“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!).

“The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith

"The Sunday Philosophy Club" by Alexander McCall Smith The back cover copy introduces us to Isabel Dalhousie: middle-aged spinster who’s “too inquisitive”…and when she witnesses a young man fall to his death from the balcony of the concert hall, she wonders if there’s more to it?!

Then we open the book, and…turns out she’s actually a fourteen-year-old with ADHD…and has the detective method of a spring-addled squirrel.

Harsh? Let me elaborate on The Sunday Philosophy Club…which, incidentally, features no over-arching philosophy, no club whatsoever, and about as much detective content as those gummy vitamins contain sugar. Continue reading

“Unavowed”

Unavowed would probably be rated “R” for the language alone…not to mention the gore, disturbing subject matter, low-resolution nudity, and the off-screen sexual encounter (involving the “main character”!).

But…er…we liked it. It’s 100% a game for ADULTS…but if you’re looking for a roller coaster of emotions (that streaks from creepy yuck to aww lol), deep moral dilemmas, and a twisty, turny story full of amazing characters and gut-punches – then you might be the audience for Unavowed."Unavowed" — Kimia Wood

One year ago, a demon possessed you; forcing you to tear a trail of bloodshed through New York City. Your salvation finally comes in the form of the Unavowed – an ancient society dedicated to stopping evil.

You are free, but your world is in tatters. You have no home, no friends, and are wanted by the police. Your old life is gone, but perhaps you can start a new one. Join the ranks of the Unavowed, and fight against the oncoming darkness.

Continue reading

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!

“Wedding Score” by Amanda Tero

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood Stephanie – and her author Ms. Tero – are both single Christian girls inching toward thirty. I am also a single Christian girl inching toward thirty.

This short novella is all about the unique (or not so unique) struggles that we loners face when we have no one but God to depend on…and He doesn’t have physical arms to lean on.

I was super excited for this book from the moment I first heard about it in the author’s newsletter. After all, Christian singleness is a topic I’ve blogged about a time or two, and I’m still traveling the wave of acceptance-to-desperation-to-resignation-to-panic-to-acceptance…

By Single Gals, For Single Gals

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodMs. Tero has me by a year or two, but we’re both still waiting for our Prince Charming…and at times we’re not even sure he’ll ever show up.

But that’s okay. At least, it should be okay, if we affirm that God is the only one we’ll ever really need, and that His arms are big enough to carry us through anything life throws at us…even lifelong lone-ranger-ing.

But – focus on the story!

Stephanie is a relatable protagonist. To the point you might feel Ms. Tero snagged your own characteristics, changed a few particulars to deflect suspicion (for instance, I’m not a musician), and put you full-bodied into her work.

Stephanie is a conservative Christian young lady (wears denim skirts and everything!) and while I don’t think it’s spelled out, you can easily guess she was homeschooled (come on – denim skirt!). She’s also well connected to her church, reads her Bible faithfully, and has a large, loving extended family.

And, just like the rest of us (ahem), she gets hit with a debilitating case of “loner syndrome”.

Christian Religious Inspirational…

Writing about spiritual issues is a ticklish business. It’s so very easy to stray into preachiness, sticky-toffee sugar-coating, awkward marionette-plotting, literal Deus-ex-machina, pat answers to complex questions –

Ms. Tebo’s writing, however, rings authentic – probably because she supplied the text of Stephanie’s devotions from her own personal devotions. The trouble with a story is that we know it’s a story, and therefore that an author crafted it for a deliberate reason. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, and share her own struggle with singleness, Ms. Tebo allowed Stephanie’s journey to be as realistic as possible.

It also helped that the book description and marketing made it obvious this book would tackle religious issues. It wasn’t, for example, pretending to be a murder mystery (AHEM). Everyone who picks up this book will be expecting a Christian exploration of the struggle of singleness…and they won’t be disappointed.

Happily Ever After

"Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia WoodEven before I received my early-access copy of Wedding Score, I knew the ending would be a deal-breaker. After all, when you’re writing a fictional story, you are the “god” of the story world, and can give your characters any ending you want!

It would be too easy for a sick-with-loneliness author to hit all her characters with the “hunky Mr. Right” wand. But that kind of ending would be the last thing a Christian single struggling to be faithful would need. And, that kind of ending would in some ways negate the whole point of the story.

