Blood Song Review

There are a lot of good fantasy novels out there, ones that are great fun or manage to challenge the genre, but it’s extremely rare that one manages to get itself to the point that I rank it up with The Lord of the Rings and The Gentlemen Bastards as one of my all-time favourites. Anthony Ryan has done exactly that with his debut novel Blood Song, the first novel in the Raven’s Shadow series.

Telling the story of Vaelin al Sorna, the son of the realm’s battle-lord, we follow him from his youth to adulthood as a member of a group of religious warriors known simply as the Sixth Order. Joining him as he faces innumerable trials and tribulations, we’re given a good look into this world that Ryan is building, while also being presented with one of the best protagonists that I’ve read about in quite a long time.

In fact, Vaelin is probably the most striking thing about this story. Inspiring, skilled and important, he fits the same mould as protagonists like Patrick Rothfuss’ Kvothe, and Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry while also managing to standing separately. A warrior bound to the Faith, his nation’s beliefs, he grows from a child confused by his skills and fearful of his betrayal to his mother’s legacy, to a man determined to do what’s right by those he commands and leads; his own suffering and sacrifices notwithstanding.

It’s definitely the markings of a traditional hero, but wrapped up in the realistic human struggle of a person’s doubts and fears and backed by political drama that he finds himself caught up in.

However, for as much praise as Vaelin deserves, Ryan’s story is just as compelling. Using the aforementioned format of a framing narrative of Vaelin telling a historian about the truth behind his actions, we’re given the growth of this man and the development of a supernatural conflict that will undoubtedly stretch across the rest of the trilogy.

It is also told with such a precise attention to pacing that no event seems like it’s drawn out, while also providing enough detail to make the events feel alive. In fact, for a book that sits at just over 600 pages in the trade format, it definitely does not feel like it is that long. Things move at a constant pace from beginning to end, avoiding the pitfalls that caught the starts of some of my favourite novels, such as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lies of Locke Lamora, and kept my attention from the very beginning to the moment I read the final page.

Actually, despite the less than positive reception the community seems to have towards the subsequent novels, I’m eagerly anticipating jumping right into the sequels to see how Ryan’s story continues and comes to its conclusion.

Overall, Blood Song is an absolutely outstanding book. Reminiscent of the novels that got me into the genre, while also managing to feel modern and fresh, Anthony Ryan has provided a read that I feel is the closest thing to a perfect fantasy novel that I’ve experienced in years. I highly recommend checking this one out.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan Rating: 10/10

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Prince of Fools Review

Starting off a new trilogy set in the same world as his award winning Broken Empire Trilogy, Mark Lawrence manages to outdo himself with a darkly humorous and intense journey to the frozen wastelands of the north.

Before the story can go north, however, we start off in the south; particularly in the region known as Red March.  Home to the terrifying Red Queen and her unseen ally the Silent Sister, we are introduced to the main players of this story here.

Primarily we follow Prince Jalan Kendeth of Red March. A coward, liar, gambler, drunk and womanizer, Jalan is a renowned hero due to an accidental act of heroism, which he puts to great effect to spread the legs of any willing woman.

An incessant whiner and a narcissist, he doesn’t seem like someone who would make for a worthwhile protagonist, but his dark sense of humour and his unashamed feelings about his lifestyle make him more than just a scummy rogue in the guise of a prince.

Mix in his continuous acts of accidental heroism throughout the story, painting him as someone with plenty of potential for further development as the series progresses.

However, this story isn’t Jalan’s alone. Due to his narrow escape from a spell weaved by the Silent Sister, Jalan finds himself bound to the Viking Snorri Snagason; a northern warrior who had been sold into slavery after the loss of his family.

Now caught up in the Norseman’s quest to save his family, the story sets them on their quest, one fraught with danger from the Dead King and his minions.

Unlike his work on The Broken Empire Trilogy, Lawrence provides a less grim storyline here than he did through Jorg Ancrath’s story. Mixing in plenty humour and multiple exciting set piece moments, Lawrence makes this journey north into something truly special.

