“My Hero Academia” (Seasons 1 thru 4)

"My Hero Academia" (Seasons 1 thru 4) — Kimia Wood In a superhuman society, these kids work hard to one day use their abilities as Heroes.

Anime has opened up a new world for me. After hearing My Hero Academia hyped enough on the internet, we checked it out…and, well, it made it onto my list of 27 things I like best.

The themes, world-building, and characterization are astounding, and the arcs they take the characters on are impressive, too. It’s not perfect – some story-telling choices are sloppy, and the main lead is insufferable at times – but it’s still incredible…and with only a few caveats, I can recommend it to everyone (even my mom, though she’s not into shonen).

(Note: I am only reviewing the anime…not the manga, any of the movies, or the video game – because, yeah, apparently there’s a video game. Who knew?)

The Super-Charged Cast

MHA accomplishes the remarkable feat of creating a large cast where each member is memorable, and has their own personality.

At the beginning, there are, say, four or five stand-outs that serve as our “power trio” (I know the math doesn’t come out – work with me), while the rest of the first-year class is a blur of unpronounceable Japanese names.

But after a season or two, every single member of the class has had a chance to shine…to display a personality quirk, reveal depth of character, or establish a stable relationship dynamic for us to remember them by.

Let’s start at the top.

Whiny Green-hair

Our young heroic protagonist is Deku, a boy born without a Quirk – this universe’s term for the unique superpower that 80% of the population is born with.

These abilities range from having a big tail, to being invisible, to cancelling gravity on things you touch, to shooting explosions with your hands.

But Deku was born without any Quirk. He still dreamed of being a great hero like his idol All-Might (the Number 1 professional hero – “saving everyone with a big smile”), and when the inciting incident gives him a Quirk, he enrolls in “hero high school” to train his abilities and join an agency one day.

Why did we give him the nickname “Whiny Green-hair” before we could remember his Japanese name?

Uah…He’s one of the three problems with the show.

Deku is earnest and selfless…but he’s also one big bundle of insecurities. Raised by a single mom and used to being the underdog, he’s a wheezy nerd who has indulged his hero fandom by analyzing fighting styles and brainstorming new ways for others to use their Quirks.

But all that means he tends to over-think things, and almost every encounter involves him mumbling to himself in a frenzy of anxiety.

Sure, it’s realistic considering his age, his upbringing, and his personality…but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying when he wastes time wondering whether he can succeed instead of mapping out ways to succeed.

The first season is practically drowning in his angsty internal monologue…and my dad says the voice actor they got for the English dub is grating. (I guess his voice does have a tendency to squeak and whine — couldn’t they have gotten someone who’d already hit puberty?)

All that said…

What saves Deku (and the show) is the way he changes. As Deku grows and stretches his abilities, we see how his obsession with studying others and their abilities makes him a better team leader – better able to use the talents of his fellow students to get them out of situations.

Not only does he gain more confidence, but he’s forced to leave behind the weepy, abasing personality bit by bit. He’s still not a battle-hardened chill-dude who does what needs to be done without dithering…but he is a driven hero-in-training whose determination to help others is matched by the spine to stand up to opponents.

He cries way less than he did earlier, and he’s a much faster thinker in combat than he used to be.

And this willingness to take their characters’ personality crutches and rip them away is what raises MHA above the rest.

Speaking of which…

Lord Explosion Murder

Deku’s childhood best enemy is a Class A jerk, braggart, and violent borderline-psychopath. (The second problem with the show.)

His name is Bakugo, but when the class is coming up with Hero names for themselves, one of his attempts is “Lord Explosion Murder.”

His Quirk is nitroglycerin-like sweat that lets him fire explosions from his palms, and since his Quirk manifested about age four, he’s been praised and doted on for being so strong.

This twisted into an inferiority complex/imposter syndrome that displayed itself in Bakugo being a toxic bully to everyone – but especially to Deku, who somehow thought they were friends and that it was his own responsibility to reach out to Bakugo and “fix” their dynamic.

Well, a full discussion is probably beyond the scope of this review…so let me explain why this walking bomb doesn’t derail the entire show.

Well…he does get on my nerves…

But he also gets a slow, painful, subtle, yet powerful character arc.

TV shows are often high-lighted for their ability to tell long, drawn-out stories with more subtlety and depth than a short movie could squeeze in. MHA has used this strength on Bakugo.

Throughout the show, his hair-trigger temper and verbal threats of actual bodily harm make you wonder why he isn’t in a straight-jacket. Are the teachers and other adults in the show as idiotic as Deku? Sure, Bakugo is attending the Hero course, but his self-centeredness, pride, and domineering personality paint him as more of a Villain.

Then…you see the mastery of the delicate brush.

Bakugo builds friendships with people who are not Deku…and through clashes with villains, tests for school, and other plot arcs he is forced to realize his abrasive habit of lashing out is not who he actually wants to be.

Unlike Deku, he doesn’t prattle on in internal monologue, telling us exactly what he thinks about himself and why. However, just as much can be achieved with a few terse lines of dialogue, a few facial expressions, and the way Bakugo interacts with people who are not Deku.

Time will tell where he ends up…but the mere fact that he’s not allowed to be “the bully character no one feels bad for” but forced by the story to grow and change is…well, it’s why MHA is 100 times better than Avatar YES I SAID IT.

Adults Actually Adulting

MHA doesn’t just force the child characters to grow up and get spines, self-control, perspective, etc.

It has Adult characters that actually behave Grown Up!

The teachers are the most obvious example.

They aren’t just token adults to let the kids interact with no oversight or input. Oh, no.

These teachers actually know their jobs…their jobs being – not only to push the kids past the limits of their Quirks and make them effective fighters, but also – to forge the characters of the students into mature, thoughtful, other-focused, quick-thinking, big-picture Heroes.

My favorite is Mr.…er, his Hero name is Eraser-Head. His Quirk is the ability to cancel out the Quirk of anyone he stares at – until he blinks. This makes him a perfect choice for training students who are still getting a hold of their powers.

But he’s also brutally hard-core. He himself is a beast of a fighter, but he’s also ruthless in pushing his students to do their best. Several times, they come within an inch of being expelled because, after all, if they don’t have the mind-set to learn, adapt, and push themselves…then they’re wasting their time trying to become Heroes.

