Pokemon Sun and Moon: Battle for the Z Ring Review

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It’s time to look at the next installment in the Pokémon Sun and Moon season. The first one was a reasonable start to the quasi reboot and this one is actually an improvement as we get our first serious island challenge which is basically just a gym battle. It’s not exactly Kanto just yet but it still makes for a decent volume nonetheless. Hopefully the series can keep up the momentum.

Ash wants to obtain a new Z crystal since his last one broke when he fought the island guardian. The local professor tells him how he can get another one and the answer is that he must beat the human guardian. Ash goes over there to fight but the guardian tells him that he has to solve the island’s rat problem first. A bunch of Pokémon are blocking the way and making a nuisance of themselves so Ash has to go to a cave and defeat some powerful Pokémon so he can team up with them and save the day. Can Ash win all of his matches in this volume?

The local head tries to tell Ash that battling isn’t always the answer and that’s the point of the trial. However, combat was the answer to winning and saving the island so I found that whole part ironic. Perhaps it was intentional but it’s hard to say. What makes this volume better than the last one is definitely all of the battles. Ash has to face off against at least 3 different opponents and he does a good job against all of them. Ash actually uses some strategy and while he seems to be a newbie at life (Forgetting basic Pokémon) at least he is quickly becoming a better trainer. Seeing him defeat the leader and use Pikachu’s new attack was definitely great. The series seems to be hinting that Ash will get a new attack for each type which will be pretty interesting. He will probably pick the thunder move but I personally found this one to be a lot more impressive. It’s essentially quick attack but even faster which will be great for overwhelming opponents. Maybe Ash will choose this one though, that’d be cool. It was also nostalgic seeing Hariyama again since that Pokémon is pretty cool. I love the design and he always struck me as one of the stringer fighting types. I think I’ll always have a lot of nostalgia for the first 3 generations.

Ash is surprisingly on his own for most of the volume as the friends just don’t get much screen time. They appear for a brief instant to remind Ash that he’s being petty about the cat stealing his food and also give him an idea about saving the island. I suppose their role was important after all even if it was so small. Aside from the big battle plot, the first few chapters were about Ash and Litikitty. That was definitely the weaker part of the volume. It wasn’t bad or anything but it definitely wasn’t as exciting as the action part.

Pikachu looks really good which is always a plus in my book. I’ve said this a million times over the years but at this point he should easily be level 100 so I don’t want to see him losing against anyone. Pikachu should be able to claim victory no matter the opponent. That’s just how it should be. Ash will need more Pokémon though as Rowlett just isn’t an amazing backup. He’s not really much of a fighter and constantly falling asleep isn’t doing him any favors either. Once Ash has a team of 6 then he will really be set.

Overall, I’d say that the books are doing a good job of adapting the episodes. The book is quite small so the author does a good job of not overdoing it with the details so we can still cover a lot of ground. These little books are always a good format for such adaptions and while you know that it’s definitely not going to make it all the way, hopefully we get a lot of volumes before it finishes. That’s the dream at any rate. I wonder when the next big Totem Battle (I think that’s the correct term) will be. I stopped following the anime early on so I can’t say that I know much of the specifics aside from big moments like Brock and Misty showing up. As long as we get battles like this every volume, the series should continue to go smoothly.

Overall 7/10

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The Haunting of Hill House Review

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The Haunting on Hill House is definitely a unique adventure. The characters are all rather calm about the situation but in a rather odd way. Every character seems to be crazy already which is probably why they were invited to begin with. Hill House definitely doesn’t pull any punches once night occurs.

The plot starts off with Montague deciding to head off to Hill House to run some experiments. He decides to invite a few people with supernatural experience since he could use some backup and perhaps they will sense something he could not. These characters are Eleanor and Theodora. Luke also comes since he owns the house while Montague is merely renting it. Is the house haunted or is it merely in the minds of the characters? That’s left for you to decide as things get a little crazy but one thing’s for sure, things will never be the same for these chaps once they leave.

So like I mentioned earlier, the dialogue is all very off. Likely an intentional decision so it’s not bad writing but it does make you wonder about the characters and how far from reality they are. For example, the maid has a tendency of repeating herself and telling the same things to everyone no matter who they are. She may have been the best character to be honest. As she said, supper is served on the dot and she leaves before dark. She has her iron clad rules and doesn’t deviate from them no matter what. You have to admire her dedication and the rest of the characters quickly learned how the system worked that way. Her husband wasn’t quite as fun and only showed up once so he definitely wasn’t meant to be a big character. His threats worked pretty well on the main character but no one else was going to be messed with.

That’s one thing I liked about Montague. Since he rented the house, he always talks about how the others need to know their place. That being said, he is all talk and never actually does anything about it. He does his best to keep the group together and might be the best character in the book. Luke is fairly good as well. He doesn’t believe in ghosts as much as the rest of them and never even gets scared by what is happening in the house. He takes it all in stride and seems to genuinely enjoy the experience. At least someone was having fun right?