Ms. Tebo escapes that simplistic solution! After wrestling through the entire book with leaning solely on God, Stephanie isn’t “rewarded” with a flesh-and-blood man to hold her hand. No, she still has to depend on God – even while her friends are still getting married all around her! – but the work of His Spirit in her heart has brought a change.

And that is what we have to hold on to, fellow loners! Cling to the knowledge that no matter what – even if we never get to wear that dress or have our own kids – God will be right by our side and we will be “sons and daughters” to Him.

Not Alone

So what else can this book teach you, other than that God is faithful and will be all you need?

That you’re not alone!

Yes, maybe you don’t have your own little nest, but there’s still extended family, church family, and all the other single Christians who are going through the exact same thing you are! Maybe they’re in a different “stage” of singleness than you are, but you can bet they’re bouncing on the wave just the same (unless through the grace of Jesus they’ve arrived, in which case NOT FAIR).

Cry. Laugh. Tell us about your struggles. On the bad days, come for hugs. On the good days, dish out hugs – ’cause we need them!

Somewhere, someone has walked the exact same path as you. And for me at least, that makes the wilderness a little less lonely.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free ARC from the author as part of the book launch. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own (imagine me being vocal about my opinions!)."Wedding Score" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood


Check out my interview with the author!

Wedding Score releases this week!
You can add it on Goodreads, then find it on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, or as a signed paperback from the author!

Check out the author’s official website at AmandaTero.com.

“Talk to the Hand” by Lynne Truss

Talk to the hand, ’cause the face ain’t listening!

How rude!

Well, you know what you can effing do!

Is everyone around you shockingly rude? Do you find yourself dissed by shop clerks?…given the run-around by customer service phone trees?…pelted with garbage by faceless, uncaring litterers?

Lynne Truss’ Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door will comfort you that at least you’re not the only one exasperated…and perhaps challenge you that there is something we can do about it. Continue reading

“Song of Shadows” by Sylvia Mercedes

 I would never have touched this book if Suzannah Rowntree hadn’t given it a rave review. After all, the description talks about “secret feelings” and “the passion threatening to ignite between them” (which always make me feel stabby).

BUT…I tried it out, and here are my thoughts:

The World: Dark, Cruel, and Brooding

We’re thrown into a dark world where malevolent “shades” seek to take over the bodies of humans, losing your soul to the abyss is easy (and frequent), and the dark forces of the enemy seem insurmountable.

The main group battling these invading spirits (and the humans who join with them) are called Venators and Venatrices, and they trap shades inside themselves to get magic powers – risking eternal damnation if the soul-separation (at their death) isn’t done properly. Continue reading

“The Lonely Detective Solves ‘Murder at Snow White'” by Charles Schwarz

"The Lonely Detective Solves 'Murder at Snow White'" by Charles Schwarz — Kimia Wood Lord Peter Wimsey, in one of Dorothy Sayers’ novels, calls detective fiction the “highest form of literature we have.” The essence of detective fiction is the conflict of good and evil…the idea that a crime (a murder) breaks the world, and the core of a hero is in solving it (bringing the evildoer to justice).

Thus it’s hardly surprising that Ms. Sayers is one of, if not the, best mystery writers of all time. Her novels are entertaining yet educational, tricky yet profound – grounded on a firm grasp of human nature, and grappling with how the very universe groans for the blood of the innocent to be repaid.

I’m not here to talk about her work. I’m here to talk about the short stories of Charles Schwarz – stories billed as “hilarious” and sarcastic murder mysteries…that probably ended up being more educational than entertaining for me.

(Incidentally, what first caught my eye was the cover. Something about it just looks sarcastic – and who doesn’t love that?)

Alert: SPOILERS Possible Continue reading

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker — Kimia Wood “Dracula” is known as the original vampire, and the word evokes a cornucopia of images and lore.

But what is the original actually like?

Published in 1897, this Victorian classic delivers a compelling story of horror and love, featuring one of the most spine-chilling monsters of all time.

The Style

As Red from “Trope Talk” will tell you, part of the magic of the story is the style. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a newly minted lawyer traveling to Transylvania for business with a mysterious count.

This first act is admirably effective, as Jonathan progresses from describing the lovely scenery, to relating the curious superstitions of the townspeople, to his nerve-wracking first meeting with the count on a midnight mountain road.