All-Might is the Number 1 Hero – the self-proclaimed “Symbol of Peace” – and Deku’s childhood idol. But he’s also joined the faculty at their Hero school, so he becomes a vital character of the show.

He’s not a one-note paragon, though. He has doubts, and weaknesses. As the show progresses, we see more and more of his back-story and struggles, and get a sense that even the grown-ups have things they can’t handle.

Though he has a special mentor relationship with Deku, he has made an impact on every character in the universe – from the students, from the Heroes who worked with him, to the villains, to the street-crawling thugs. His towering personality adds complexion and depth to a million other characters and relationships because of how each person views him – and his ambition to give civilians a “Symbol of Peace” to take comfort in.

"My Hero Academia" (Seasons 1 thru 4) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Dualshockers.com

Everyone gets fleshed out.

Ally or antagonist – policemen, teachers, parents, villains, or dudes – everyone gets the extra brushstrokes to turn them from a talking head into a person with their own agendas and desires.

What’s more, the majority of the students are mature, quick-thinking, hard-working, cool-headed, and focused on the end goal of becoming Heroes who help others.

In fact, one of the reasons Lord Explosion Murder is sufferable is that he’s actually pretty intelligent – good at summing up a situation and seeing what needs to be done from a big-picture standpoint – and then actually doing what needs to be done – even if he’s grumpy about it and pretends he’s not really doing it for the good of those around him.

Whenever a side character gets a chance at the spotlight and we see some more depth and maturity to their personality, I giggle in sheer glee.

Finally, as of Season 4, the parents and teachers are firmly on the side of the students – backing them up, shielding them, and forcing them to grow so that they’ll be strong enough for the trials ahead.

In short, being real, big-boy-pants, dithering-free Grown-Ups. I love it.

Once Upon a Time: Quirks, All Over the Place

My Hero Academia is vaguely set in our world, far-future…so the occasional reference to real geography or literature pops up.

However, now there are superpowers…in fact, a majority of the population has superpowers.

While plenty of Quirks seem basically the same (during the school’s fight tournament, two students are frustrated to find their Quirks are essentially re-skinned copies of each other), there’s enough flex within the abilities of each individual to make each character stand out.

First, the World

Human beings are twisted, selfish beings. When you randomly sprinkle superpowers onto them, you’re going to get villains.

The world seems to be pretty stable right now (from the perspective of our teen protagonists), but it becomes clear that this is the work of All-Might (Earth’s mightiest hero, etc.).

In the past, super-villains ran free in the streets – and even now, the government-sanctioned Hero Agencies fight a constant battle against street thugs and organized crime.

And that’s not even counting the villains slowly emerging from the shadows, who’d like nothing more than to see the world burn.

It’s also pretty realistic that using Quirks without a Hero license is outlawed.

While I’m personally all about self-defense and letting the man-on-the-street defend himself, there are also some examples of why it’s a good thing there are designated “do-gooders” to help those in need.

After all, with so many crazy abilities in the world, physics itself could get pretty unpredictable pretty quickly.

Speaking of Crazy Abilities…

There are 20 students in Deku’s class. There’s also a second Hero Course class, not to mention all the teachers, the rest of the school, the parents and families, the dudes on the street, the villains, organized crime –

In short, you’ve got a lot of Quirks to figure out, especially if they all have to be at least slightly unique.

At first glance, this leads to a few lame Quirks. One girl can make her hands grow to the size of her body. Deku’s mom can levitate small objects – small objects, from a short distance away. Another student can voice control small animals.

But, as the teachers use their classes and obstacles to drill into the students, it’s not what your Quirk is – it’s how you use it.

And part of the joy of MHA is seeing all the creative ways people use their Quirks.

Deku is one of the most obvious examples, since he didn’t even get his Quirk until the start of the show, so he hasn’t been experimenting with it since childhood. However, it’s also a powerful strength Quirk, and so a lot of his struggle is working to control it without destroying his own body in the process.

(One of the reasons he’s such a popular protagonist with the internet is that every single victory is an uphill battle…and even then, he often doesn’t conquer – at least on the first try.)

The out-of-the-box thinking – and the obvious fun the creators had in coming up with new ways to bend the rules of Quirks – make this element one of the best in the show.

Caveats

The show isn’t perfect. A couple story-telling choices hold it back, and some inappropriate humor might make it unsuitable for some audiences.

Non-Linear Story-telling & Repetition

The third biggest issue with MHA is the pacing, and the times when they don’t trust the audience to get the point.

I’ve pointed out above that MHA excels at building elements over several episodes, painting characters through repeated actions – not just dialogue – and then paying off great character development that we didn’t even know they were setting up.

Which makes it so frustrating when the show uses flash-backs to constantly go over material we already know.

I haven’t seen the manga, so it’s possible this is an issue with the anime specifically – possibly to fill out episodes while they waited for more plot content. But it’s frustrating.

Deku, especially, has a tendency to lapse into flash-backs of his childhood, the dramatic circumstance of him getting his Quirk, previous conversations (sometimes conversations from this very same episode), pervious interactions with different people, dramatic declarations (“I will be a hero that saves people with a smile—”)…

Not just that, but the beginning and ending of each episode is usually a recap or a teaser, respectively…one of which is material we already know, another is material we could know by just watching the next episode.

Y’all know there’s this thing called binging? We aren’t actually waiting a week between episodes…we just stream it from our favorite service over the internet, and – there it is.

Even if we did have to wait – we’re intelligent adults! We can remember things and make connections and get references to previous conversations without you having to constantly replay the same clips over and over again!

The very fact that not all of their story-telling is so ham-fistedly blunt proves that the creators have better skills than this — several of the side characters and minor villains, especially, are expertly sketched and fleshed out without the need of this mind-numbing repetition and exposition.

Perhaps the creators will eventually grow enough confidence in their craft to leave the copy-paste flash-backs behind. It would tighten and streamline the episodes immensely.

That’s not the only kind of confusing flash-back, though.

I don’t even know what to call this narrative device, but once in a while the show will skip over important information, then pause in the middle of the action to go back and show it.