Eleanor is the main character by unfortunately she is the worst one. She suffers from low confidence the whole time and doubts every move that she’s makes. Eleanor also basically goes crazy early on but you could make the case that she was already like that when the book began. It would explain her point of view for the book and everyone’s reactions to some of her antics. I imagine she didn’t act quite the same as she claims too. She really put up resistance to leaving the gang by the end and then her sudden finish seals the deal. She was amusing at least though. Definitely a creepy person to be around if you were actually in the house though.

Theodora was definitely the most intense character. She is very outgoing unlike the others and can be very morbid which is an interesting combination. She gets along with everyone even if she finds Eleanor to be too clingy. Towards the end the two do start to subtly insult each other a lot but I’m probably on Theodora’s side here since Eleanor was trying to invite herself over which is never the polite thing to do. Just because you meet a friend on a job doesn’t necessarily mean you suddenly want to have them around all the time. Eleanor did her best to get everyone against her.

I can’t speak for any possible adaptions but in the book at least I think it’s safe to say that the house was not haunted. Most of the tricks could be explained with science like how the building was slanted and that’s why the doors would close. Everything adds up this way. Any possible noises during the night were probably just Eleanor panicking and trying to scare everyone.

Honestly if I had been invited to the house, I probably would have had a blast. The main characters did very little investigating if you think about it and spent most of the time just having picnics and playing chess. Essentially it was like a vacation with free food. In a time without electronics that definitely seems like a fun experience since the things in town may have gotten old by that point.

Overall, The Haunting at Hill House is truly a unique book. I don’t think you will find a cast of characters quite like that one for a while. It’s an engaging atmosphere with how mysterious the air is and all of the strange dialogue being thrown around. I think I would have preferred for the book to have been shown through another character’s point of view although that would run the risk of changing the whole dynamic of the book. Anyway, I’d recommend checking out the book. It’s also pretty short so it won’t take you too long and the pacing is pretty tight. Whether you think the supernatural element is there or if it’s all in Eleanor’s head, it’s a fun story.

Overall 7/10

My Little Pony: The Elements of Harmony Volume II Review

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It’s time to check out the new My Little Pony guidebook. I read the last one almost 4 years ago so it has certainly been a while. I suppose that makes sense since each guidebook covers 3 seasons of the show and it takes a while for those to be produced. As it stands, I can’t see a third volume coming out for a long time since I think it is currently only 1 season out of date. It’s a very informative book and I can honestly say that it is pretty much perfect for learning about the ponies. I dare say that Megaman.exe and Transformers still had the most colorful and immersive guidebooks on the block, but this one keeps it close.

There are several sections in the book. First we take a look at the main ponies of course. The book talks about the Mane 6, their friends, allies, enemies, etc. It also talks about the surrounding areas and just about everything you need to know about the basics of Equestria. This section is always pretty fun and even if you already know most of the characters, it’s nice to see their write ups. It’s an essential part of every guidebook.

There is also a small section at the very end of the guidebook which talks about the songs. It writes down all of the lyrics for them so you can really appreciate the writing. I’m guessing they only chose some songs as I doubt there were 3 seasons worth of lyrics in there, but maybe there weren’t as many musical episodes as I had expected. The songs were nice although it’s always a lot more enjoyable to actually listen to them than read the lyrics.

The bulk of the book and the section where you’ll spend the most time are the episode descriptions. The guidebook goes through each and every episode from seasons 4 through 6 and gives a detailed look at what happens. They even post the moral to each episode on the bottom of the page. This is one of those areas that separates the guidebook from the rest. I can’t think of any other guidebook that does such a great job of showing you all of the episodes. You could theoretically be able to start season 7 feeling confident that you know everything if you read this guidebook. (And the last one of course)

There aren’t a whole lot of bonus features beyond that so I’ve pretty much mentioned everything there is to know about this one. So it’s pretty basic with the episode summaries being the main thing that makes it a lot of fun. Without it I’d probably have to dock a star, but it’s good enough with that feature. You’ll find yourself breezing through the book as you eagerly catch up on the latest pony knowledge. Now lets talk about some of the bonus features that the book could have had though.

I think some sections that could have made the book a lot more detailed would have been a nice Q and A section. Seeing the writers and voice actors talk about the characters and answer questions from fans would have been nice. Maybe hintings at future episodes or at Derpy’s big upcoming role would have been neat. Maybe some character popularity polls like which MLP characters are the most popular or something of that nature. These are all things that could have made the book more epic. “Top 10 MLP fights” may not be applicable for the average fan but what about something like top 10 songs or top 10 episodes? Those are a must for the average guidebook. Maybe what this series can do is make the next volume come out after 2 seasons instead of 3 and then they can pack in the empty space with some of these bonus features. Just a suggestion, but I do think it would make the book even better.

Overall, You’ll enjoy this guidebook. The only way you wouldn’t is if you aren’t an MLP fan, but if so then I doubt you’d be reading this in the first place. I suppose it could be a good launching on point for fans who haven’t had time to watch the show but in that case I would hope that you would have read the first voluem first. That would definitely be beneficial. It’s been a while since I read a guidebook, but maybe more will pop up at some point. They seem like an easy thing for a franchise to do so I wish more would do them. Imagine a nice Pokemon version where it’ll cover all of the episodes in a region? That’d be really nice. Meanwhile, now I just need to wait for my library to get the next My Little Pony comic to continue this marathon of the franchise.