With a great cast of characters and some neat throwbacks to his first trilogy, particularly pay attention two thirds of the way through the book when they reveal what time period this book is set in compared to Jorg’s adventures, this story does everything nearly perfectly.

It stumbles a few times with too many stops along the way to their destination – many of which seem superfluous – but always manages to right itself in time for the next big story beat. In particular, it manages to be completely on point for the intense finale.

It also manages to do a lot more to build the world of the Broken Empire up beyond the purely traditional western/central European influences that permeated The Broken Empire Trilogy. Given we spend plenty of time on the road, with more information on the towns and regions passed through, than we ever had in the past.

Overall, Prince of Fools is an astounding start to what seems like another compelling series from Mark Lawrence. I’m looking forward to delving into the rest of the series soon. This is a book I highly recommend reading.

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence Rating: 9.5/10

Alderamin on the Sky Streaming Reviews: Episode 5

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After last episode’s mix of heartfelt emotion and brutality that ended the episode, I had not expected to be finally delving into the backstory between Ikta and Yatori so soon.

However, to my great surprise and pleasure, this is exactly what we ended up with and the series is all the better for it.

Opening with Yatori reflecting on the events of the previous episode, and noting both how Ikta is a form of strength as well as a weakness for her, we organically slide into the story of how they had met one another and started to become the duo that they are in the present.

It’s handled expertly and really does a lot to characterize both of them by exploring where they originate from and how that has influenced their mindsets.

The fact that it is told exclusively from Yatori’s perspective is also a real perk to the episode. Finally giving her voice priority has elevated the story from just being focused around Ikta’s accomplishments and allows her to feel like more of an individual herself, despite the emphasis on her dynamic with him.

Other than the emphasis on Yatori’s character, we’re finally given a chance to actually “meet” Ikta’s family, as well as his mentor – the scientist Anarai Khan.

We are also shown the event that solidifies the relationship between Ikta and Yatori as they’re set upon by wolves while out on a geological survey.

The mixture of Yatori’s already highly skilled swordplay, as well as Ikta’s blossoming genius are melded together in a visceral attempt at survival against the pack of highly intelligent wolves.

It’s all handled exceptionally and, while ending on the information already known from Chamille’s haughty declarations in episode two about Ikta’s family, we’re clearly set up for this relationship of theirs to become something more vital to the progression of the story.

However, I cannot talk just about the story of this episode. The presentation on both the animation and audio fronts deserve to be acknowledged as well.

Madhouse went above and beyond here and provided something that was consistently animated and fluid in motion. Rather than relying on a lot of talking heads segments, the episode went for more active conversations and interactions between the characters.

Add in the effort put into their fight with the wolves, and everything on the animation front was exceptionally well done.

Then there was the audio. While the vocal work has been great from the start, this episode pushes it further to provide the difference between the young versions of the characters while also working to maintain enough similarities that they never feel too different.

At the same time, we’re also treated to an utterly gorgeous piano centric soundtrack for the episode. It sets the mood, and also enhances every scene it’s used in; going above and beyond what was to be expected.

Overall, the fifth episode of Alderamin on the Sky is the best episode of the series so far. Telling a self-contained story about the history between the two leads, it is a marvelous mixture of animation, storytelling and audio work that pushes it to the heights of what makes the medium great. The future of this series is looking bright.

Episode 5 Rating: 10/10

Alderamin on the Sky streams new episodes Fridays on Crunchyroll.

Qualidea Code Streaming Reviews: Episodes 1 – 5

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Qualidea Code is a mess. It’s not a mess on the level of last year’s multiple creator disaster Chaos Dragon, but it is a mess nonetheless. Whether it’s a lack of a straight storyline, or some uneven characterization, these first five episodes haven’t done much to instill a whole lot of confidence.

Yet, at the same time, there’s something oddly appealing about this one. Despite the first episode feeling like any other battle harem series opener, with the three cities of Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa being protected by their students in a post-apocalyptic environment, it has managed to be different from the norm at the same time.