This can be done well, as where Deku makes a clever plan for the group of friends to escape a situation — then, as we watch them act out the plan, we hear his voice-over directions to them, explaining how it should work. That compresses the narrative and lets us experience the action while still seeing how clever Deku was to plan it all out ahead of time.

When it’s badly used, it throws the characters into a confrontation, then jumps back to the characters discussing their plan of attack, then jumps ahead to what they’re doing…and that’s an example dealing with an actual physical confrontation.

Sometimes characters have conversations, but they’re chopped up – and we don’t get to see the more dramatic or meaningful moments of the talk until a flash-back from one of the participants later on.

This is all just frustrating – making it feel more like the authors withholding information for maximum emotional impact rather than letting us experience events smoothly with the characters.

I mentioned how nice it is that the villains get fully fleshed-out motives and personalities?

Yeah, only to a point. When we get to the point of stretching about one episode worth of conflict out across three episodes, padding the run-time with extensive flash-backs of information we either 1) know already, or 2) could pick up from a single facial expression…that’s just bad story-structuring. (YES, I’m looking at you, Gentle Criminal!)

Slowing fight scenes to a crawl so we can explore the backstories of each of the bad guys through flash-backs is also not the best way to handle it.

Yet…for all my complaints…the show still made it into my top five of all time.

If they fixed some of these issues? One Punch Man might be in danger of losing its crown…(not big danger, because Genos, but still…)

Sexual Humor

My Hero Academia is blissfully romance-free. One of Deku’s classmates has a crush on him, but she is currently channeling it into trying to be as hard-working a Hero as he is…not angst. And that’s exactly what actual real love is built for – to draw us out of ourselves and inspire us to be better, not to gratify our own desires!

The writers seem more interested in growing the characters into mature Heroes – not pairing them off…which is delightful. (They’ve also avoided falling into the trap of LGBTXXX-posturing, which is so refreshing.)

But nothing is perfect – not even MHA.

One of the students is girl-crazy (it’s like his single biggest character trait), and the humor department gets a lot of milage from his pathetic attempts to see their curves. There’s a scene where the boys and girls are bathing (separately) and he tries to climb the wall that separates them to get an eye-full. He fails…but the audience sees some naked back-sides (both genders).

Several of the female Hero costumes are…not appropriate. And one girl’s Quirk involves her being naked from time to time (though we don’t see any of the “essentials” that a bikini wouldn’t cover).

The show mostly plays it for humor – or as a realistic portrayal of female heroes using their “qualities” to boost their own PR – but it means I can’t blanketly recommend MHA to all the younger siblings out there.

Yes, girls have anatomy. Maybe we need to acknowledge that fact from time to time. But not everyone is ready for that.

Region 1 DVD Set Pretty Please!

You can come for the cool fights with different super-powers…the writers know that’s what you want, and serve up plenty of that.

But you can also come for long-form relationship development and character growth…growth focused on taking selfish, unsure, inexperienced children and turning them into strong, responsible, chill, kick-butt Adults.

I really, really hope the later seasons don’t go off the deep end…and also that they publish a reasonably priced DVD set soon.

Until then, head to your favorite anime streamer and queue it up! Yes, they have the “continuing story” threads that you’d expect from a series…but they also know how to close each separate story arc with cathartic resolution! Kimia-Hater-of-Cliffhangers approves.


Cover image credit: Newsweek.com

The brother and I watched it on Funimation. You can also find it streaming on CrunchyRoll, BestDubbedAnime, YouTube, and Hulu, plus I’m sure lots of other places. (Obviously you’d have to subscribe to whatever service you want to use. I can make no recommendations.)

Amazon does offer some DVDs (apparently so does AnimeCornerStore) but each season is split up for some reason and CHECK YOUR REGION BEFORE YOU BUY (also make sure it’s in a language you speak!).

SHADOW Now Up for Preorder!

Yes, Transmutation of Shadow – my action-packed story of government intrigue, sci-fi mental abilities, and the assassin-turned-fugitive trying to uncover the truth – is now finalized!

You can order the paperback right away – or preorder the ebook from your favorite retailer! (Amazon doesn’t have preorders available for paperbacks.)

It launches on MY BIRTHDAY April 27, 2020 (I’m turning 27, so it’s my “golden birthday”).

More good news: if you do preorder, you can message me with your order code and/or which retailer you used, and I’ll send you a collection of deleted scenes and alternate endings! (I’m thinking of them like “alternate time-line” versions of how the story went!)

SmashwordsAmazon KindleKoboBarns & NobleOverdrive

A super-soldier assassin. Wrongful deaths. An agency cover-up that endangers a child.

Eric is the best. (Okay, maybe not the best, but one of the best.) He can walk invisibly through a crowd, scale buildings, become anyone. He kills his country’s enemies with precision and without hesitation.

But there’s another side to that coin – accuracy. And some of his computer-fed, handler-approved, briefing-verified victims weren’t on The List.

(Well, obviously they were on someone’s List…just not the right list.)

When Eric finds his own Agency targeting him, he determines to uncover the truth for himself…no matter where it leads. No matter what the cost.

Even if it makes him the bad guy.

As exciting as The Matrix, as adorable as One-Punch Man, Transmutation of Shadow is the pulse-pounding, heart-touching adventure you’ve been waiting for!

Smashwords — Amazon KindleKoboBarnes & Noble

RWBY (Seasons 1-5)

"RWBY" (Seasons 1-5) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Haruhichan.com

Color is associated with emotion.

Which is super appropriate for RWBY.

This is yet another web series that my brother raved about…and then also mourned when later seasons “went loopy.”

It’s an anime-inspired adventure of four girls training to become hero-protectors of their world, fighting the monstrous Grimm from without and human divisions from within. The title comes from the first names of the four leads, which match their associated colors (and I was so proud I figured that out on my own, without having to read the Wiki page).

TL;DR— If you like stories that make you feel, this is for you!

The Colorful Cast

Each member of Team RWBY has a dominate color that dictates their character design…and to a certain degree their personality.

Yang is bright, loud, gung-ho, and quick-tempered.

