Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

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Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to think.

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It wasn’t until after reading a few volumes of Saga that I learned the amazing and award-winning artist Fiona Staples was Canadian. Today that I learned she was born in Calgary- so cool! Staples’ art impresses me a lot- I really appreciate it when artists show you the nitty-gritty and go all in instead of making something watered down for wider consumption.

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Saga doesn’t cater to the widest possible audience, but instead presents itself authentically, unabashedly, and in-your-face, no holds barred. It’s got action, emotion, diverse characters, strange creatures, and an epic feel. It’s totally earned a spot in my top favorite comic series.

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Nope, not lying!

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Rilakkuma and Kaoru on Netflix!

It’s out! And I just binge-watched the whole thing!

I was waiting and waiting for this from the moment I saw the trailer: Rilakkuma and Kaoru, an adorable Netflix original made using stop-motion animation!

Rilakkuma is by far my absolute favorite cute character to emerge from Japan. Rilakkuma (the brown bear) is a character from SanX. He made his debut in 2003, and is a lazy bear with the most endearing face I’ve ever seen. Just seeing Rilakkuma, or his friends Korilakkuma and Kiroitoiri, gives me a really warm, happy feeling that is instantaneous and all consuming.

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I don’t know quite what it is that makes Rilakkuma so squee-inducing. Perhaps it’s his black eyes— perfectly round and peering into my soul— or the placement of his ears, or the way he creases when he moves. Everything about him is proportioned and outfitted to positively scream “CUTE”. Japan has cute down to a science. I have my own Rilakkuma and friends at home, I just couldn’t resist them.

I enjoyed Rilakkuma and Kaoru very much— at first glance it might look like a simple children’s show, but it’s got a lot more depth than one might expect. Kaoru is an office worker in Tokyo who comes home one day dreaming about getting a pet cat, only to find Rilakkuma has randomly appeared in her apartment, with Korilakkuma (the white bear) following shortly after. Kaoru, and her pet bird Kiroitori, quickly become accustomed to having these two strange bears around, and they build a friendship.

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Kaoru struggles with questions that any young woman might- why am I so indecisive? What is my worth in this life? What am I meant to do? Am I being held back? Will I decide what I want in life? Rilakkuma and friends are there as a comforting presence and help Kaoru learn lessons throughout the show. They are also very funny, ridiculously cute, and genuinely heartwarming.

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This is the kind of show that I will probably watch again someday, and put on an episode now and then to have as a comforting background while I go about my day— the stop-motion animation is lovely in its details, and the overall feel of the show is very calming, relaxing, uplifting and cosy.

That said, it often went places I totally wasn’t expecting, and certainly wasn’t boring. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that not even aliens or ghosts are immune to the charms of Rilakkuma!

 

 

New Fruits Basket- First Impressions!

Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket was one of the first manga series I began collecting in my teen years, and I also loved the original anime.

When I moved out from my parents’ house, I left behind my Fruits Basket manga in their attic (there were too many for me to fit in my suitcase!) and eventually ended up donating them to a library a few years later (still couldn’t fit in my suitcase!)

I haven’t read Fruits Basket, or watched the original anime, since those years long ago, so I was excited to see that the manga was being remade and accompanied by an anime reboot! I have a Crunchyroll subscription, so I watched the first new episode today and found myself getting sucked back into the story.

This new Fruits Basket keeps the humour, optimism, and sentimentality of the original while presenting a fresh, detailed new art style that I really love. The shading is lovely and the highlights really pop!

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For me, the casting and animation of Tohru is most important for this story- she is the main protagonist of course, but more importantly she’s also someone who was really inspiring to me when I was younger, so for me to enjoy this new reboot Tohru has to feel right. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed! The voice acting by Iwami Manaka captures Tohru’s bright personality perfectly.