Focusing on the heads and subheads of each of the aforementioned cities, this series treats itself a lot more seriously than some of these other action series do. This is primarily seen in the way that they’re attempting to tell a story mired in mystery and character depth; although the majority of the characters are too flat to support this.

In particular, these opening episodes have spent their time centered on Ichiya Suzaku and Canaria Utara – the head and subhead respectively of Tokyo.

The hotheaded loner who wishes to save the world with his own strength, Ichiya is about as stereotypical a lead as one can get, but as the first episodes move along it turns out that this series is primed to truly put him through the ringer.

By the end of episode three, Canaria, his subhead and childhood friend who he is clearly in love with despite his acerbic nature towards everyone and everything, suffers from overextending her powers, forcing Ichiya to seek assistance from his students and the other cities (and sparking a change in him). And then comes episode four’s bomb, when Canaria is killed in a post credits sequence (stick around post credits for most of the episodes, there frequently seems to be something).

It’s a great way to actively force a character to evolve and grow, but it’s just too bad that the writing and animation don’t do much to keep up with the potential of these first four episodes. Throughout it comes across as a collection of weak clichés backed up by what is most definitely A-1 Pictures’ worst work in ages.

However, as I’ve mostly avoided discussing episode five, there’s been a subtle shift now that the first third of the series has passed. With the focus shifted from Ichiya to the bubbly, yet troubled, head of Kanagawa Maihime Tenkawa, the fifth episode showed a huge leap in quality in both the writing and characters.

Unlike Ichiya and Canaria, who are your typical battle harem leads, or the head and subhead of Chiba, Kasumi and Asuha Chigusa, who are your typical – although a lot healthier than usual – anime siblings, Maihime and her subhead Hotaru Rindou immediately provide a level of characterization and writing that was missing in the earlier episodes.

As they deal with the aftermath of the death of Canaria, and how Ichiya has degraded almost completely from that, it’s handled with a deft hand that makes the characters far more convincing; despite the death flags being flown throughout the episode.

What has been amazingly consistent in this series has been the audio. The vocal work is top notch, I’m particularly fond of Soma Saito’s work as Ichiya, despite my tepid reaction to the character overall, and Aoi Yuuki’s always lovely as Maihime, but the real star is Taku Iwasaki’s soundtrack.

As the man who created the soundtracks for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Noragami and Soul Eater (among others), he has put together a great set of music that captures the mood of each scene here. While heavier on vocal tracks than previous soundtracks he has worked on, it manages to make this one distinctive.

Overall though, Qualidea Code has been a mess so far. Inconsistent, particularly in animation and writing, but brimming with potential, it still has time to redeem itself; especially after the great fifth episode.

Episodes 1 – 5 Rating: 6.5/10

Qualidea Code streams new episodes Saturdays on Crunchyroll.

91 Days Streaming Reviews: Episodes 1 -5

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Sometimes a series can start so strong that you hold nothing, but high hopes for it. This was the trap that 91 Days found itself caught in.

With an absolutely exceptional first three episodes, 91 Days set itself up to be a dark and thrilling drama that delved heavily into its lead character, Angelo, and his desperate search for revenge.

While that thirst for revenge didn’t diminish in the episodes following, pretty much everything else that made the start of the series so compelling faltered.

Following the story of Angelo Lagusa, now going by the name of Avilio Bruno, as he works towards achieving his revenge for the murder of his family, everything is set up perfectly for a grim and dramatic tale set during the Prohibition era of the United States.

It’s a period piece that is far different from what animation studios and teams attempt in Japan, and the first two episodes were spectacular. Introducing us to a wide collection of fascinating characters, and the underlying revenge drama that will follow through the story, we’re given plenty of time to get used to the world that we’re being thrust into.

From Angelo’s first encounters with both Nero Vanetti and the antagonistic Fango, to his first murder on his quest for revenge – and subsequent conundrum when he is almost caught in his lies – was paced perfectly and was done spectacularly.