Weiss is up-tight, cold, yet rigidly determined and precise…and so earnest.

Blake is…well, worried about her inner demons.

And Ruby has a heart – as big as the moon, as warm as bathwater.

All the characters have a “gimmick.” Even if it’s not a huge deal, there’s something to make them stand out…to give us a “hook” to hold on to and remember them by.

"RWBY" (Seasons 1-5) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Youtube

I hesitate to call them “larger than life”…but there’s definitely an emotional flair that makes these characters (all of them, even the side characters) latch onto you and not let go.

Combat…in Color

This individualism is carried over into the battles. Every single person has a personal weapon and fighting style…and a personal super-power called a “semblance” that usually informs their combat preferences.

Ruby has a scythe that’s bigger than she is, doubles as a sniper rifle, and folds up to the size of a notebook.

Weis’s style is all about precision and proper form…using her semblance of magic glyphs. Yang has wrist-mounted, punch-activated shotguns.

Everything is about jumping, flip-flopping, spinning, and using everything as a gun. It’s something you have to see for yourself.

The art style combines anime influences with a simplified feel, distinctive colors, and a feeling of momentum and energy that mixes with the magic system– you just have to see it for yourself!

The Grimm

Red-eyed creatures of darkness, the Grimm are spawned by negative emotions and attracted to panic, fear, and distrust.

They actually make sense of that old stand-by, the “don’t tell the populace what’s going on or they’ll panic” cliché. The cliché is still kinda tired, but at least there’s a viable reason for the policy when popular unease can literally attract sharp-toothed monsters to your door!

While we see bigger and scarier Grimm as the series progresses, it’s also very clear that their power comes from people…the bad guys who prefer widespread terror and bloodshed if it gives them power.

You can kill Grimm…but they just evaporate into smoke when they die. The deeper problem lies in the hearts of men.

Can a plucky little girl with a massive scythe do anything against that?

Soundtrack

RWBY features many official songs, both as episode intros and for the end-credits.

Why are they so…catchy?

The lyrics are fine…clever and effective, but the rhyme schemes can be sloppy at times. The tunes are pretty, but hard to sing until you listen to them a couple times. (And lean toward the one-note, syncopated style of modern praise music at times.)

The style is like cinematic orchestral smashed with rock with a smattering of ballad, which is apparently my groove. And the performers are first class.

Yet…what elevates these to “play constantly on repeat”-worthy is—

The emotion.

Red Like Roses

We get a hint of this, Ruby’s theme song, in the first teaser short. The full version is a back-and-forth between Ruby and her dead mother…and it’s HEART-RENDING.

I Burn

I think this is a credits song…I only found it through the soundtrack lists on Youtube.

It’s Miss Punchy Powerhouse on a power trip! The only downside is one of the verses has (ahem) words I can’t play in front of my parents… (Ooo — found a cleaned-up version!)

When It Falls

This villain song has been in my head for a solid month.

Maybe it’s the innocents lying in pools of their own blood, or the “victory for hate incarnate.”

I have issues.

Professor Ozpin

This is my brother’s favorite character because he sips coffee while launching students off the cliff.

The first few volumes take place in the magic school, and suffer from some of those clichés of “the students have to fix everything.”

And yet…Professor Ozpin is always in the back-ground, watching with wise eyes. In my brother’s words, he’s the “grown-up among grown-ups,” who knows way more than he lets on…and is patient enough to let the students grow at the pace they need – to become the protectors the world needs.

Along with Ruby’s uncle and the other teachers, he maintains the feeling that, yes, the grown-ups actually do know what’s going on…and when bad things go down, they have their eye on the long game.

This is one of the things that breaks in Volume 6, apparently.

It’s all very well to have twelve-year-old superheroes…but when stuff gets real, they need to have older, experienced warriors at their back.

But I stopped watching at the Volume 5 climax…which is everything you could wish for, bringing all players (junior and senior) together on each side of the battlefield for an epic show-down.

(By the way, Blake’s parents are AWESOME.)

Themes

Family

Part of Yang’s personal quest is finding her mother, who abandoned the family when Yang was little.

By the time she finally meets her mother, though, she’s had time to develop her attitudes based on the unconditional support and encouragement she’s gotten from both her dad and uncle. (And her team.)

Weis comes from rich gentry…meaning her identity is wrapped up in her family name. Blake is a racial minority, and quarreled with her parents about how to respond to that.

And Ruby… Well, Ruby accepts everyone, whatever their race, appearance, or mechanical make-up.

And as the Volume 1 title song says, “Victory is in a simple soul.” It’s Ruby’s open-hearted optimism that has a chance to defeat this grim world (ha ha).

Racism

Two races exist in RWBY: Humans, and Faunus…basically humans with animal attachments (ears, tails, horns, etc.). While we get hints that the Faunus have been treated as second class citizens – excluded from restaurants and paid unfair wages – what we actually see is the activism group that’s started using terrorism to get their point across.

The show does a good job showing the problems that arise when activism becomes a goal in and of itself…when righteous indignation becomes hatred and selfishness.

Emotions again: even the characters on the “wrong” side have their motivations and feelings honestly explored. Their actions are unjustified, but we see how the feelings of oppression and revenge led them to this place.

What isn’t done so well is showing the original oppression that they’re reacting against. (Although a character short for Volume 5 does a pretty good job.)

Teamwork and Friendship

When the students arrive at “hero” school, they’re paired up and combined into teams in seemingly random fashion.

But the teachers apparently have a method to their madness. (See Ozpin above!)

Ruby and Weis, while initially polar opposites, are forced to work through their differences to become best friends.

Two other students – a try-hard who got in on forged transcripts, and a universally respected prodigy – are teamed as partners…and develop a beautiful relationship that spurs character development and EMOTION. They are still my most favorite couple although they are also the most TRAGIC one!

Heroes and Fairytales

Just as RWBY draws on classic fairytales for its art direction and character design, it also weaves into the themes and subtext questions like:

“Are fairytales just real stories we’ve forgotten?”

“Are heroes real?”

“The mighty warriors of the past all died…usually while fighting the darkness. Is it still worth doing what they did? Did they still accomplish something?”