The first-person immediacy of the narrative lets us feel Jonathan’s plight even more strongly as he realizes his imprisonment in the count’s vast but empty castle – and the diary form allows a mix of “this happened in the past” and “this is what I’m going through now or hope to accomplish” that forces the reader to engage with his harrowing experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Fade to Black, Scene Transition…

We leave Jonathan’s diary on a cliff-hanger to read the letters between his fiancé Mina and her best friend Lucy. Mina, of course, is looking forward to her marriage to Jonathan (and concerned that his trip to the continent is taking longer than anticipated), while Lucy is flattered (yet also embarrassed) to have been proposed to by three charming young men in one afternoon (Number Three being her own heartthrob…and, once she accepts his offer, her fiancé).

Seem like a tone shift? It is in many ways, but the shift from Dark Gothic to Sweet Romance makes the transition back again that much more heart-wrenching. The girls’ perfect happiness (and their idyllic vacation at the seaside) cannot last…and when Count Dracula makes his grand entrance in England, the creeping sense of foreboding is that much more acute because of the shift in narrator and perspective.

Self Awareness

This sense of hearing the story from the eyewitnesses, with newspaper clippings and telegrams and hastily jotted notes written in trains and carriages, actually enters the story when the party is assembling the data they have on Count Dracula (the better to fight him) and uses the diaries and notes of their company to assemble a dossier of evidence.

I think this is a cute acknowledgement of the writing style…and after all, how would I be reading the private journal of a vampire-eyewitness unless someone compiled it for the benefit of posterity?

Patriarchal Romance

One of the things I adore about this book is that every single person is an adult. Maybe not all of them are super bright – after all, they fall for the stupidity of not sharing everything they know because “it’s too terrible for you to know, dear!” allowing Dracula to victimize one of them.

But I love how the romance is tasteful, self-sacrificial, and mature. Lucy’s three suitors all donate blood to her during her “mysterious” sickness where she abruptly loses most of her body’s blood during the night (when the window is left open…ahem). The two unlucky suitors hold no ill will toward the favored Number Three (and future Mr. Lucy), but rather do all in their power to assure her – and his – happiness.

Jonathan and Mina are pathetically in love with each other – to the point that they practice the old “withholding information for the other’s good” trope. On the other hand, the plot forces them back to full disclosure and honesty with each other, at which point they tell each other everything (with plenty of tears and declarations of love).

“I’ll never tell you about Transylvania unless I have to – it would be too horrible for you, dear!”

“I’ll never ask you about Transylvania unless I have to – I never want you to relive that horror, darling!”

Guess what becomes necessary?

Guy Power

What do I mean by “patriarchal” romance?

I mean the boys all rally for the protection of their women-folk and get their evil-fighting heroics on for the sake of those in need! This is not about “getting some,” since both girls are already committed to relationships – the two unlucky suitors, and Dr. van Helsing (see below), and the girls’ chosen protectors all band together to defeat the monster because monsters done need defeatin’, and they want to spare their beloved ladies as much pain (mental, emotional, and physical) as possible.

This is called “sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others” and it’s what Real Manhood is all about and I love it.

Girl Power

The counterpart of this is that it high-lights the specific strengths of our female protagonists.

Mina, for instance, has been studying shorthand (the better to assist her husband in his lawyering) and so she keeps a journal of all her experiences on vacation with Lucy. This comes in very handy when they need to piece together what exactly is going on – which she does along with Dr. van Helsing (see below).

Maybe she can’t race about the country on steamships and horses, and maybe she can’t physically counter Count Dracula herself, but her organization skills, logical deduction, and cool-headed smarts are a vital addition to the team. This highlights the particular strengths of women – without trying to cram the gals into black leather and force them to compete on the men’s playing field (which wasn’t really a thing in the 19th century, thank goodness).

Celebrating Female Innocence

Lucy’s strength of character is her sweetness and charm. Sure, she’s got three men (and counting) in love with her – but it’s her innocence and purity, not just her physical beauty, that attract them. In fact, far from wanting her as an object or plaything, they all desire her well-fare even more than they desire their own happiness.

Contrast this with the female vampires, who use their sex appeal and “voluptuousness” as a snare to lure their victims in. When Jonathan is almost caught by them, it’s unclear how much of his fascination is animal attraction and how much is out-right vampiric mind control!