Overall 8/10

Pokemon Talent Showdown Review

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Time for another Pokemon adventure. Ash and friends were minding their own business when they notice a big crowd of people gathering around. It turns out that a big talent show is occurring nearby and Gary is even participating in it. Ash isn’t a big fan of contests, but Gary eggs him on and continues to insult Ash until the main character decides to bluff his way through it and claims that he already has a great act in mind. Can Ash think of an act that will actually defeat Gary’s or is it time for a slice of crispy, humble pie?

This adventure is a lot of fun because having Gary in the story is always great. I recently went back to check out most of his best moments and it’s easy to see why he’s such a fan favorite. The book does him justice as well since he actually had the slight upper hand against Ash. As Ash referenced, it’s a little odd for Gary to be so arrogant after Ash upstaged him in the tournament, but this is the fan favorite portrayal of Gary after all so I guess it’s to be expected. Either way I hadn’t been expecting a rematch between the two of them so that was really awesome.

The actual talent show wasn’t bad either. I felt a little bad for Ash since he apparently can’t sing or even play any instrument so he was given the smallest role. Still, Misty and Brock did help him out by coming up with their show so that was nice. I’d definitely assume that Gary is a better singer than Brock, but it’s nice to see that the Pokemon characters have such musical talent. The ending is a little cheesy though as the owner stated that this contest wouldn’t be about battling and just sportsmanship, but then Ash saves the day and he flips on that statement. I suppose having your life saved is a decent reason to quickly change up the results, but it still felt like Ash didn’t really earn his win. I guess that part could be pretty nostalgic to the original season as well though.

This book probably had the most action out of all the Pokemon books I’ve read so far so as you can imagine it is also my favorite one. Pokemon action is just a blast to watch and I definitely picture the fights in my head as they go. I forgot that Gary had a Charizard or if they just made it up for this adventure but that’s certainly interesting. It’s a little disappointing that Charizard was losing to Alakazam, but psychic types are some of the only ones who can give him a real fight so I can live with it. The stakes were definitely pretty high. I think Alakazam could definitely beat Psyduck though. Psyduck’s confusion certainly is great, but it takes forever to use and no opponent should actually just stand there and wait to be attacked. Gary’s confidence let this happen, but it wouldn’t be viable on most opponents.

Ash also fought another performer earlier as she thought he stole her Seel so she retaliated by trying to beat him up. I guess she was determined to get the truth out of him, but beating Ash in a Pokemon fight is no easy task. I think Ash is a little too quick to return his Pokemon during the battles here, but when you have Pikachu at the ready I suppose it’s no big deal. I also didn’t mind that the battles got more screen time than the actual show because that part was certainly more exciting for me.

As always the pacing is really great for the book. Since it’s so short everything has to happen quite rapidly which always makes for great results. Ash really can’t catch a break as a result, but it also shows how he is able to think on his feet. There’s never a dull moment and so you’ll be engaged from cover to cover. It certainly won’t take you long to finish this book anyway so it works out well.

Overall, This was a really good Pokemon story. All of the characters were itching for a fight and Ash was always ready to oblige. He may not have won all of his matches instantly but at least he reacted right away and acted reasonably experienced. I’d love to see an old school Pokemon movie that takes place around here where Ash just takes on trainers. It would be a lot of fun and I miss his old school lineup of Pigeot, Charizard, Snorlax, and the others. It was just a very balanced team even if Bulbasaur and Squirtle may hold the team back in attack power since they’re still in their first forms. They really haven’t been looking good in these books so far but maybe that’ll change soon. Charizard and Pikachu have really been doing all of the work. If you haven’t checked this story out yet, then you should definitely change that ASAP.

Overall 8/10

Pokemon: Race to Danger Review

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It’s time for another Pokemon story. This one was pretty ironic right from the start. Remember how in the last book Tracy joined up since Brock left and they were about to have some fun adventures? Well, since this is a few volumes later, it starts off with the aftermath of Tracy leaving and Brock suddenly returning. It’s all pretty surreal and would have been really funny if these volumes were actually back to back. It just ended up being pretty funny because of the circumstances.

Ash and friends are trying to have a good time when they see a bully picking on a girl whose balloon was shot down. It turns out that Team Rocket are the ones who actually sabotaged her, but it matters not at the moment. Ash challenges the bully, but gets steamrolled by his impressive Fearow. Ash’s friends quickly insult him for this and Ash almost cries so they decide to take revenge by entering the balloon challenge and helping the girl overcome the bully. It’ll be tough, but Ash knows that he can pull through in the end.

The whole book is basically the race. It’s a pretty short chapter book like the others so you’ll be able to read through it right away. Because of this, the book wastes no time in getting straight to the action. The actual race is pretty rigged though and I feel bad for most of the contestants because they just go down so easily. Team Rocket actually looks competent for once as they technically eliminate almost all of the teams. Nobody seems to care much either as Ash and friends think about what is happening but none of the other teams ever do anything about it. They’ve all accepted their fates which is actually rather tragic if you overthink the whole situation. Why didn’t they put up more of an effort to fight back? They all have Pokemon so that shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe they figured a ref was watching them so they couldn’t make a move. It makes sense then why only the bully and Team Rocket were doing anything, they called the tournament’s bluff and that proved to be successful. I’m not sure about giving away Pokemon as a prize though, but that’s a topic for another day. For now I’ll assume that Dratini was a pretty chill Pokemon who just went with the wind.