People sometimes think of a “fairytale” as something full of improbable things with an unrealistically happy ending. But fairytales also have dark, scary, and depressing things in them.

This tense balance of tone also flows through RWBY.

They’re just little girls, learning how to be warriors. Their moves look really cool and colorful…until you see a glimpse of the real horrors out there.

The horrors that have killed real, grown-up warriors.

The series gets progressively darker, and we seem to ask the question:

“Can Ruby’s idealism really conquer Grimm?”

“Won’t her eagerness to befriend everyone bite her back one day?”

“Can this team of misfits really stick together and accomplish anything?”

“The villainess out there is so huge and horrible…so much worse than what these mere kids have faced so far. If the grown-ups couldn’t stop the darkness, how can we have a hope?”

As for the last question, the Volume 5 finale seems to say: “Together!”

The Never-ending Story?

My brother DNFed Volume 6, so I haven’t watched it (or the seventh volume currently streaming).

But the Volume 5 finale is a pretty perfect place to end things. Sure, there are lots of plot threads still in motion…but the character arcs have peaked, the teams have merged into cathartic awesomeness, epic battles have been pitched, and mini-bosses have soundly had their butts handed to them.

It is, in short, an ending of EMOTIONAL RESONANCE.

So…

If you want to giggle, laugh, say, “Oh, that’s so cool,” and (ahem) sob like a little baby (like when Ruby is chit-chatting and telling all the school news to her mother…’s grave?)…try RWBY.

You can even watch it with your parents and younger siblings, because – while there’s scary, creepy, suspenseful stuff – there’s nothing you have to cover their eyes for. (Or their ears, unlike RoosterTeeth’s other show…Also, careful searching for fan art online!)


While it’s not necessary to start with them, these four character shorts will introduce Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang (er…hopefully hers will go over your kid sister’s head)…and then you can watch the actual episodes for FREE on Youtube.

Or get them directly from the creators at RoosterTeeth!

“Transmutation of Shadow” Chapter 1

"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodCheck out the first chapter of my upcoming action-adventure Transmutation of Shadow! Meet Eric Kedzierski, psionic human and assassin extraordinaire…and, yes, his last name is very “long, ugly, and Polish” (his words).

Subscribe to the mailing list to be alerted as soon as it’s ready for publishing! (We’re currently waiting on beta reader feedback…)

It’s now available for preorder! Find at your favorite retailer…or get the paperback now!


Business As Usual

In which I kill somebody.

I eyed the two-lane country road, twenty yards below me.

“Target is four minutes out,” came Oscar’s voice through the plug in my ear.

“Roger,” I said, low toned.

Combat mics are designed to pick up soft voices. Of course, I was the only human being in about two miles of the spot. I’d made sure of that when I first arrived.

I double-checked my handiwork on the tree. It was already dead, leaning slightly toward the incline and the road. A storm had recently passed through, as the lightening-scorched poplar a hundred feet to my right showed, so the set-up was more believable.

I had weakened the base of the dead tree with a focused energy lance, and now all it would need was a concentrated mental shove. The age of the tree, and the lightening in the area, would both discourage anyone from analyzing for psionic scorches.

“Target three minutes out,” said Oscar.

I knelt at the base of my tree, the better to see the road through a gap in the foliage. My form-hugging combat suit protected my knees from the damp grass.

“Any word on the escort?” I asked.

“Armored SUV, three bodyguards, one driver,” said Oscar, from the data pulled up on his computer screen in the command center at Langley. “Chase vehicle about eight minutes behind, looks like, so you’ll have to hustle.”

I nodded to myself. The branches I had tossed onto the curve of the road fifty yards away would look like storm debris, and would make the car slow down.

“Three bodyguards,” I muttered. “Oil sheiks are paranoid, huh?”

“I think anybody who makes it onto our list is paranoid,” Oscar answered. “After all, it’s not just the United States he’s ticked off over the years. I’m sure there are some rival oil kings who’ve lost minions or trade deals to him. Maybe he’s responsible for that ambassador we lost in the Middle East. I don’t know; they don’t tell me these things.”

I adjusted my goggles, switching to thermal vision to make sure no stray cars were coming. The last thing I needed at the moment was a civilian blundering in to the set-up.

“Not my problem. I don’t make the big decisions,” I said.

My handler of many years said nothing. It’d been a standing inside joke between us: we don’t get paid enough to decide who should die. That’s for the bureaucrats who run the Agency to do. Got a complaint? Go talk to Congress.

Car engine. With a directed psionic ping, I received feedback in one of my goggles for movement telemetry.

Sure enough, they were moving around the corner. They slowed at the tree branches, and lumbered carefully around the curve.

“American car,” I whispered to Oscar.

“Huh?”

“It’s a GMC. Are you sure –?”

“Look, the spooks have been tracking them for weeks. Yes, it’s the right car. Go for it!”

The SUV cautiously picked up speed. The driver was being careful, given the hilly terrain.

Digital overlays in my goggles gave me the timing. With all the technology, this job was hardly a challenge —

I lanced the tree, giving it an energized shove with my hand for good measure. The tree crashed into the road, and the SUV plowed into it, squealing as the driver tried to apply the brakes.

As I sprinted down the hill from my hiding place, I was already feeling out the lock. Very standard stuff…I mean, couldn’t a corrupt Arab tyrant invest in a little more complicated door lock?

At the touch of my finger, an electrical pulse overrode the car’s computer, and I yanked the rear door open.

My other hand cracked the top on the vial, and nonlethal gas blew into the car. My glance flitted between the unconscious faces

“Target ID?” I hissed, checking with another psionic pulse that every heart was beating.

“Guy in the middle. Chase car is picking up speed; hurry.”

“Did you do a biometric –”

“It’s the guy in the middle, Shadow! I know my job.”

Holding my breath, I leaned into the car and un-clicked his seat belt. Touching – Ruthless Oil Despot was imitating American culture, with a very nice tailored suit.

With an energized heave, I flung him through the windshield. A psionic pulse, and my Heads Up Display flashed a confirmed death.

I relocked the door and sprinted back up the hill. There was nothing left to do. The tree left no traces. The car lock was un-breached.

And there were no collateral deaths.

