Reviews

I NEED to share my very important opinions about very important things.

Long Reviews

Bunny by Mona Awad

I went into this one pretty blind, but it seemed like something I would enjoy so I gave it a try. I enjoyed it quite a bit, aside from a few annoying writing quirks. It was also pretty funny. Nothing that made me laugh out loud, but for a book about books, it handled meta humor really well and a lot of it was especially witty.

The very beginning made me really think I would hate the protagonist, Samantha. She's a literature student working on her MFA with no friends and no family, and most of the first part of the book is dedicated to her being a loser and judging a group of girls in her cohort known as Bunnies. They're like sorority sisters mixed with T*mblr stereotypes, a little too touchy-feely with each other and easily excited. Samantha and her friend Ava are pretty much textbook NLOGs that hate them and their rituals (at first, anyway). But her NLOG tendencies and the setting of the story were almost uncomfortably relatable. I, too, spent time in a creepy pretentious college town and invested too much energy in hating everyone and everything in it. But because I'm a real person and not a character in a book, I had the self awareness to know that I was jealous that I wasn't rich and couldn't get praise for my pretentious bullshit. I was embarassed for her. Of course, Samantha gets called out several times in the book, though she was ultimately right. But even then, Samantha was definitely also a Bunny all along.

My favorite parts were towards the middle, after Samantha was inducted into the Bunny cult. The creepiness of it all was fun. And I thought the Darlings they created were very entertaining. Samantha decides that she hates the Bunnies in the end, but I think she thoroughly enjoyed being part of the group even knowing that it was all fake. She fit right in.

The plot twist with Ava was done pretty well. I liked that you slowly start to figure out what's going on before Samantha does, so her realization serves as confirmation in a way that's satisfying instead of patronizing. The book doesn't spend too much time going over the logic of things because it isn't necessary. Speaking of Ava, something that I don't think I've seen very often is friendship love, which is different than romantic love or sexual love. But I wonder if it was also self love? I don't think Ava was Samantha's ideal girlfriend, but a taller, more confident and certain, unfiltered Samantha. Sometimes when Samantha and Ava talked, it felt like Samantha arguing with version of herself that knew the answers even if it wasn't ones she liked. Despite Max being Samantha's ideal boyfriend, Samantha was never really jealous or discontent with his relationship with Ava for her own sake. Maybe it's because she knew he wasn't real, but maybe she subconsciously already knew Ava was part of her, too.

One thing that the book stopped mentioning after a point was all of the murders and beheadings that were apparently happening all over town. It was pretty easy to figure out that these were all failed Darlings, but I would have liked to have seen Samantha or the other Bunnies at least make a passing comment about it. I also wanted more background about the individual Bunnies, and especially how they met.

The book's conclusion was good and felt complete. Even the "open for interpretation" parts didn't leave me feeling like my time was wasted. So, I'm honestly not sure why other readers seemed to have been confused by it. The book actively makes fun of how with the arts, confusing is almost synonymous with good. And it's really not a "you need a very high IQ to understand it" type of thing either. Really, it was just nice to see Samantha become less of a lonely, self-obsessed, angry loser and I think that was the whole point.

The Penthouse 3 / War in Life 3

Finally...48 episodes later, we finally get a meaningful and satisfying conclusion. But not really. Season 3 was bad, in a bad way. I had no expectations since since all of the lazy plotpoints were already reused in S2, but it was bad. I should not have tortured myself like this, and I feel bad for anyone compelled to critically analyze a single second of this drama. But I can't say I didn't enjoy most of the ride.

The fates of the reoccuring S1 characters (there were no actual protagonists) were pretty silly. Oh Yun Hui, Shim Su Ryeon, and Ha Yun Cheol were all individually pushed from a cliff. Ju Dan Tae's death was pretty funny ("Shoot me!!! See if I care!!!" *bang* "Waoh, what the fuck?! Why did you shoot me??!?"). Cheon Seo Jin and Logan get cancer. Ha Eun Byeol says she'll never sing again and then slits her throat. By the way, this finale aired on World Suicide Prevention Day. Kang Mari was surprisingly the only real winner, but she was my favorite character from the beginning so I'm pretty happy about that.