From there things started to fall apart. While the next two episodes are far from horrible, there’s a noticeable loss of the oppressive atmosphere that had made the first two episodes stand out, and an indulgence in goofiness that has given me a bit of tonal whiplash.

Episode four suffers the most as it jumps into Nero and Angelo’s road trip, which consists of some good character building, but an utterly horrible villain-of-the-week with their nearly undying giant of a foe.

While levity can definitely hold a place in darker stories, the scenes at the auto camp with the children were wonderful for character development, the ridiculousness of the goliath-like monster was completely unnecessary.

Thankfully the series doesn’t seem to have remained there, as episode five delves back into a more similar tone to the first three episodes, but it still feels lacking compared to the earlier ones.

That said, the gang politics going on in the background and Angelo’s plans all continue to make this an enjoyable experience.

However, the dip in tonal quality of the story was not the only issue that was present. Sadly, after some pretty nice animation throughout the first two episodes, everything starts to take a dive from the third on.

Characters are consistently off model, or just poorly animated, the action is nowhere near as fluid as it had been, and the overall package just seems to be struggling.

It’s really disappointing as the series started out so strong artistically in the first couple of episodes. The murder of Angelo’s family being an extremely well animated sequence, as was his fight against Fango in the second episode.

The audio, on the other hand, does a lot for the benefit of the series. Whether it’s Tk’s impressive opening theme, or the voice work – which has been quite compelling despite the fact that this is one of those series that really needs a dub – this has been a definite highlight of the series.

Overall, 91 Days is an impressive, if not completely consistent, series so far. These first five episodes have been great at building up suspense, and making sure that this world feels like there’s plenty in store for our protagonists as the story progresses.

Episodes 1 – 5 Rating: 8/10

91 Days streams new episodes Fridays on Crunchyroll.

Alderamin on the Sky Streaming Reviews: Episodes 1 -4

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We’re only four episodes into Alderamin on the Sky, but it seems like it will be joining Re:Zero and Rokka of the Six Braves as a far different take on fantasy than is normal for light novel adaptations.

As someone unfamiliar with the original source material for this one, I cannot compare the two, so this will be purely focused on the anime and what it has presented.

And what a presentation it has been. Before I get started on the story, which is probably the most distinctive part of this series, I want to discuss Madhouse’s animation and audio efforts.

After the huge success they received with One Punch Man last fall this may look like a step down to some, but Alderamin on the Sky is a gorgeous series with some compelling character designs and a really interesting world.

Unlike the purely Western and Central European settings of many other fantasy series, this one takes a page out of Rokka of the Six Braves book and goes for something a little more tropical. It personally gives me a Mediterranean vibe more similar to Greece than anything else.

Character models can be a little hit or miss at times, but each of our leads and important characters are quite distinctive from one another so far, so even when the models are slightly off they’re still easily identified. It’s a pretty picture overall.

Then there’s the audio, which is used expertly to provide mood and atmosphere, without ever feeling overbearing.

Now, the story presented so far is where this series really shines. Over the first four episodes we’re given two smaller arcs, and they have done a fair amount to really set up the world that we’ll be diving into as the rest of the series progresses.

For starters, this conflict between the Katjvarna Empire and the Kiorka Republic has been efficiently used as a backdrop to the events that have currently gone on. Rather than thrusting us right into the conflict itself, it has been used to set the stage magnificently for a different story.

And this is where the characters come into play. Although we don’t know too much about all of them yet, the six who we’re introduced to in the first episode – Ikta, Yatori, Torway, Matthew, Haroma and Chamille – have been given enough information to make them worth following.

However, it is Ikta and Yatori who have really stolen the show so far. Through the first arc detailing their shipwreck behind enemy lines, and subsequent safe return to the Empire, to the second arc and it’s greatly enjoyable training exercise, these two have shown a sense of trust and camaraderie that is just begging to be explored.