Ash had a bit of a confidence issue in this book, but at least he gained it all back by the end. I also like how he pointed out that he never lost his confidence and it was just hanging around the entire time. That’s why Ash is a pro, he rolls with the punches and even has a few good bluffs to help himself out. I do wish he could have beaten the bully though as that would have just been a lot more satisfying than the result we got. Bullies should never have the last laugh. Sure, he didn’t win the race but he will still go on thinking that he is one tough customer.

This book had more action than the last one and felt more like a classic Kanto adventure. I’d definitely say that it has aged well and was probably a pretty fun episode back in the day. I can’t really say that I remember it all that well at this point, but it certainly has been a while since I watched the original episodes back in the day. I’d definitely recommend checking it out whether you’re a Pokemon fan or not. It’s a solid book for all ages and since you can read it in under 30 minutes it’s not a big time investment either. We’ll see if the next Pokemon book can keep up the positive trend that we have so far of getting better and better. Also, this book confirmed that Ash can understand Pokemon speech.

Overall 7/10

Pokemon: Journey to the Orange Islands Review

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It’s time for another quick Pokemon chapter book. This one brings us back to the beginning of the Orange Island adventures. Ash may have conquered the Pokemon League or at least that’s what you’d assume from how he talks about it in this book, but there is a new challenge around the corner that he cannot resist. Before starting the tournament he runs into a Lapras who is in need or a rescue and a Professor who may be in over her head with research. Ash is ready to save them all, but can he also stop Team Rocket from kidnapping Pikachu?

It’s always nostalgic to take a look at the good ole days of Pokemon. The newer adventures are fun enough (Although Sun and Moon is a downgrade) but the classics are classic for a reason. It’s great to see Ash just show up and take down 3 bullies in a single blow. He didn’t have time for one liners or panic attacks, Ash just got the job done. That’s why he’s the hero of legends. Ash doesn’t play games when it comes to cleaning up shop and I wouldn’t expect him too. Ash is also pretty straight forward here as he openly cringes depending on the situation. I’m not kidding, on page 2 he cringed and that’s when I knew that I was in for quite the ride. It was a good way to start things off.

There are really two main adventures here although they continue into each other pretty seamlessly. The first adventure has the kids stop by Professor Ivy’s lab to pick up the GS ball. For some reason it is impervious to teleportation so they are supposed to bring it to Professor Oak. Brock decides to stay with Ivy so he can become an official Pokemon breeder. Ash and Misty are pretty okay with this and head off, but Team Rocket tricks them and they get launched pretty far away. That’s when Ash notices the bullies and takes them down. A kid named Tracy shows up to join the crew and Oak allows Ash to forget about the GS ball so he can just have fun entering the league. Oak’s a pretty nice guy. The adventure is On!

Naturally this was a pretty big moment in the anime since Brock had been around for so many episodes. That being said, he was always the worst of Ash’s friends as he never kept his head in the game and was always holding the team back. He may have been the team’s cook, but I couldn’t get around to missing him. His replacement wasn’t exactly a fan favorite though as Tracy can be extreme in his own way. He notices some kids bullying Lapras and decides not to do anything about it because he’s busy sketching. That’s very shady right off the bat and he basically forced his way into Ash’s inner circle. Ash was totally against having Tracy on board but the decision was taken out of his hands. It was all pretty sudden. Tracy will have some work to do to get past his initial appearance and since he isn’t much of a fighter, that’ll be tough. Misty doesn’t do much here, but I’m sure she’ll have more of a role in the next few volumes…possibly. Technically Ash’s Pikachu is really the only Pokemon to get a big role. Ash doesn’t even use his others. Jigglypuff looks pretty good as she shows up to take names. I really miss the days when she would come out of the blue and just start singing. That was a quality running gag.

One thing I have to wonder is if the author has to recap what everything is at the beginning of every book or just for each region. For example, we’re reminded what a Pokedex is and the author describes everything as if we’re seeing it for the first time. The book’s fairly short and even then these scenes are really quick, but it does seem like you’ll lose valuable page space this way. In the end, I have no real complaints with the pacing though. The book flies by and it’s an engaging read from cover to cover. If I had any small complaint, it would be that this book is light on action. Pikachu’s one hit win and Geodude’s one hit win were basically the only battles in the book. Props to Team Rocket for tricking the heroes the same way twice in a row. Since the book cuts out the filler it almost literally occurs back to back. At least Ash didn’t go down without yelling for his food first.

Overall, This was a good volume of Pokemon. It could get a little dark like with the Lapras chapter and it’s easy to forget that the stakes used to be so high. Even Ivy almost died because of Pokemon spores gone wild. I have a feeling they’ve been nerfed to just knock you out in newer episodes. That being said, Ash is even more intense than usual in this volume and it’s just nice to have the old gang back. The show really had a lot of depth and emotion at this point. I still prefer almost all of the other regions to Orange Islands, but I like to just think of them as the lost episodes of Kanto. Think of it like an epilogue story and it works a whole lot better. No Gary this time, but he’ll return soon enough. If you haven’t read the book yet, now’s a good time to do so. It’s a pretty nice way to read through two episodes and it covers all of the important parts so it’s a quicker way of getting caught up with the anime.