As for reused plot points, Ju Dan Tae goes to jail and escapes twice, Ha Yun Cheol dies three times (twice within 2 episodes), Logan dies 3 times, Shim Su Ryeon dies 3 times, Cheon Seo Jin gets dementia and goes insane twice, Ha Eun Byeol attempts suicide twice, Joo Seok Kyung and Ha Eun Byeol have nearly identical redemption arcs. I could go on. But I won't.

Instead, I would like to imagine how much worse this show could have, and should have been. First off all, I think Bae Ro Na, Joo Seok Hun and Lee Min Hyeok should have been in a true 3-sided love triangle. Despite all the screentime it got, literally nothing happened in Bae Ro Na and Joo Seok Hun's relationship, other than a single convoluted "나 때문에..." explanation for why they just could not be together, so I think doing it this way would provide a lot more opportunities for cliff-pushing. Min Seol Ah should have come back to life in season 2 just because pretty much everyone else got a chance to. Ha Yun Cheol being Bae Ro Na's real father was kind of a weak reveal because the first episodes of season 1 implied that Ro Na already knew her dad, and it wasn't him. If they were going to ignore such an obvious plothole anyway, they should have just made her real father Ju Dan Tae. Speaking of, I didn't like Ju Dan Tae's tragic backstory, because it makes me think he really didn't go far enough as a supervillian. I would have also liked to see some reverse redemption arcs. Shim Su Ryeon and Logan should have become increasingly evil until they kill each other in the final episode. None of this "everyone was happy...in heaven ^^" nonsense. Eugh. Ick. Gross.

In conclusion,

Thunderbolt Fantasy -東離劍遊紀- Season 3

The third season (I'm truly amazed it's made it this far) finished recently and it was as fantastic as the others. There was noticably less swordfighting, which is good because it left plenty of room for a really complicated plot. I think there are few shows of any genre that can juggle each character having a completely different motivation for doing what they do in a way that is logically consistent and still manages to move the story along. Thunderbolt Fantasy manages to do that really well without being predictable even with sometimes less-than-subtle foreshadowing.

I'd go so far as to say that the battles are the weakest part of the series, since they're all about the same: lots of sound effects, flashing lights, and spinning. And since all of the characters have over-the-top designs, you can't really tell who's limb or sword belongs to who, anyway. No one gets any power-ups or secret moves or anything either. But they did well to use these fights strategically this season for the most part, which I think is an improvement over the last two.

Lastly, the ending was perfect. An appropriate comeuppance for the villians with a cliffhanger that isn't annoying. I'd have like to have seen Rin Setsu A have his 4D chess game ruined again, since that's been fun, but having it all wrap up nicely without too much inconveniences nice too, since the protagonists spend most of the season struggling. It was very good, but I don't think anything will ever top the ending of season 1.

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Honestly, I think Thunderbolt Fantasy is criminally underrated. Understandably so, because even as huge fan of dolls of this style, if someone else had tried to sell wuxia puppet anime to me, "hmm sounds kinda lame" would have been my exact reaction. I haven't really sought out anime in years, so if it wasn't a topic of discussion in the BJD threads on /toy/ when it was first airing, so not only would I have not given it a chance, I might not have even heard of it.

Anyway, I hope Thunderbolt Fantasy continues on for a little while longer. Though I was able to get Rin Setsu A Nendoroid during its initial preorder, I hope there's another run of the whole set since they're literally impossible to get now aaand I kind of want the whole crew now that Nendocellphones are canon (and also because mine fell off my shelf and broke and maybe I want a backup for when it inevitably happens again). I'd even kill for a Volks collab but that'll never happen. Looking forward to Season 4 since it doesn't seem like they're out of ideas yet!