“All right, Shadow. HUD says we’ve got a confirmed target elimination.”

I started the hike back to my car, pulled off the road and hidden on the other side of the hill. As I forged deeper into the trees, I heard the chase car’s engine purring around the corner.

“I guess the Middle East will be safer, now,” I said. “Though I can’t help wondering that they’d stage his death on American soil.”

Oscar said nothing for a moment. “Politics isn’t my game,” he said at last. “Especially foreign politics. It’s not our problem.”

Again, I nodded to myself, raising my goggles to see the variegated greenery around me unobstructed. A chipmunk popped its head out of a fallen log, stared at me, and ducked back in again.

With thermal vision, I’d be able to see his heat signature. But what would be the fun of that?

Besides, sometimes chipmunks and I both had to hide.


"Transmutation of Shadow" Chapter 1 — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella, Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits!

“Shadow”—A Christian Jason Bourne?

What makes my written work stand out from others in the genre?

"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Image credit: imdb.com

Ha ha! That implies that I’ve actually read books in my genre…or that I know what genre I’m writing in…

But seriously, my latest work (Transmutation of Shadow) is an action-packed secret agent mystery…sort of in the vein of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity…or the movie The Matrix (no, really, a beta reader said it reminded him of The Matrix…yas!)

And yet it’s different. How is it different? How have I made this genre my own? If you love running-and-gunning spies, but also want to train your palate with clean, uplifting books, read on:

Action and Adventure

Books in this genre are usually full of fight scenes and dramatic chases…and Shadow is no exception!

A quick pace follows our hero through the pages, as he hides under the radar, running from people he used to call friends. I’m no Tom Clancy, but I managed to slip in some cool spy maneuvers (like switching clothes and cars repeatedly!).

How is my writing different?

Mr. Ludlum’s fight scenes can be a little…bone-jarring. While I don’t try to gloss over the bloody realism of combat, I also don’t dwell on it. My story doesn’t need it. In the words of one critiquer, I handle everything from death to violence with “grace and elegance”.

Let’s face it: my main character is an assassin. His government pays him to “eliminate” undesirable elements…AKA to murder people.

I think this is one of the things that made my parents leery when I first started writing it – but they both agree that I’ve dealt with the subject with maturity (but not gratuity) and cheerfulness (but not glorification).

Language

Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Alistair MacLean, and others in their genre are prone to “spicy words.” Let’s face it: in the world of soldiers and spies, terrorists and mafia dons, you won’t catch many people saying, “Good golly, Miss Molly!” when they stub their toe.

I’m from a different culture.

To be specific, the homeschooling, church-y culture where “Jeez” is too strong, and “Good grief gravy!” is for when you’re really, truly frustrated.

I gotta snicker a little here, because this is an area where my first line of beta readers really raked me over the coals.

“He can’t say ‘shucks’! He’s in the Army Special Forces, for crying out loud. If the guys in boot camp caught him saying ‘shucks’ they would beat him up!”

So…I took advantage of the glorious tool of obfuscation, and peppered the manuscript with “I swore” or “I muttered a curse.”

Realism + opaque writing = something you can give your teen without blushing!

Sex

Robert Ludlum is especially bad this way, but Tom Clancy also doesn’t shy from a sex scene or two.

What about the Kimia Wood books?

Hmm, yeah, there is none.

My character doesn’t even have a girlfriend. And if he did, I have a moral compunction against including any illicit material. Just check out my full-fledged rant against romance fiction. After frothing at the mouth about characters sniffing each other like wild dogs, the last thing I’m going to do is give my book a steamy scene.

While I tend to associate the tag “clean” with sickly sweet little Amish romances or quirky romantic mysteries with brightly-colored covers, I can’t deny the strict reading of the label applies to my own work. If you’re not “dirty,” you’re probably “clean.”

Tone"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Alistair MacLean’s work are tense, but largely upbeat and empowering adventures. Tom Clancy’s are highly technical, with tension slowly and deliberately constructed from all sides.

Robert Ludlum stares deep into the abyss, and his work is accordingly heavy on the gritty realism of his topic. And Larry Correia, while he sprinkles humor and cool world-building throughout his books, knows how to ratchet the tension up to eleven and just keep cranking.

How am I the same but different?

"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

My book has been compared to The Matrix and Equilibrium. While I’m thrilled that my fight scenes evoked these same emotions, the tone of these movies is not what I was going for…nor (I think) what I achieved.

Both these movies have greyscale palates, with lots of dark costumes, rainy sets, and oppressive atmospheres.

While my protagonist is in a lot of danger (and goes through some pretty rough experiences) I wanted to stay upbeat and hopeful (with, dare I say, touches of humor?).

This isn’t your fluffy-creampuffs read…but it isn’t a GRIMDARK where you’ll leave the story feeling dirty and depressed. We put the “fun” in “run for your life”!

Theology

The best books show an honest picture of human nature, perhaps draw images from it to help us understand ourselves…and perhaps even say something profound about the universe.

Some authors (like Ian Fleming) simply provide some wish-fulfillment and let the audience have an exciting adventure. Others (like Robert Ludlum) paint vivid, honest pictures of humanity and the societies we build.

How do my works compare?

Transmutation of Shadow is fun, sure. A romp that lets us run for our lives, hide in plain sight, and experience the thrill of daring escapes all from the comfort of our reading chair.

But I tried to go deeper. As I’ve gotten older, and my writing has grown, I’ve decided “I don’t want to be room noise” – I want to say something worth saying.

As I let my conscientious Christian worldview inform my story-craft, I can deliver a story that’s about much more than a psionic assassin solving the mystery about himself…I tell a story about a killer forced to confront his own actions, to stop passing the buck, forced to find redemption.

Which only comes from Jesus.

As impressive as Clancy, Ludlum, and MacLean are, that’s a story I’ve never seen them tell."Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia Wood

Decide for Yourself!

Transmutation of Shadow is currently out with critique readers, but I plan to publish it some time this year. Stand by, and you can read this exciting science fiction/spy thriller with a humble yet determined protagonist for yourself!

It’s now available for preorder! Find at your favorite retailer…or get the paperback now!