Overall 7/10

Pokemon Sun and Moon: The Pokemon Training School Challenge Review

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I read the first volume in the Pokemon chapter book series for the recent Sun and Moon adventures. I was debating on whether to review this book or just wait until the series ends, but the latter could certainly end up taking a while. Ultimately I may start reviewing the individual books for some titles with no foreseeable end while for others a series review still makes sense. It’s tricky, but especially since this book is so small it seems reasonable. It covers around 2 episodes of the anime give or take. The series had a lot of controversy surrounding it when it first came out and it’s easy to see why. Pokemon went from being a really serious action show to a comedy. It’s not the Pokemon that I grew up with, but it works out well enough.

The series starts with Ash being on summer vacation. He sees a lot of cool new Pokemon while at the new region and asks his Mom if he can stay. She allows it and he quickly joins the school so he can learn how to be a Pokemon Trainer. I can understand why he would want this knowledge since he’s been training for over 10 years with nothing to show for it. He hasn’t even aged a day for some reason. So, Ash sticks around and everyone starts to teach him the ropes. However, the island’s sacred guardian has taken an interest in the kid and challenges him to a fight. Can Ash really win this battle?

Ash has definitely lost most of his character development from the old days so part of the plot in the series will likely be him gaining it back. He learns something new in every episode so in about 100 or so episodes he should be a good strategist once again. It’s a long while to wait, but what else can we do right? It’s just the way it has to be I guess. Pikachu has also gotten quite a bit weaker so it’s rough for the pair. They used to be one of the strongest duos and now they’re getting kicked around left and right. It feels bad when you really think about it. They are still good leads though. They mean well and are always up for a challenge. The series works much better when you just think of this as a prequel. Imagine that it takes place immediately after episode 1 of the original series and you’ll be set.

I think one of the parts where a book can adapt this better than an episode is that the comedy gags don’t stand out as much. Ash getting pinched and saved from random disasters doesn’t seem as bad when you’re reading about it compared to actually seeing it on the big screen. He keeps a little more of his dignity this way, at least that’s how I see it. For example, I can’t stand the living Pokedex in the anime. That may be a bit strong, but at least in AMVs and such he just gets in the way. In the book he barely talks at all so he’s not as annoying.

That being said, learning all of the names is going to take some time. The new rival is a guy who’s named something close to Kiwi. He talks a good game and has a Charizard so I’m expecting him to fight quite a bit, but he gets on my nerves. He seems to think of himself as a big shot. The other friends are nice enough but they start to blend into each other since their personalities are virtually the same. The teachers try a little too hard to all be suave and cool around Ash, but it just doesn’t really work. Once they fight and prove themselves, then things could be different.

Team Rocket doesn’t get to do a whole lot here either. Nobody really fears them and while they may be more of a threat in this region than the others since Ash has forgotten how to deal with them, they aren’t very interesting. The only part that will make their plot fun is Mimikyu once he’s a main character. I had fun watching his fights in the anime and he’s probably the best part in the whole region. He looked quite good in the book as he was beating Pikachu with ease, but had to leave since Team Rocket was getting wrecked. Why do they manage to snag really cool Pokemon like that one?

Finally, Tapu Koko is a pretty cool Pokemon. He easily has one of the best designs in the entire region which may not be saying all that much but I’m certainly a big fan. He lives up to the hype and really manages to be a thorn in Ash’s side. He’ll make for a good rival as I’m sure he isn’t quite done with Ash and friends yet. His appearance also resulted in an action scene so I’m all for that.

Overall, This chapter book is quite short of course so you’ll read through it right away. It still does a good job of covering quite a bit though. This region certainly is my least favorite because the animation is the worst and there’s less action than usual, but the former doesn’t apply to the book and the latter isn’t noticeable yet. If I didn’t know any better, I’d actually consider this to be a pretty promising start to the region. If you’re a Pokemon fan then you’ll certainly enjoy this and it’s a reasonable way to jump into the franchise. It certainly is new reader friendly. We’ll see if the next book adaption can be quite as good. Moreover, I’m ready for Ash to finally win a fight!

Overall 7/10

Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories Review

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It’s time for the next installment in the Kingdom Heart novels. This one covers the Chain of Memories game which was always a fun follow up to the original. The story was a lot more intense as you could say that the plot finally started here. This novel is quite a bit larger than the first as it has 2 Sora stories plus the Riku one. It clocks in at a clean 400 pages and makes for a pretty epic read from start to finish.

The first novel finished with Sora, Donald, and Goofy being split up from Riku and King Mickey as the latter stayed behind the door of Kingdom Hearts in order to shut it to save the world. Sora vowed to find them once more and Kairi stayed behind on the island. Unfortunately, something seems off. While the heroes were on a road, they suddenly find themselves at a castle and a mysterious individual warns that as they go through it, they will lose their memories. At the same time, they will gain new ones to replace the old memories that they have lost. Sora decides that they must press on and so the heroes continue.

