Penguin Highway is the kind of story that pulls you along like a strong and bending current- you have NO idea where it’s going but enjoy every turn and dip of the way nonetheless. This afternoon I settled down with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream to watch the anime adaptation of this Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which has also been made into a manga in the past).
The film, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, centers around the life of a young boy, a 4th grader who will be the first to tell you that he is a bright, smart, scientifically minded kid who will surely have his pick of marriage partners when he grows up! He’s only got eyes for one woman though- a mysterious dental worker who seems to have something to do with the sudden and in-explainable appearance of penguins in the area.
Sound confusing? Yup, like I said, you just need to let the story unfold and enjoy the ride. The strange story involves natural and unnatural phenomena, scientific experiments, adolescent longings, bullies, friends, and lots of penguins.
I especially enjoyed the friendship between the two kids who enjoy using the scientific method, documenting their findings, playing chess, and discussing the theory of relativity.
Some parts were truly mind-bending. It’s not all charts and diagrams though- there are lots of funny and sweet moments throughout this fast-paced family film! The strange phenomena start small and build into a visually and emotionally powerful climax.
While the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff will no doubt leave many viewers scratching their heads, I found the conclusion to be satisfactory in how it tied things up. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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…
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!
This is the sentiment that forms the undercurrent of Maquia, a standalone high-fantasy story centered around the lorph- also known by humans as the “clan of the separated” because their near-immortality has caused them to live isolated lives and become the stuff of legends.
Maquia is a woman of the lorph. When a power-hungry kingdom raids her village, she is torn away from her kind and finds herself rescuing a human infant despite her deep knowledge of the heartbreak that will inevitably ensue.
Maquia is a rollicking story of adventure, with heaps of drama, spoonfuls of humour, and touches of romance. It’s also quite emotional- if you are a crier, be prepared to cry. By the end of it my husband looked at me and said “I feel like they’re trying their damnedest to make me cry”.
One aspect of the story that I really like is the Hibiol- the lorph are weavers and have a unique language of the cloth which they use to record history and share messages amongst themselves.
The film carries along at a good pace. It is interesting to see Maquia’s adopted son Ariel and the other humans in the story growing up steadily around the ever-youthful lorph characters. The way the characters developed and the decisions they made surprised me in some instances.
Another engaging aspect is the existence of the Renato- huge dragon creatures capable of flight that the kingdom of Mezarte have enslaved to do their bidding, but which are slowly but surely dying off from a mysterious “Red Eye disease”.
A word of caution- if, like me, you prefer sub over dub, stick with the Blu-Ray for this one. Sub and dub options are usually included on both the DVD release and Blu-Ray for most anime nowadays, but this is an exception- I borrowed the DVD from the library and then realized that it only had an English dub, so we had to watch it with English voice acting. The BluRay, I found out, does have both a sub or dub option.
Overall I really enjoyed this film and would totally watch it again someday. I think that, since it’s an engaging standalone film with a PG rating, it would be a good movie to introduce someone to anime, to share with your family, or to enjoy on a date. Or, just cosy up and enjoy it on your own!
With A Pocketful of Crows, Joanne Harris has proven to me yet again why she deserves many spots on my meticulously curated bookshelves.
This is a quick read, but full to the last page with poem, prose, wild imagery, and earthy illustrations by artist Bonnie Helen Hawkins.
It has all the trappings of a classic fairy-tale, but with a protagonist who is strong-willed and true to herself even as she falls into the clutches of a deep and all-consuming infatuation (and especially as she rises out of it).
This tale is charming, witchy, gorgeously written, and sometimes as cruel as nature itself.
Not only is it lovely between the covers, but the hardback edition is sumptuously bound with golden lettering.
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
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)
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.
I picked this movie up at the library as it’s been a while since I watched a zombie movie. My hubby Dustin said he’s over zombie movies, but I convinced him to watch it with me tonight, and it didn’t take long before we were invested in the plot and characters.
A workaholic father, recently separated from his wife, heads out with his young daughter to take her to see her mother in Busan. Someone odd has managed to limp onto the train among the many passengers. The train has barely left the station before an attendant is attacked, leading to a chain of events that causes infection and panic to spread rapidly throughout the carriages.
This is a really solid, tightly plotted film with a good balance of action, emotion, and lots of YESSSSS and NOOOO!!!! moments. You see early on that the zombies are fast, ruthless, and dumb. They swarm and crowd, scrambling over each-other in waves and crashing onto screaming victims.
As the movie progressed, we were rooting for certain characters, pleaing with them to do or not do certain things. Contrastingly, there’s at least one character that we grew to hate (you’ll know who if you watch the movie!) and we were urging him toward a slow and painful demise…
While a few common tropes are used, and occasionally a zombie’s facial expression or movement feels a bit campy, overall the film is gripping and gives you a believable taste of what might surmisedly happen if a train full of people suddenly found themselves cast into infectious chaos. The infection doesn’t stop at the train- there’s an entire messed up world to face. There are also some surprising plot twists that I really appreciated.
I definitely recommend Train to Busan. It had me tensing up in my seat a lot, anxious for the main cast of characters. It engages you from beginning to end and leaves you sated with lots of feels. I can’t help myself from ending on a cheesy line- this train is an entertaining ride!