"Shadow"—A Christian Jason Bourne? — Kimia WoodKimia Wood currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures – including WHEN SHADOW PUBLISHES!

“Red Rabbit” by Tom Clancy

"Red Rabbit" by Tom Clancy — Kimia Wood A Soviet plot to assassinate the pope. A KGB communications officer trying to defect to the West. And star CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who…is there.

Tom Clancy builds his Cold War-era spy adventure slowly and deliberately…with detailed settings, in-depth character philosophizing, and realistic portraits of the mind-sets and world-views that create the situation.

Characters

Clancy’s recurring star, Jack Ryan, is a CIA analyst and teacher’s pet (and possibly the weakest character here). In fact, he does very little except agonize until the last chapter or so.

He does, however, act as a bridge. His ostensible role in the plot is as liaison between the British and American intelligence operations…and in this way, he also provides for Clancy to paint a clear and memorable picture of the differences between America and Great Britain.

A diverse cast

One of the things Clancy does with excellence is draw out the differences between different countries.

Ryan moves from America to a station in Britain, his homeland’s ally. Yet there are still so many things he must get used to: they drive on the “other” side of the road…everyone drinks tea, not coffee…words are pronounced differently (and some things are called by different names altogether)…the outlook on life is subtly shifted…even the TV shows are different (and Ryan doesn’t understand the sit-coms’ humor).

This underscores the culture shock of the Soviet “Rabbit” and his family when they flee a country of regulations, controls, and corruption to one of individual freedom. From assuming that the KGB watch and follow everyone at any and every time, to a place where you can walk onto a car dealer lot, pick out a car, pay for it, and drive away. From a nation where VHS players, bras, and nylons are luxuries snuck in through Hungary (and only affordable to the elite, like KGB officers) – to a place where they’re taken for granted, and every middle class family can afford them if they wish.

The ground-work for this change is laid with deliberate and poignant brushstrokes…perhaps slower than I would have chosen, but there’s no denying Clancy’s touch for choosing an exact turn of phrase to communicate his meaning, or for seeing to the heart of a mind-set he doesn’t hold himself and portraying it in believable philosophical prose.

This laying-bare of cultures holds the greatest value of the work.

Life Philosophies

A lot of time is spent in the different characters’ thoughts, dealing with their mental outlooks on life in minute detail.

Like the KGB chief…does he really believe in the Communist party’s rhetoric? Or does he rather believe in “power” – AKA himself?

When the communications analyst discovers that his government wants to kill the pope, what will he do? Should he blindly trust that his government knows best? Is he developing…a conscience?

What about Jack Ryan and his CIA overseers? Are they in this game for patriotism? To protect innocent people? Because the Soviets are inherently evil and must be stopped? When they hear that the pope is in danger, they debate whether they can protect him without revealing how they learned about it…because of course national security comes before the life of the head of the Catholic Church, right?

Some Complaining

Ryan’s loose Catholic faith adds an interesting dynamic, as he weighs his patriotism and religious feeling against the political concerns of his CIA bosses.

It also gives him something else to worry about, which seems to be most of what he does throughout the book.

When his bosses assign him to accompany some Brits on an operation as a CIA liaison, he freaks out and insists that he’s an analyst, not a field operative. He’s had some bad experiences with “hands-on” cases in the past…he has apparently stopped a terrorist attack in London before as a tourist (ex-Marine tourist, of course) and faced down a terrorist home invasion, but these experiences were only hinted at. Is there a different book I should have read first? Did Jack Ryan really need to be in this book at all?

His wife (an MD eye surgeon) is even more annoying – adding practically nothing to the narrative, nosing into Jack’s job even though she knows it’s secret, and nagging him for smoking/eating unhealthily. The only time her complaining seems well-founded, and actually lends sympathy to her character, is when her surgical colleagues leave a patient sedated on the operating table while they go for lunch and a pint. Remind me to never get medical care in Great Britain!

Cautions!

Clancy sometimes has trouble making it clear whose head we’re riding in, and you have to travel back through several paragraphs of mental narrative to get re-oriented.

There’s also sporadic language (including f-bombs and profanities) that seemed to get more intrusive as the book went on.

Also includes references to sex within married couples.

The Chess-man of Spy Thrillers

This book is about three-dimensional, conflicted people interacting with each other from different mental starting points. Mr. Clancy takes his time setting up all his dominoes, so that when they collide we say, “Oh, it was inevitable” as well as, “Oh, how is this going to turn out?”

If mental exercises, world-view exploration, and slow-cooking spy drama is your thing, you might enjoy Red Rabbit. I did enjoy it, but for my main spy-action reading, I prefer the bullets-and-fisticuffs of Robert Ludlum.


Red Rabbit is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo (as paperback or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s newsletter for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier. You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits!

“Monster Hunter International” by Larry Correia

The book that got my brother out of his reading slump was — chock full of guns and monsters.

It’s a bit of a story: my dad got a free copy during a promotion, and when he finally read it

He shoved it into my brother’s hands when they were taking a long drive together, and ordered him to read. My brother…

Started paying his own money for the next books in the series, geeking out at every opportunity, is currently slavering for the author to finish Book 7, and badgered me left and right to read Monster Hunter.

So here I am. I’ve joined the club. Maybe I’m not normally in the demographic for ripping apart monsters with anatomically correct firearms, but sometimes you just gotta let your inner “Heck, Yeah!” have some fresh air.

Continue reading

“The Saint” by Leslie Charteris, Starring Roger Moore

"The Saint" Starring Roger Moore — Kimia Wood Intrepid adventurer. Con-man and detective. Infamous man of mystery. The dashing, dangerous, and irrepressible Simon Templar is played by Roger Moore in this black-and-white television series of suspense and excitement. (Seasons 5 and 6 were shot in color.)

A little lacking in the luster, you say? Paltry in comparison to its peers? Nevertheless, these puzzle-packed episodes of action and glamor have plenty to offer the thrill-seeker.

I Say, A Tad “On the Nose”, What?

Perhaps Simon Templar’s adventures are a little of the pulp-fiction variety. As my mom said, the plots he unravels aren’t so bafflingly complex as Mission: Impossible.