You can definitely say that this is one of the toughest challenges that the heroes have encountered. What they don’t realize is that the castle is owned by Organization XIII. They are using a girl named Namine to rewrite Sora’s memories. She deletes his memories of Kairi and slowly inserts herself into them instead. She begins deleting his memories of his friends as well to the point where Sora begins to forget everything. This starts to cause some tension between the 3 heroes, but fortunately they’ve been through a lot so this doesn’t lead to any big split like in the first novel. Donald and Goofy know something is wrong, but their memories are being tampered with as well so it’s difficult to fight back. You can’t stop an opponent that you don’t even know you are fighting after all.

One of the challenges of the Castle is that Sora must revisit all of the worlds that he visited in the first novel. Admittedly, this part can be a little repetitious. Even more so since I just finished reading the first novel a few days ago. During each chapter, I would just look forward to the parts where he would leave the world and fight with the Organization XIII members. That and the new inner monologue were the most important parts. The actual worlds progressed in just about the same way as the first time around. That’s basically the point, but it doesn’t make those challenges too engaging.

Finally, Sora also has to watch out because the villains created a fake Riku to mess with his mind even further. Fortunately, Sora deals with this fairly well. He does suffer from a ton of self doubt in this novel but considering the circumstances, I suppose it makes sense. Sora’s definitely a great lead and acts as a real hero throughout these trials. Even when he finds out that Namine has been manipulating him, he decides to aid her since it wasn’t totally of her own volition and he claims that even if he never made the promise to protect her, the memory of it (Fake or otherwise) makes it real so he’ll live up to it. It’s an interesting concept and one that I can agree with. (As long as the fake promise wasn’t anything crazy) Donald and Goofy’s roles are a lot smaller here, but they’re good sidekicks to have around. They could maybe use more character at times, but as long as they don’t betray Sora or anything, we’re good.

The Riku story at the end takes place at the same time as Sora’s adventure although it ends after the first one. Since their main target is Sora, the Organization doesn’t bother to mess with Riku’s memories. They don’t even know that he has infiltrated the castle at first since everyone thought it would be impossible to escape from Kingdom Hearts. Riku spends most of the novel trying to fight off the darkness so he can be friends with Sora again, but this is a tough challenge. It’s one that becomes even more difficult once the Organization notices him. Surprisingly, he only gets about half of his own story though. Fake Riku (Replica) gets the other half as he tries to become a real person by destroying the original and taking down Sora.

I actually preferred the Riku story to the Sora one. Since Riku kept his memories, it made his experiences in the various planets feel fresh. After all, we never got to see him there originally so in that sense it was already new. Throw in the fact that Ansem, Maleficent and all of the other villains kept jumping in and the whole thing got even better. Also, as cool as Sora is, Riku’s even better. He’s the intense rival that every good series needs and he fills the role perfectly. Walking the path of light and dark is definitely only something he could do. It was also nice to see Mickey show up even if he didn’t do much til the end. As with most things in the series, it was still a little vague how they escaped and why Mickey has telepathic abilities, but we’ll roll with it. Part of the fun with the series is that the mysteries continue to grow, but the vague statements all amount to something by the end. Since I’ve already played the rest of the games, what they’re saying makes a lot of sense the whole time. I’m sure once I play Kingdom Hearts III there will be a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense. That’s just how it goes.

Replica was also a decently good character. You can’t help but feel bad for him when the Organization forces him to have his memory wiped. At least he tries to stop them, but he was a little out of his league. The villains were also pretty good. There were quite a few of them and they all had different personalities. I do question the power levels though. The girl was able to detect Replica pretty easily, but then Sora was able to take her down for the count. I don’t think the difference in power should have been that great. At times, Sora also seems outmatched against the Organization while at other moments he seems to be out of their league. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that he should be able to hold his own against them in Kingdom Harts III. By then he will have more than enough experience needed to take them down now…as a Keyblade Master!

Overall, This was a fun follow up to the first novel. It was definitely quite a bit more epic since the gang was already together and I really liked Castle Oblivion. The repetition in the worlds was maybe a little tiresome, but that was overshadowed by the increased amount of fights in the arc. I also felt like the fights had more stakes since Sora was up against sentient antagonists as opposed to normal heartless. I expect that the novel adaption of Kingdom Hearts II will be even better and will continue bringing up the series. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend it!

Overall 8/10

Kingdom Hearts Review

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It feels like I’ve been reading this novel for months, but I have finally finished! As you can probably guess, this book covers the plot of the first Kingdom Hearts game. It does a good job of going through all of the important events and really covering the worlds. This does come at the expense of the fights which is unfortunate, but it’s a great way to catch up with the series if you’re not really a video game player. After all, the plot is fairly engaging on its own and with the movie/TV series probably not coming for a long time, this is your best bet! (Perhaps the manga as well, but the novel seems to handle it with greater detail)

The plot of this story revolves around a kid named Sora. He lived on a peaceful island with his two friends Riku and Kairi. Unfortunately, he wakes up one morning to find that the ocean has turned to darkness and a tornado is ripping the island off the ground. Riku vanishes in the waves and Kairi also disappears. Sora tries to keep himself together, but then he also fades away. He wakes up in a mysterious town where he meets up with strange people who tell him that all of the worlds are connected…and dying. Sora shakes this off and meets up with Donald Duck and Goofy from the classic Disney movies. They explain that they are looking for King Mickey and were told to travel with Sora in the meantime. This is because Sora is the chosen Keyblade Master of destiny who will find the keyholes in all of the planets and restore balance to the universe. Sora gets his game face on and prepares for this endeavor, but it’ll be tougher than he dared suspect.