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When I worked my first job in high school, as a grocery store cashier, I was thrown onto the till with very little training, and customers would get mad at how slow I was ringing through their purchases and looking up their product codes for produce. The store I worked at was very busy, lines were long, and I struggled a lot at first. I would sometimes be driven to tears.

During this time I specifically remember looking up to Tohru as a role model- from the very beginning of the story we come to know that she has a hard life, but she works hard through every circumstance to try to make things better, not just for herself, but especially for others. Her work ethic made me want to be strong too- and I did get better at my job eventually!

The story of Fruits Basket involves the animals of the Chinese zodiac- each member of the Soma family is cursed with an animal form, so it’s fun to see each one revealed as the story progresses. In the first episode we see three such transformations happen in quick succession- I love the powdery & otherworldly mist that is unleashed in the new anime!

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Most die-hard fans of Fruits Basket (that I knew of, anyway) were either Team Kyo or Team Yuki- these two boys are the major contenders for Tohru’s heart, but I found it hard to pick sides, myself!

I always did have a little thing for Shigure, though…

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There are also lots of other interesting characters who will be revealed as the show goes on, each with very distinct personalities, so it will surely be increasingly entertaining!

Overall, I’m impressed with this first new episode, and I’m sure that this new Fruits Basket will capture the hearts of fans both new and old!

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My Pirate Crew Tag

Megan from A Geeky Gal posted her Pirate Crew with an open invitation tag for anyone who wanted to play along, and I couldn’t help imagining who I would choose! Thanks for sharing Megan! And thanks to Lynn Sheridan for creating this fun tag!

The Rules:

  • Display the My Pirate Crew logo and add ‘My Pirate Crew’ as a tag.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to their blog.
  • Link back to the original post here (so I can compare your crews to mine).
  • Select seven anime characters and give them a position on the crew. These are the positions you can fill: Warrior, sniper, chef, doctor, scientist, navigator, strategist, mechanic, entertainer.
  • Nominate 5-10 bloggers.
  • Set sail and rule the seas!

 

So, here is my miscreant crew- scallywags, the lot of ’em!

 

Warrior: InuYasha

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I’m not copying you Megan, I swear! InuYasha is the first anime warrior who stole my heart, he’s totally badass, and I would definitely bring him along in my crew. Plus, who needs an anchor for the ship when you can just strap him with some rope, toss him over, and yell “SIT, BOY!!!” (I know, I’m terrible.)

 

Sniper: Mey-Rin

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Sorry if this is a spoiler for anyone, but you know Mey-Rin from Black Butler? You eventually come to know that she’s actually more than meets the eye…

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Yeah, she’s a crack shot with a variety of types of guns. Plus, we can squee about Sebastian together! Eeeeeee!~

 

Chef: Ignis

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In FFXV Ignis has more than proven his skill at improvising some delectable grub with meager rations while out in the wild, and I feel certain he’d be able to keep us from getting scurvy.

***Pastry Chef: Najika Kajami

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Ok, I added Pastry Chef as an additional crew member because dessert is VERY IMPORTANT TO ME OK? I feel like Najika Kajami is just the kind of pâtissier that I want on the crew- observant, in touch with the seasons, innovative, and creative. She would also bring a cheerful positivity to the crew.

Doctor: Naoki Irie

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Ok, I’ll admit he’s a bit harsh sometimes, but he knows his stuff and cares about his patients. And, Kotoko is smitten with him, so she’ll probably tag along, meaning we have 2 medical professionals on board instead of 1! I’ll admit that I haven’t read the manga or watched the anime, but I am a big fan of the Japanese edition of the drama series!

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Scientist: Reiji Sakamaki

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Let’s count all of the benefits of having Reiji as our on-board scientist, shall we?