As opposed to Lucy, whose modesty, kindness, and friendship make beauty a facet of her personality, the vampire female uses her womanly attributes as a weapon to get the blood she thirsts for…revealing her to be no different than the monstrous Dracula.

Dr. van Helsing

The most awesome character is Dr. van Helsing, a Dutch psychologist and physician with an adorable German accent who is called in when Lucy starts exhibiting her “mysterious” anemic illness.

While the doctor is sweet, gentle, conciliatory, and good-natured, he’s also the only person who realizes what’s happening – and promptly starts strewing garlic flowers everywhere and blanketing the place with gold crucifixes.

While even he is hampered by the trope of “don’t tell her mother what’s really going on lest we shock her into cardiac arrest,” let me just say I adore it when sweet old guys are the ones who know everything.

Maybe he can’t rush around on horseback armed to the teeth like the youngsters can, but he can Barney-Collier with some holy wafer like nobody’s business…and he’s got the spiritual and legend-savvy expertise the team needs to vanquish this embodiment of evil.

The Villain

Speaking of the villain, the book does an excellent job keeping him shadowy and menacing…with just enough hints to remind us of his evilness without overdoing it.

I was surprised that we didn’t get an explanation for how he became this way, or why he chose to be a cursed undead horror…but then again, maybe he didn’t choose it, but was cursed by a bite just as he cursed those he bit.

The powers of the vampires in this incarnation are clearly evil, from hypnotism and mind control to regaining youth and vitality from the blood of their victims (especially children – they love to eat small children).

While Dracula can control rats, flies, wolves, and bats – and transform himself into various forms – he is also constrained by specific rules that keep him from being omnipotent…and make him defeatable (for example, he can only cross water at the tides, can only transform at dawn, noon, and dusk, and must return to a box of holy earth to recover his abilities).

Spiritual Themes

An important theme in the book is that these undead are cut off from God. When their friend is raised as a vampire, the team must kill the creature not only for the sake of the other victims – but for the sake of its own soul.

Yes – the horror of being sucked on by a vampire goes beyond merely losing your blood…goes beyond being locked to your vampire-dad in a disgusting pact of mind-linking…even goes beyond rising after your death to restlessly roam the earth and inflict this curse on others, including your own loved ones.

The horror of the vampire even extends to being cut off from the God who made you, and banished from the presence of the Christ who died for you. (Yes, the book explicitly states the basics of the gospel, which is pretty cool.)

While the theology of this skirts dangerously close to the Muslim belief that something someone else does (even after your death) can affect your salvation, the way the characters repeatedly throw themselves on the providence of God (explicitly and specifically) and trust God to bring them through this harrowing experience is inspiring and thrilling. It brings the whole story to a deeper level.

And it also makes the catharsis that much sweeter for the vampires that are staked, beheaded, and stuffed with holy wafers. The hunters describe expressions of peace and release on the cursed ones’ faces before they crumble into dust…the dust their bodies should have been long ago, but for this horrible curse.

As truly repulsive as Bram Stoker makes his vampires – eating small children and gorging themselves with blood – he also makes killing them a mercy…and inspires pity for these wretched, darkened creatures who are cut off from the source of Life and the purpose of their existence: their own Creator.

And after all, your neighbors might not be ravenous, undead monsters…but they’re probably lost and cut off from God, and we should pity them and seek to set them free. Not with a stake and kukri knife, but with the Gospel of Jesus and the Sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God).

Whoo! Now I’m getting chills.

Classic for a Reason

Yes, there are parts of the book that are obviously products of its Victorian time period…but at the same time, the slower-paced parts and the lighter tone help to contrast and intensify the skin-crawling horror of the darkness and mystery (there are parts that get a chuckle-out-loud!).

Enough with the sexy vampires! Let’s go back to the source, and experience the explicit themes of light versus darkness, good versus evil, kindness versus cruelty, sacrifice versus selfishness, that made this book something that deserves to endure.


July 2 – July 23

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available as a FREE ebook from Project Gutenberg, or from Amazon (paperback or Kindle), Barnes&Noble, Kobo (ebook or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Join Kimia Wood’s 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.

“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie — Kimia Wood Ten strangers lured to an island. A phonograph accuses them each of murder. One by one, they start dying.