The Penthouse 2 / War in Life 2

I like watching Korean dramas because they are very similar to telenovelas, but with a much higher budget and no cartel-related subplots. I got into k-dramas in my early high school days, since they were popular in my friend group at the time. One of the first one recommended to me was Boys Over Flowers. I hated it, I thought the acting was bad and the plot was, in summary, an exasperated sigh. For example, one of the four main love interests gets autism from a car accident, which turns him into a loner incapable of feelings. I don't know if this backstory was simply a translation error in the subtitles, or a poor attempt at adapting the source material, or just a poor attempt at writing in general. Either way, I watched the whole thing and came out wanting more.

So basically, I not only tolerate but enjoy watching makjang dramas. It's very cathartic to let out all of your frustrations on fictional characters. But The Penthouse is really special. It gets compared to SKY Castle a lot and I don't think that's fair because SKY Castle actually tried to take itself seriously, which made it cringey (in a bad way) by the end. In contrast, The Penthouse, while still cringey (in a good way) really lets itself have fun.

The second season just finished airing so this is my short review of that. S2 is just a lot more of the first, but some of the bad guys (the whole cast) get a redemption arc. It's also less loud and shouty because Bae Ro Na isn't present for most of it. There's also less scenes of stuff being smashed or flung across the set. I wonder if the set designers complained about having to make 50 copies of every vase, or because of a tighter budget. I'm thinking it's the latter because there's was way more blatant PPL.

I think I need to make it very clear that nothing about The Penthouse as a whole is actually good or clever or witty. Except for the acting, which is often so excessively over-the-top that it's actually appropriate for the series. I'm almost certain that the writers were still writing while the show was airing, because so much random shit happens just in case they might want to go somewhere with it later. And if not, then everyone just kind of forgets that it happened and the show moves on. Deaths aren't permanent, and even "just kidding! It was a dream!" is used more than once. But I feel like S1 is much more intentional than S2. It's more entertaining to watch characters deal with the mess as it unfolds than watch them just writhe around in it. For a cohesive story, it would have been better to wrap it up in one season, and The Penthouse easily could have done so. But a cohesive story was not the goal. And with a third season on the way, it clearly still isn't the goal.

S1 is objectively better than S2, and if you replace the final episode of S1 with the final episode of S2, you pretty much have a complete story. The only thing you'd really miss out on is Cheon Seo Jin eating a sim card while shedding a single k-drama tear.

I would like to see more American dramas like Riverdale takes some cues from makjang k-drama, so that way even if they're bad they're at least watchable. They spend to much time trying to be respectable or they're not flashy enough.

No trash reality TV does not count.

So Pretty / Very Rotten by Jane Mai and An Nguyen

So Pretty / Very Rotten is a collection of comics and essays about lolita fashion written by Jane Mai and An Nguyen. The drawings are mediocre and the essay portions' typesetting is quite awful, some of the worst word spacing I've ever seen, to be honest. But the content itself was really good for what it was. I enjoyed it enough to blow through the book in a couple of hours.

Mai and Ngyuen's writing is not particularly noteworthy. The portions written by Novala Takemoto really emphasized a lack of a certain quality that makes Takemoto's writing really stand out. Well, we're relying on translation here, so maybe that's not actually true, and I'm just a fan of wacky Takemoto. But that's how it felt. But regardless, it was quite informative. There were a lot of things I didn't know or hadn't thought about, such as the distinction between shoujo, otome and utsukushii. How little about lolita fashion had been documented in its prime. The difference in attitudes towards lolita fashion between Japanese lolitas and the Western community. Materialism. Consumerism.

