Posts Tagged ‘manga’

I always look forward to a Junji Ito collection. Whether I like it or not, I know I’m in for an experience. One with great artwork and a weird but most likely intriguing story. And Lovesickness is no exception.

The bulk of this collection is the titular six-chapter saga, taking place in a town under a perpetual fog. In this town, there’s a popular fortune-telling tradition where you wait at an intersection and ask the first passerby to tell their fortune. However, this tradition has bad memories for a young middle schooler who is returning to town for the first time in nearly a decade. And his own trauma is exacerbated by events in the town. A mysterious young man in black is giving fortune-seeking girls prophecies of doom, driving them to suicide. This leads to a series of events that will affect everyone in the town, and destroy more than a few lives in the process.

Except for maybe the last chapter, this story is pretty solid. The backgrounds are often pretty dark, except when the fog is particularly thick, which lends it this creepy atmosphere al a Silent Hill. And the protagonist is pretty believable as a young man with serious PTSD. While the antagonist is always drawn with this sort of mist-like smudging, which lends him this otherworldly aura. Add in some creepy ghost imagery that would make most zombie graphic novels ashamed, plenty of downward spirals into madness, and it’s one hell of a horror story.

The other highlights of the collection are the short stories The Mansion of Phantom Pain and The Rib Woman. Both of them have very weird and interesting concepts, though the latter pulls its concept off a lot better.

On the other hand, two of the related stories in the collection, which follow a strange family of siblings, aren’t that good. I think it might have been Ito’s attempt at a new horror-comedy series, but I couldn’t get into it. Like The Addams Family without the charm.

And there’s a story in the back called “Memories of Real Poop,” which I think is a vignette from Ito’s childhood. Anyway, it’s a weird addition to the collection and kind of stupid. Don’t know why Ito spent his time drawing it unless he needed to pad out a collection or two.

And as I said, the last chapter of the titular story didn’t sit well with me. Honestly, it felt tacked on just to give a bit more resolution to the story.

Still, it’s a good collection. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Lovesickness by Junji Ito a 3.8 out of 5. Most of the stories are rather scary and worth a read. Just be sure not to read the main story on a foggy night. You don’t know what you’ll see when you look up from the book and out the window.


Just a quick note, my Followers of Fear: Indie Author Book Expo Aurora, or IABE Aurora, has been moved from August 7th, 2021 to September 11th, 2021. As far as I know, this is the last date change. All other details, such as taking place at the Prisco Community Center in Aurora, Illinois. Hope that doesn’t impact anyone’s travel plans. Anyway, I hope to see you there. At the very least, you’ll get a much better fortune from my Tarot cards than you would from the fortune telling method in Lovesickness.

Anyway, you can find out more about the convention here.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

In my last post, I mentioned that I was prepping to move into a bigger apartment and was getting ready to do so. While going through some stuff, seeing what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to donate, I was surprised by what I found hidden at the bottom of a box: my three contributor copies of the Winter 2011 issue of TEA, A Magazine. This is significant because this was the first time I was paid for a published story!

While my memory can be very unreliable sometimes, I remember that story, and that magazine, so well. I was still in high school then, and I was just starting to try and get into the short story market. In those days, I was regularly borrowing these annual guides on the short story market, reading the articles for anything I could use to improve my own storytelling techniques and looking at the listings of magazines and small presses I could submit my work to. One of the listings was for TEA, A Magazine. You can guess what it was focused on. Articles, ads, recipes, and even fiction centering on tea.

I was a big tea drinker even then, so I was intrigued. And I thought, Why not try to write a short story about tea and send it their way? And I did, a short story called “Summers with Grandmother Fumika.” And as you can tell from that title, I was a huge nerd for anime, manga, and Japanese culture back then. In fact, I was crazier about it then than I am now! But back to the short story. “Summers with Grandmother Fumika” was about a young Japanese-American girl who stays with her grandmother during the summers, and one summer, they perform a tea ceremony for a kitsune, a multitailed fox spirit.

Definitely more fantasy-based than Rose was, though they both drew upon Japanese culture. And it had a happier ending.

I don’t think I really expected TEA to accept my work, but to my surprise, the editor actually enjoyed the story and wanted to work with me on it. A couple of months of edits, and they sent me a contract. Not too long after, they sent me a $100 check for the story, as well as my contributor copies.