Who will be left standing? And just who is the murderer?!

As the author’s note explains, Agatha Christie wrote this because it would be hard…and she certainly pulls off a spine-chilling whodunit stuffed with questions about morality and “the perfect murder.”

Characters and Voice

Ten characters. Ten unique personalities and voices?

Yes and no. A couple of the characters die off so soon we don’t really get to spend much time with them, although they do get painted in general strokes.

Mrs. Christie breaks all kinds of writerly rules – but hey, she’s Agatha Christie! Whether she’s writing from the perspectives of most of the different characters, or using stereotypical short-hand to quickly clue us in to the character types at the story’s start, she goes against what your author “guru” on the internet probably told you to do…but still weaves an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

We are introduced to all the characters at the start of the book. Thus, we have a working knowledge of each of them and what makes them tick before they start dropping like flies.

But each and every one of them has a deep, dark secret hidden in there, too – from the young governess-turned-schoolteacher to the soldier-of-fortune, from the ex-policeman to the star surgeon with a drunk past.

As more secrets unravel step by agonizing step, we begin wondering if we can root for any of these people…and yet we can’t help rooting for them after “riding in their head” through this harrowing adventure. (That’s part of Mrs. Christie’s theme – more on that later.)

Suspense

I’ve been struggling to read over the past few months, but I finished this little classic in just a few days. To be frank, I should have put it down earlier in the day, because that night I tossed and turned with half-dreams of these characters I had bonded with facing mysterious death.

With zero gore and very little detail of the actual act of dying, or the dead bodies, Mrs. Christie still paints a picture of horror and encroaching dread where the characters question their grip on sanity.

I ask you, can any modern torture-porn horror author claim to have written something as chilling yet lasting as And Then There Were None?

The Onion of Mystery

Unlike a Robert Ludlum spy book, there’s no deep conspiracy here (which is what I’ve meant by “onion” in the past) but there is a “mad” killer on the loose on this rocky, isolated island.

Who is the killer? Which of the men and women in this lonely house could be capable of this elaborate, even artistic death-trap?

Mrs. Christie admitted it was hard to write, but she pulls it off. I didn’t guess the killer at all (partly because I was hamstrung by a Get Smart episode with a false assumption), but once it’s revealed it makes sense.

And that is the mark of a great mystery writer: to string the audience along until the big reveal, then have them cock their heads and nod and say, “Oh, yes, I see how that makes sense, now.”

Justice and Murder

This book bears a very similar theme to Murder on the Orient Express. There, the victim was a well-known gangster and murderer. Here, all ten of the characters are accused of murder.

And yet, the law can’t touch them. One man ran over some kids while speeding…another kicked a pregnant girl out of her boarding house, and the girl committed suicide (understandable given the culture of the time).

Thus, the Big Bad assumes he/she’s justified in killing these people because they are “murderers” beyond the reach of the law.

And yet…is he/she really right to take the law into his/her own hands even though the others are supposedly “guilty”? (And without a true trial, can we be sure that they are guilty?)

The answer of the Bible is manifestly: no! The king is appointed to punish the wrongdoers (Rom. 13:3-4), and we are not to stand on our rights (Phil. 2:5-8) or take matters into our own hands (Rom. 12:17-20).

But a person determined to construct the “perfect crime” is understandably not concerned with Biblical morality. The whole situation is orchestrated to baffle the police and gratify the perpetrator (and vicariously the readers, who will devour this safely contained horror of a puzzle box).

I realize I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I was intrigued to realize Mrs. Christie has explored these themes on two different occasions…especially as I had connected it with a more “modern” trend in detective fiction of adding grey to both detective and criminal, thus rendering the contrast less black-and-white.

But I guess trying to validate the evil-doer is nothing new.

Gather the Survivors for the Revelation of the Culprit!

Agatha Christie is the culprit. She wrote this.

I was the victim. I fell under the spell of this book, and thoroughly enjoyed every spine-chilling, stomach-twisting moment.

You are the detective. Read this book, and see if you can figure out who the murderer is…before it’s too late!


And Then There Were None is available on Amazon (Kindle, paperback, hardback, or audiobook), Barnes&Noble (paperback, hardback, Nook, and audiobook), Kobo (also offers audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s 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!