Perhaps dressing in lolita fashion is not the goal but just a step in the journey, whatever that might be. Actually, the book addressed leaving lolita or falling out of love with the obsession of buying and buying yet never being fulfilled several times. In this way, it is not something to feel ashamed about not wearing lolita out of this fear or concern...or emptiness. I think lolita tries to straddle the balance between "person" and "feeling," even if the effort is a little futile since lolita is, first of all, inherently a material thing.

Nothing about the art particularly stood out to me. The style was cute enough but some of it felt really tryhard. I liked a few of the short comics, but some of them tried to be a little too mysterious. I feel like there was supposed to be some kind of metaphor but it was just wasn't there. Or maybe some deeper context was needed to understand it. So the result felt artificial and surface level. Just about every comic could have been improved tenfold if it had either stuck to telling a cute lolita-inspired story or delivered on the promise of being at least somewhat mentally engaging. But other reviews told me as much so my expectations were not very high and I definitely enjoyed what I was given. Though, the written content could have easily stood on its own with a few of the higher quality illustrations sprinkled in if absolutely necessary.

Overall, I despite my gripes (the typesetting is just really ugly), I truly am happy to have read So Pretty / Very Rotten and even more happy that there were people out there to write it. I will probably even re-read it at some point. It's helped me come to terms with the fact that lolita as clothing may not be here forever, but it is the heart of the wearer that matters to begin with anyway.

Short Reviews

Games
Title Notes

Nameless ~The One Thing You Must Recall~

plainly generic otome game, all of the tropes are there, but the boys are also BJD, so that's pretty cool

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

I will finish this game I will finish it but the combat system makes me want to rip my hair out even on Easy

KUUKIYOMI: Consider It

so silly, $2 well spent

New Pokemon Snap

as usual, a quality spin-off that exceeds the mainline

Pokemon Legends: Arceus

really fun, cute boys; too many bugs, looks like it was made by interns

Pokémon Sword

I have come to realize that I am too old for this franchise and that's ok, but it's a bad game

Manga
Title Notes

Bizarre Records of Mononobe Used Book Store
もののべ古書店怪奇譚

a little sloppy but an interesting idea

Chi no Wadachi
血の轍

legitimately uncomfortable to read at times, very good

Dandadan
ダンダダン

aside from the protagonists being high schoolers that keep losing their clothes, it's pretty fun for a battle shounen

Golden Kamuy
ゴールデンカムイ

the anime made me think it would be bad but it's not and I'm going to be very sad when it ends

Innocent

dropped but the art is fantastic

Usagi-moku Shachiku-ka
ウサギ目社畜科

it's cute and relatable and all around a good time

Witch Hat Atelier

I desperately wish the writing was better because the plot makes no sense

Anime
Title Notes

Aggretsuko

not worth watching past the 1st, maybe 2nd, season; I don't think I've ever seen a steeper decline in writing quality when the premise is actually interesting

Angel Sanctuary

fucking weird and gross but I think I could have enjoyed how edgy it was if I had watched it about a decade sooner

The Disastorous Life of Saiki.K
斉木楠雄のΨ難

pretty funny despite eyesore character designs

The Great Pretender

doesn't know what its own tone is but otherwise pretty good

Hozuki no Reitetsu
鬼灯の冷徹

it's very fun

Non Non Byori

cozy in a mundane way like Tamako Market but could use more talking animals

Michiko & Hatchin
ミチコとハッチン

highly underrated, can't recommend it enough; it's terribly bleak (in a good way)

Mob Psycho 100

turns into One Punch Man halfway through?

Osomatsu-san

actually I liked it at the time

Jujutsu Kaisen

every weeb I know losing their minds when it's literally Naruto modern day AU

Kuuchuu Buranko

if you havent seen this yet idk what to tell you

Polar Bear Cafe

obligatory "I'm not a furry but" it's so cute and charming and funny; some of my favorite OPs and EDs of all time

Pop Team Epic

I did not understand most of the jokes

Space Dandy

I like to rewatch it on occasion

The Vampire Dies in No Time
吸血鬼すぐ死ぬ

a bit like Gintama