Ikta’s the lazy genius, a character archetype that was far more common a few years ago, and is a great lead that reminds me of characters like Jalan Kendeth from Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War Trilogy. He’s flawed and lusty, but unintentionally heroic at the same time. It’s a great contrast that should work out well over the entire series.

At the same time Yatori is his complete opposite. Driven by duty and honour, she is a fearsome warrior that stands by the Empire unflinchingly. She’s his total opposite and yet a great support for him. Something that, at the climax of episode four, as she devastates the traitorous soldiers who attempted to kidnap Princess Chamille, seems to be Ikta’s role for her as well.

So far this series has been great, and is doing what Madhouse struggled with their adaptation of The Irregular at Magic High School; managing to blend world building, and a genius protagonist, together in a more tightly paced package.

Episodes 1 – 4 Rating: 8.5/10

Alderamin on the Sky streams new episodes Fridays on Crunchyroll.

Momokuri Streaming Reviews Episodes 1 – 4 (1 – 8)

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I need to make something extremely clear before I start reviewing this series. As the manga is available on Crunchyroll’s manga service, I had been reading it before I ever found out that it was getting an anime. For that reason, I will be a little biased in its favour, and also a little harsher at times, due to the fact that I am quite inundated with the source material.

With that out of the way, let’s discuss this sometimes awkward, yet always quirky romantic comedy.

Momokuri is almost completely a practice in tonal dissonance. At some moments a completely cute and charming look at first love, and at others an indulgence in our heroine’s utterly creepy habits, this series has managed to pull it off quite well throughout these first four episodes.

And when I say four episodes, I mean eight. Unlike most other anime, Momokuri has decided to operate under an episode count far more familiar to viewers of Western animation.

Like series such as Adventure Time, where each half hour segment offers two episodes, Momokuri has taken the idea of loosely stringing together vignettes and put it to great use; its past as an Original Net Animation (ONA) that aired from December 2015 to February 2016 providing an easy framework to work off of.

While we are presented with a consistent story over these early episodes, we’ve just seen our protagonists Momotsuki and Kurihara become a couple and slowly start to feel each other out emotionally, the vignettes have been able to jump from one frame of time to another without ever feeling as if things are moving too fast.

That being said what really makes this series enjoyable so far has been the character interactions.

While Momotsuki and Kurihara are delightfully awkward together, it’s their interactions with their other friends and the rest of the supporting cast that make this series as enjoyable as it has been so far.

I’m especially fond of Sakaki, a tall, athletic girl who suffers a slight complex because she isn’t small and cute who has decided to protect Momotsuki from his girlfriend, and Norika, Kurihara’s sensible friend who tries to put a stop to her friend’s creepy habits.

For all the positive things I’ve said about the character interactions, the episodes have suffered slightly when they indulge in some of Kurihara’s creepier habits.

It can be quite off putting for some people, and does periodically diminish the cuteness of their interactions with one another.

On the artistic side, Momokuri has looked relatively simple, but has put that simplicity to extremely good use as it has been one of the most consistent looking anime I’ve watched in ages.

Satelight has been doing a great job on the animation here. Characters are always on model, and the designs are full of enough colour and vibrancy that they look great even standing still; or when still frames are used.

On the audio side, while having a relatively forgettable soundtrack (although the opening, sung by the voices for our leads, and the ending are both quite enjoyable) Momokuri excels with the vocal work.

Ai Kakuma, known for her work as Isuzu Sento in Amagi Brilliant Park, and Nobuhiko Okamoto, Rin Okamura in Blue Exorcist, both put in wonderful performances as Kurihara and Momostuki respectively, as does the rest of the cast.

Overall all the crazy and cute situations have managed to blend together well in these first few episodes, and if the series keeps up this sense of levity, it will definitely be a pleasure to review week to week.

Episodes 1 – 4 (1 – 8) Rating: 8/10

Momokuri streams new episodes Fridays on Crunchyroll.

The original manga can also be found here.