philosophical, with great artwork. Psycho-Pass explores how a society would operate without free will—as an insidiously authoritarian police state. However, many of the great moments (writing wise) are demolished by the writer’s incessant need to “explain” the implications of a particular point, often with a daunting array of pretense and esoteric quotes from long-dead philosophers (not that their mortality is relevant mind you). Perhaps because it is for all intents and purposes a Shonen drama, the writers felt it necessary to “talk down” to the audience wherever possible, perhaps that is another latent message; but I doubt it.

The show had a few great episodes, and many great moments, but really lost steam in the second season (although the ending was great).

3-Stars.

Space Pirate Captian Harlock (2013)

A good ol’e fashioned sci-fi spaceship battle movie that portrays the remnants of the post-expansionist human race. To say that there wasn’t a plot would be a tad harsh, but its surprising how little happened in this close-to-two-hour long movie. The one thing it has going for it is absolutely stunning animation (complete with billowing smoke and hair worthy of a Blizzard cinematic). In fact, this animation is so beautiful, the movie possibly worth watching again just for the visual effects, but the rest of it is pretty weak.

Gorgeous animation, but severely lacking in its story. Normally I’d give this kind of thing 1-star, but the animation is just too good.

2-Stars

Knights of Sidonia (2014)

I do love a good o’le fashioned giant-robot-sci-fi anime, and this one doesn’t disappoint on that front. The animation is brilliant (highly stylized, with a myriad of epic vistas), and the sound is done really well, however a good story needs well—a story. Definitely slated for additional seasons (which I believe are warranted), the character development is virtually nonexistent, and the dialogue is weak. The voice acting (English version) isn’t bad, but that said there aren’t that many spoken lines of merit. I will watch the second season if/when it comes out, just because I feel like this show has great potential and I have a terrible weakness for glorious space-bound stories, but I can’t help but feel disappointed, especially coming off of my Steins;Gate high.

Great sound, animation, and fight scenes; the second season is equally good.

3-Stars.

Steins;Gate (2011)

Exceptional dialogue, flawed; memorable characters, beautiful art, and an amazing story. Without a doubt, a work of art. I would go so far as to say that as a series, it eclipses Cowboy Bebop (although the soundtrack isn’t as good).

The best TV I’ve seen in years.

5-Stars.

Spice and Wolf (2008)

Beautiful art, witty banter, and plot mechanics based on economics, what’s not to love? One of the greatest aspects of this story is that the cast of characters is so small, and so the series focuses on the relationship of the two protagonists. This allows for some fantastically deep character development, which pays off in spades.

4-Stars.

Death Note (2006)

Probably the most suspenseful series I’ve seen. Whereas most anime (or TV in general) tends to over-zealously blast action and violence, as well as cheap fan service and classic romance, Death Note takes a different route. The series is an artfully crafted game of cat and mouse; moves and counter moves, resolving into one of the best ‘detective’-style shows I’ve ever seen. As intellectually stimulating as they come, and all in all, an imaginative, well thought-out, and artfully crafted story.

4-Stars.

Kill la Kill (2013)

A thoroughly ridiculous, but altogether entertaining series. The first couple of episodes are simply outstanding: featuring a hilariously fast-paced, in-your-face style, with outrageous art. That said, the series slows down, and gets a little tedious about half-way through, and the gratuitist fan service took away from what could have been a cult-classic anime (on the style/pace alone).

The first episode is 4-stars, but the series as a whole gets 1.

1-Star.

Blue Exorcist (2011)

Nothing to see here.

1-star.

Fate/Zero (2011)

I really like dark anime, and this is no exception. Fate/Zero has moderately complex characters, and great visual style; however the aspect that separates it from other anime with similar qualities (SAO, Cowboy Bebop, etc.) is the depiction of really gritty violence and suffering. There are no prototypical heroes and villains (although I imagine the development of the principal antagonist is somewhat straightforward), and almost every character is severely flawed. The back stories of the various characters are revealed sparingly, with enough left out to allow for the tactful use of ambiguity. All in all, a deep and interesting story, with near superb execution.

What separates it (in terms of the level of enjoyment) for me from something like SAO, is that nothing is held back in the depictions of atrocity—some of the characters in Fate/Zero are truly evil: and there is no filter. Similarly some of the characters have motivations that are real heart-jerkers, and it’s terrifying to witness their battle with madness.

The Cowboy Bebop comparison is a little more subtle. If Cowboy Bebop is great the same way a show like Firefly is (solid characters, great serialization, sub themes etc.) Fate/Zero is great in that it is a story that has a true ending. We know from the beginning what the outcome will be, and how long it will take to get there, whats left for us to enjoy is the drama that unfolds along the way. Similarly, the Fate/Zero ends in a similar manner (conceptually) to how Cowboy Bebop does, delivering closure, but also with a tinge of hope.

4-stars.

Sword Art Online (2012)

On the surface, an effervescent anime with moderately complex characters. However, the ease and fluidity with which SAO deals with complex and personal themes surrounding identity, and control betrays a much more mature purpose; and there were several scenes that snapped me out of my comfort zone (although that could just be some Japanese culture bleeding through).

Perhaps I’m acutely susceptible to a well told coming-of-age story, partly some sweet-sweet catharsis relating to my own gaming experience, whatever it was, the series was addictive, and it’s surprisingly easy to ‘binge’—in fact I think I may have watched the first 6-hours in a single sitting.

3-Stars.

Attack on Titan (2013)

I ran into this on Netflix during a particularly mind-expanding neuroscience assignment and got hooked. A visually striking dystopian anime (gorgeous animation), Attack on Titan has everything a good anime should have: compelling plot, intrigue, and shameless single-frame internal monologues. On that note, AoT definitely suffers from what I’ll call “gratuitous monologuing syndrome”, but after a while I just tuned it out. Not the best anime I’ve seen recently, but a genuinely novel world, with some interesting political critiques, I’m looking forward to the next season.

2-Stars.

Cowboy Bebop (1998)

The best soundtrack of any show ever. Yoko Kanno is a god.

4-Stars.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Aside from an intriguing plot, and exciting action sequences, this film depicts a dark and gritty post-cyberpunk future eerily similar to that of Bladerunner.

3-Stars