It’s a pretty fun story that works well enough even if you switched out the Disney characters for made up ones. That being said, it certainly has more of an impact when you throw the crossover angle into the mix. It’s pretty fun to see the characters show up and help Sora out in each world. Sora gets to travel to Aladdin’s world, Peter Pan’s, Alice in Wonderland’s among others. It can be pretty nostalgic to see them and while those characters can’t fight all that much, Sora doesn’t really need any help.

As I mentioned earlier, the one drawback to this novel is that the fights are very short. Most of them are over in a couple of hits and don’t usually last more than a couple of pages. Some of them seem to be over in a single page. I hope we can get some longer fights in future adaptions, particularly Kingdom Hearts II since that should have quite a lot of fighting in it. I don’t mind if they have to skip a few worlds as a result, the action will be worth it.

Sora’s a likable protagonist and a good kid. He loses confidence a little too easily at times which is his main character flaw, but I’ll certainly take that one over most. He seemingly gets over this by the end of the novel, but it’ll be difficult to say for sure until we actually get there. There are quite a few plot twists and villains who like their mind games coming up so that could rattle Sora quite a bit.

I didn’t like Donald or Goofy though. They showed their true colors when they chose to leave Sora after the keyblade vanished. Friends shouldn’t just leave each other so easily. While they eventually went back to Sora’s side, it feels like he can’t really trust them as much as he thought. That test of loyalty was one that they failed. It’s not as if they’re great fighters either. Goofy’s shield and Donald’s magic will never be quite as effective as Sora’s sharp keyblade. It’s just the ultimate weapon.

Riku also shows up and part of the drama with him is that he has been tempted to the dark side. He thinks Sora is having too much fun as he goes on side trips while Kairi is still in a coma. Riku decides that he’ll have to save her on his own and goes through a lot of dangerous quests to get to this point. The darkness starts to overwhelm him by the end though and he loses sight of his goals to an extent. With his character arc coming full circle as Sora convinces him to join the light once more, he should make for a good ally in the coming volumes. While he may have had a point initially with Sora, he was also pretty unfair about it since Sora did try to find Kairi and just failed to do so. Riku had the advantage of having an evil witch on his side….if you can call that an advantage.

Maleficent is one of the big villains here, but her role is greatly reduced from the game. She gets to appear a few times, but comes across as an underling who was being used the whole time. Unless she redeems herself in the sequels, I’m going to say that the author probably wasn’t a big fan of hers. Ansem shows up at the end of the novel as a fun final boss and he makes for a good opponent. We certainly haven’t seen the last of him. Once Organization XIII shows up, it’ll help the series as it will finally have recurring villains who will last for a very long time.

This novel is of a pretty good length so it should last you a while. It’s about 300 words and the font isn’t all that big either. A lot of stuff happens over this time and as I mentioned, the book was able to fit in a lot of worlds. Each of the Disney worlds gets a good amount of screen time. While the Beast may have only gotten to appear without his world, he still looked pretty good since he was able to follow Belle when all of the other main heroes failed to do so. Following someone through a portal is rare no matter what medium you’re in. Characters just tend to hesitate a little too much when the going gets tough.

Overall, It’s fun to revisit the original Kingdom Hearts story and to finish another book in general. It’s been a long time since I played the first title so this is always nostalgic. I remember the series very well so it’s not as if it’s new to me, but it is fun to see how the series was before the deep plot started. Make no mistake, the seeds had sprouted for the plot with hintings all around. The writers likely had a good portion of the sequel all planned out and that’s one of the fun things about the franchise. It’s all connected and you always feel like it’s planned out well. I’ll be reading the sequel right away, but it’s a lot longer than this one so it could take a while to finish. I definitely know it’s going to be fun as well and it may even be better since Chain of Memories had a more engaging plot with higher stakes than this one. If you haven’t played the game, I highly recommend reading this book to get you into the franchise. Alternately, you should take the plunge and finally buy the original game.

Overall 7/10

Attack on Titan: The Harsh Mistress of the City Review

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There are some series that can start out on a high note and keep that level of quality intact. Look at the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It has the super emotional song from the first film, but still managed to get by just fine in the sequels without it. That’s because the writing and characters were on point. Other titles like Skip Beat can start out decently interesting and go into the gutter. It’s not about how you start a race, but how you finish it. That’s true in life, cooking, platformers, pie eating contests, and anything else that is worth your while. This novel may have started out to be pretty good and a contender for best novel in the franchise, but crashed and burned in the second half. The title should have been a giveaway I suppose.