  1. He makes a mean cup of tea
  2. He will probably bring a large collection of books with him
  3. He’s skilled at bloodletting, so no need to have leeches on board
  4. He’s a vampire, so like Dracula he could take care of the ship’s rat problems easily if needed (though he’d surely complain that it’s dirty work below his honour)
  5. Mey-rin will have her glasses off most of the time (she’s our sniper, after all) so Reiji can be our dedicated megane character
  6. He’s a sadist, so… if you’re into that… >.>

 

Navigator: Sailor Mercury (Ami Mizuno)

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Ami’s precise, mathematical mind would ensure her success as the navigator of the ship. She is skilled at data gathering and calculations. I imagine she would have the foresight to take necessary precautions and avoid potential misfortunes while at sea.

Strategist: L

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L may not be the most socially aware or tactful, but I like his aesthetic and vibe. He’s a brilliant strategist, there’s no denying that- he sees through deception and knows how to plan effectively. Plus, with him around I’m sure we’d never run out of candy!

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Mechanic: Impey Barbicane

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Impey is a skilled mechanic as well as a comedic optimist and ambitious dreamer. He’ll keep our spirits up and our ship running all the way to the moon!

 

Entertainer: Ren Jinguji

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Ren is my fave playboy from UtaPri and he plays a mean sax. What’s not to like? I mean, for that matter can we just bring the entire band onboard?

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*** BONUS- Pet: Roen

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I need to be around animals or I get really sad. We would need to have a pet on the ship- we just would! Preferably a dog. Roen would be great kuz he’s super cute and fluffy, plus he can transform into a human to help out with combat or whatever else is needed.


 

Well, that’s it for my crew! The sky is red- we set sail in the morning!

 

I tag me hearties:

Neko

Pete

Emma  (where would your ship travel to, I wonder?)

Kris and/or Rachel 

Michelle

and anyone else who is reading this and feels inspired to dream up a crew!

*p.s. sorry if I tagged you and you’ve already done this, and please don’t feel pressured, it’s just for fun if you feel like it 🙂

Japan Memories: Videos!

Last October was the 1 year anniversary of our 2017 trip to Japan, and I revisited all of the memories in a series of daily blog posts featuring my photographs and journal writings (check them out if you’d like, starting with day 1 here!)

I miss Japan very much- it’s like a reverse homesickness where I have a special place in my heart that aches to visit this far away place again. I am still thinking about Japan every day, and I convinced Dustin that we need to go back sooner rather than later- so we are going to spend Christmas in Tokyo this year!

When we went in 2017 we traveled around from Tokyo using a JR pass to get to Gunma, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kinosaki. We saw so many gorgeous places and ate so much amazing food. It was a fantastic trip.

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This Christmas we are planning to spend the whole time in Tokyo so that we aren’t moving from place to place so much (resettling into new inns and hotels, moving our luggage around) and we can just explore at leisure from our home base in Ikebukuro. There are so many spots in Tokyo that we have only barely explored, or not at all. I can’t wait. I even have 2 tattoo appointments penciled in with a studio in Shibuya!

Wish us luck! I’m saving all of my pennies… (well, figuratively- they don’t make pennies anymore in Canada…)


 

I finally made some videos with clips from our 2017 trips around Japan 🙂

These are just mashups of videos taken from my cell phone, my camera, and probably a little bit of Dustin’s cell and camera too. Some parts are a bit shaky but I kept them in because they were still cool memories. A few of these seem to be things that I didn’t even realize I was filming at the time… each video has a whole bunch of quick clips featuring some of the cool and beautiful things we saw in Japan.

Video 1: Tokyo- Ikebukuro, Ikebukuro street festival, Shinjuku, Shinjuku park, Shibuya, Shin Okubo, Harajuku, Ueno, Nagano Broadway, etc.

Video 2: Gunma- Takaragawa Osenkaku onsen ryokan (family run hot spring inn)

Video 3: Kyoto, Osaka- Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan, Harry Potter World, Kyoto Station, etc.

Video 4: Kinosaki- Mikunia onsen ryokan and ryokan town (hot springs town), autumn street festival, kaiseki meals, etc.