And it’s true he breaks the forth wall every episode as he introduces the audience to his locale, perhaps philosophizing on his surroundings. In the intro segment, someone always says his name, and a little halo appears above his head…to indicate his moniker “The Saint”. By the third and fourth seasons, Simon is tired of this repeated performance, and glances wryly above his head as it appears. Why, if you looked hard enough, you might be able to see the characters roll their eyes as they work each episode’s title into the dialogue at the conclusion.

"The Saint" by Leslie Charteris Starring Roger Moore — Kimia Wood

Image credit: uk.movies.yahoo.com

Is it campy that the villains always recognize this man, and darkly threaten his life to one another as the episode progresses? Is it tiresome that gorgeous, wealthy girls are always throwing themselves at him? And that his name and face are only as well-known as the episode needs them to be?

But this is not about deep, meaningful plots and intricate mysteries. This is about cool fight sequences and smashed crockery…kissing beautiful women and chasing around in 1950s cars…and, of course, Roger Moore’s hair.

If you didn’t want James Bond Lite, go listen to NPR or something. We’re busy here.

Dashing Good Show, Old Boy

Prepare yourself.

If every police chief in the world warns you to behave yourself…if you can afford the ritziest restaurant on the Riviera and are personal friends with half the elite hotel-owners around the world…if beautiful and troubled girls seem to cross your path at every turn…

Well, then, why not pursue your curiosity about whatever strange events happen to unfold around you?

Revel in intricate heists. Suffer succulent double-crosses. Defeat cold-blooded black-mailers. Catch murderers and terrorists.

Watch, transfixed, as Simon counters knives, garrots, and grapples with his bare hands, using only his +13 Dodge ability. Then, watch him counter axes, spears, bottles, and other improvised weapons with chairs, tables, books, and other smash-able fixtures and furniture! (Interspersed, of course, with gun-battles.)

Watch as his perfect hair gets tousled in the heat of combat. Then see him emerge victorious. (Usually.)

The show would probably earn a PG-13 from the smoking alone, never mind all the consumption of alcoholic beverages. This is a show to shock your 1950s sensibilities!

But the twists are predictably thrilling. The Girl is usually innocent…but sometimes (gasp) she isn’t!

For those of us who like our soda Caffeine-free Diet – who want an adventure show that’s sweet and also calorie-free – check out this blast-from-the-past, this relic for the ages!

Try out The Saint!


Title card is from Wikipedia.

Check it out on Amazon (Seasons 1&2 here).

Kimia Wood lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by baking, knitting, hobby-farming, writing, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Join the mailing list for a free copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier, plus periodic updates on her latest writing and reading adventures!

White Mesa Hiatus + New Work-in-Progress

Sometimes You Need Something New

I typed the first words of the first scene of Book 1 in the White Mesa Chronicles on April 2, 2015. That day we were moving all the stuff out of our house (into Grandpa’s basement), and I sat on the carpet in the bedroom I grew up in to get in a few words amidst all the chaos. (Why? ‘Cause that’s the carpet where I nestled on the floor in the corner and thrashed out the lion’s share of Hayes and Hayes.)

White Mesa has been a great journey, trying to look forward to what life will be like after the U.S.A.’s death throes. I (with help from my family) got to construct an entire world, and populate it with people with motivations and thought-patterns different from my own!

When you get the cover done before writing the actual book…

But it’s time to move on.

I decided this after typing 1 and 3/4 first-drafts of Book 6: Feral. That’s 53,290 words of a NaNoWriMo draft, plus 27,490 words of a fresh “blind draft”. I found myself going days or weeks without looking at the file, and whenever I did sit down to work I had to drag the words out. I figured such uninspired dreck might well give readers the same sense of lethargy that it gave me…

So, we folded it up and put it on the shelf. Books 1 through 4 are out for your reading pleasure, and Book 5 has good bones. After a breath of fresh air, and turning my mind to new projects, I’ll be able to finish the last three books with more energy…more passion…more joy.

So What “New Project” Is Next?

I’m currently story-boarding the story of a perfectionist assassin who realizes he’s been given corrupt orders.

Yes, sweet little churchy Kimia is writing about an assassin.

I am the girl who brutally poisoned one of my leads in Sons of the King, and gave a teenage boy an OD in Hayes and Hayes. But it probably won’t be as bad as all that.

This is how I’m plotting it:

Winds of Change — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

But this is probably how I’ll write it:

Winds of Change — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

I once wrote a short story about ritualistic human sacrifice. Know how my dad responded? “Cute.” Yes, “cute”!

So despite my best efforts to be “gritty” and “realistic”, I doubt my style will be much different from the up-beat, family-oriented narrative you’ve come to know and expect from Hayes and Hayes to Renegade.

What’s this New Story Actually About?

Well, check out this first draft blurb and see what you think! 😊 (Then, come back when it’s actually written and find out how different it is from what we planned!)

Eric likes his job. Why not? He’s very good at it.

Get in. Don’t be seen. Dispatch the target. Exit. No collateral damage or stray casualties.

Sure, he’s killing people; but they’re bad people. Someone has to stop them and protect the rest of society. And with his amplified abilities, his agency has a track record of always taking out the right targets – and no one else.

Until the night he follows his tactical Heads-Up into a room…and discovers his target is a seven-year-old boy.

As his faith in the system crumbles, his protests to his handler yield no answers. This is the correct target…well, somebody’s target.

Eric aborts the mission – and finds everyone he used to work with shooting at him.

He was always one of the “good guys”. What’s going on? He’s determined to keep protecting the innocent…but can he?

And will he live long enough to try?


Kimia WoodKimia Wood lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a free copy of her post-apocalyptic novella Soldier, plus updates on her latest projects and other cool stuff whenever we think of other cool stuff.

“The Janson Directive” by Robert Ludlum

"The Janson Directive" by Robert Ludlum — Kimia Wood What is the cost of peace?

Robert Ludlum is most famous for The Bourne Identity, a spy thriller that inspired several sequels and movie adaptations. But in The Janson Directive, he has recaptured the magical combination of pulse-pounding thriller mixed with deeper psychological themes.

If you’ve got the stomach to get through it, of course. Sometimes the cost of peace is high. Continue reading