The plot of the book takes place in a small little town in the Titan World. The bridge collapsed so everyone is kinda sorta trapped in the town. They can go outside though so I guess they aren’t really trapped at all. I don’t know exactly how the layout is since it doesn’t make much sense, but essentially all of the other villages have left them for dead. All of Rita’s bosses end up getting bumped off so she is suddenly the leader of the military. She goes from being a really nice person to a corrupt dictator and decides that the only way to give the people peace is to murder them and anyone who falls out of line or looks at her the wrong way is subject to death. She will destroy anyone who defies her wish of a Utopia!

Meanwhile, Mathias is the other main character. He was a rich guy who never had to work for anything and was ignorant of the ways of the commoner. He was good friends with Rita, but he ended up murdering her other best friend so he had to go into hiding. He must now find a way to take her down and considers that he may have to use lethal methods. Friendship and camaraderie is thrown to the winds in this tale as everyone does what they feel they have too. Things get a lot worse before they get better and they never really get better so just focus on the first part.

This adventure is two novels long and the first one was actually pretty decent. It was a fun enough tale about Rita and Mathias and how they lived very different lives, but did their best to connect with each other. It wasn’t a bleak and gritty story the way that most Titan adventures were and it was cool to just have a happy scene for once. It figures that this wouldn’t last right? The story started to get a little more grim as Mathias made a deal with some bandits to rob his father in exchange for getting him to the town where Rita was trapped. It didn’t go very well so the bandits murder a bunch of soldiers and then Mathias panicked so he blew up one of the young workers who was helping Rita. He panicked again after that and ran off. This basically happened in the final pages of the first book so it was quite a downer.

The second novel is where it really goes off the rails though. Rita was apparently traumatized after seeing her best friend murder her other friend so she decided to go down a dark path. She forces people to get eaten by the Titan she planted in the city and tortures others until they get her some intel. Nobody is safe now and she murders her father and is prepared to do the same to Mathias if she can find him as well as her best friend Amanda. The novel shows us in great detail just how insane she has become. It gets about as bad as the main Titan series in that regard and there’s no way she can come back from this.

This is why the ending of the book is rather hard to swallow. The author suddenly tries to make her sympathetic as she was only trying to help and she’ll be a nicer person now. She has this 180 character development in the span of 2-3 pages as Titans attack the city and suddenly we’re supposed to see her as a nice person again. Mathias also forgives her for murdering everyone and putting the townspeople in jeopardy every day since it just doesn’t matter now. Never mind the fact that one of Mathias’ main allies was poisoned to death right in front of him on Rita’s orders. She may claim that it was for the greater good, but she stepped well over the line of vigilantism and became an evil villain during this book. It was far more extreme than the book and characters acknowledge afterwards and it was just puzzling the whole time. It was an even more drastic character arc than Shu’s from Guilty Crown and that’s pretty scary. It may not be in Black Butler levels quite yet, but Rita is easily one of the most evil main characters that I’ve ever seen.

It goes without saying that I didn’t like her. Regardless of how good she was in volume 1, she nullified it all in the sequel. I didn’t care for Mathias either as there is no way he should have panicked so much upon seeing the scout and he handled the situation as badly as possible. It was hard to take him seriously as the rebel leader since he was always terrified of everyone and got tricked so many times. He was just annoying to see. The rebels were also a bit much as they were all too overconfident and full of themselves even though they could never do all that much when it came time to fight. The super hyped leader of the Rebels went down in the worst way possible as his drinking habits finally got to him and poison ended his career. You’d think that he would have been a little smarter about something like that.

In the end, the only real good character was Amanda. Even she was a little fishy as she took forever to make a move and just allowed people to be tortured and eaten. At least she did something about it though. She also got a lot of hype as being the best fighter in the squad, but naturally once she turned good, Amanda was surpassed by Rita. So much for the hype eh? She still put up a good fight though and was probably the only character who actually stayed true to herself. Again, the book kind of glossed over the fact that Rita was so evil in the end as she gets Amanda back her gear and they team up again. It just shouldn’t be so smooth. If anything, I think the ending should have kept Rita as a villain, it certainly makes more sense than suddenly making her a hero again.

Even the ending doesn’t offer much hope though as the heroes lost their town to the Titans. Their plan is to head to the next town, but they already know for a fact that the Town doesn’t want them and will attempt to slay the group. It’ll come down to yet another fight and that should give the Titans an opening to move in and take them all down. It’s Attack on Titan though so you should never expect anything even remotely happy for the conclusion.

Overall, What started as potentially the best Titan novel ended up being the worst one. It’s why I always say that you can’t really tell these things ahead of time. A whole novel (or 2 in this case) is more than enough time for a story to turn rotten. You won’t even recognize the characters by the end as they could basically be other people. In the end, what really destroyed the book was that it was way too dark and violent. If you thought the other novels were gritty, this one is far more intense. The novel could have made Rita’s character transformation a little less drastic and it would have worked a lot better. There’s no good reason for her to become a full fledged mass murderer. She should have just gotten more obsessed about the rules and we could have had the town be under a curfew with a lot of punishments handed out every day. The situation didn’t need to jump all the way to 10 so suddenly. Had the book showed some restraint, it would have been a lot better and glossing it over so much at the end didn’t help either. If you want a good Attack on Titan novel, I suggest checking out Before The Fall. It’s the only good one at the moment and shows you what Titan novels should be like.

Overall 1/10