 

 

Bad Romance: A Defense of Reprehensible Love Interests in Otome and Beyond

My prince charming is your worst nightmare.

From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.

Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.

However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.

One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.

The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.

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Code: Realize

A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.

However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.

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Saint Germain still image from Code:Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

*Warning:  spoilers ahead!*

My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.

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Scene from Code Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.

Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…

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Diabolik Lovers, by Rejet

Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.

Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series-  aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.

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Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.

Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?

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This scene from Watamote is literally me T-T

This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers,  I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.

I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.


 

Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.

The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).

We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!

 

Tis the Season for Creepy Christmas Recommendations

If, like me, you find that this cosy season lends itself well to curling up on the couch with a frightfully fascinating read, or hosting a Netflix Noel binge that will haunt your holiday memories for years to come, I have some recommendations for you to consider!

The following are some spooky and recent(ish) seasonal titles that I’ve enjoyed:

 

I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Boasting two lovely cover variants, this book is part of my favorite mystery series, featuring young sleuth/chemist Flavia de Luce. While it’s the fourth in the series, this title holds its own as a standalone story as well (but I bet if you read it you will be swiftly enticed to tag along on Flavia’s other adventures!)

This is a quintessential cosy Christmas mystery set in England in the 50’s- the de Luce estate is being used as the setting for a film, and the entire town becomes trapped inside because of a terrible storm. Flavia is determined to catch Father Christmas, but she ends up stumbling upon the body of a famous young actress… DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN

Krampus, directed by Michael Dougherty

Krampus is worth a watch; it’s creepy, campy, and fun for the whole family! Well, depends on the family I guess… at least, my husband (who is a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies) had no problem with this freaky and fantastical black comedy. We watched it with a friend a couple of Christmases ago and found it to be a pretty solid, well paced, and satisfying story if you don’t mind a few cheesy over-the-top monsters sprinkled here and there.

Some of the baddies in this movie are impressive feats of puppetry- check out the bonus materials for the film if you can to see some of the behind-the-scenes creativity that went into Krampus.

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream: An Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

This was a seriously fun read. Each story is short and unique- like most anthologies there were some that I enjoyed more than others, but overall it’s a great mix that moves along at a swift pace. A lot of the stories start out with everyday family drama and escalate into true horror, while several go in a more sci-fi or fantasy direction. Some of these tales will give me chills for a while to come!

A Christmas Horror Story, directed by Steve Hoban, Grant Harvey, and Brett Sullivan

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This movie reminds me of Krampus in some ways (aside from the obvious connection visible on the cover)- it’s got some camp for sure, and some moments that prompted my husband and I to make “SKKNKKTCHH” noises of disbelief.  At the same time, the intertwining stories balance action sequences, horrific and humorous themes, and moments both bleak and bright, plus lots of twists and turns.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale (TV series Holiday Special)

 

Hail Satan, it’s here! Dusty and I watched the CAOS holiday special episode last night.

If you haven’t watched season 1 of CAOS yet, here’s your excuse!

While it wasn’t everything i’d hoped for (my fave character didn’t make an appearance *COfatherblackwoodUGH*) and Dustin was concerned about the implications to the plot from what we thought would be a one-off isolated episode, we still enjoyed the para-normally festive atmosphere, the introduction of a cool new character, and the softer side of Zelda that is explored.

Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories (Series, various authors)

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Ok, I had to edit this blog post to add these because I just came across them at an Indigo bookstore yesterday and I am so in love. The full set of these classic Christmas ghost stories includes 11 titles, although I was only able to find a few scattered throughout the store when I visited. These would make excellent gifts or stocking stuffers because they are tiny and unique, designed and illustrated by celebrated Canadian comic artist Seth. The publisher, Biblioasis, states on their site:

Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional Christmas celebrations as turkey, eggnog, and Santa Claus…Trimmed to fit the coziest stocking, they’re perfect gifts for those who want a bit of extra Christmas chill.