My short story in the issue, “Summers with Grandmother Fumika.”

Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, once said that he could make a million dollars in his lifetime, but he would never feel richer than he did the moment he received a $400 check for his first story, A Princess of Mars. For me, I have the same feeling about that $100. Not because I grew older and $100 didn’t seem like such a big deal as it did in high school. But because that check came with more than just monetary meaning. It came with validation.

Imagine, only 17 and someone thought that something you had written was not only good, but they wanted to pay money for it! To include it in a magazine read by hundreds, maybe even thousands of people! “Intoxicating” doesn’t even begin to cover the feeling I had then. And I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since, trying to replicate it.

Of course, like any addiction, nothing ever compares to that first high. Thankfully, with this addiction, there are plenty of other perks when I manage to publish something people enjoy. You can probably guess what they are.

I’m glad I was able to rediscover that story and those contributor copies. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten that I even had them. And with it being around ten years since that issue of TEA was released, it feels almost timely. Makes me want to do something with “Summers with Grandmother Fumika.” Maybe a reading on a YouTube video? It’d be more fantasy than horror, but I’m sure there would be some people interested in hearing me read it. We’ll see after the move.

Anyway, thanks for strolling down memory lane with me, my Followers of Fear. It was a nice, warm, nostalgic moment in my day and I wanted to share it with you. And it reminds me that, even though it’s been awhile since I’ve had an acceptance, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. Hell, if I can do it at 17, then I can do it at 27. Just a matter of time, work and finding the right publication.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night, Shabbat Shalom, have a good weekend, and pleasant nightmares.

My copy of Remina from the library.

I’ve been looking forward to this book getting an official translation and release here in the US for quite some time. And I was so excited when it arrived at the library, I stopped by yesterday afternoon to pick it up rather than wait till Friday. As you can guess, I stayed up late reading it, hoping the story within would give me some pleasant nightmares.

Known as Hellstar Remina in Japan, Remina kicks off with the discovery of a new planet that seemingly appeared from a wormhole several lightyears away. The discovery is hailed as the greatest development in astrophysics ever, and its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, names the new planet after his beloved, beautiful but shy daughter Remina, causing her own star to rise alongside the planet bearing her name. However, planet Remina is moving through space in ways that defy physics and sense. Planets and stars disappear in its wake. And it soon becomes clear that not only is this planet headed to our solar system, but it spells doom for all on the Earth. Especially the young woman who shares a name with it.

Oh man, I don’t think I’ve loved something from Ito this much since Uzumaki!

First off, the concept is well-executed. Ito takes this idea of a planet flying through space towards us, threatening everything we found our worldviews on as well as our lives and our planet, and turns it into this strange, dread-inducing story that somehow manages to ramp up more and more with every page. The planet itself is rather terrifying. There’s so many unknowns about it, and the more you learn and see of Remina, the more questions you have and the more you learn to fear it. It really puts the “cosmic” into cosmic horror.

I was also impressed with the human characters. Remina Oguro, the planet’s namesake, is easy to like. She’s shy and humble, and really only becomes an entertainer because she’s suddenly famous, so she might as well use it to get through life more easily. Which makes the hardship she goes through later so heart wrenching. As the planet bears down on the Earth and no solution seems to work, people begin to wonder if the Oguros, particularly Remina herself, have some hand in bringing the planet to them. In their terror, many abandon reason and decide the only way to save humanity is to kill Remina Oguro herself.

It’s not only an excellent example of cosmic horror–of humans dealing/reacting to their insignificance in the universe in the only ways they know how–as well as making you feel for Remina, but it feels really relevant to our current predicaments. Whether it be COVID-19 or the national election, you see people embracing the most insane conspiracy theories rather than accept an obvious reality. That is illustrated so well in Remina, and I felt a chill reading that.

This shot encapsulates so much of what makes Remina great.

Other aspects of the story worked as well. Ito’s art is amazing, as always. Earth in this manga is portrayed as being a few decades ahead of us a la The Jetsons, flying cars included, and it’s cool to see Ito give Earth this futuristic look. The characters are well-drawn, with our protagonists given a more realistic look while those driven mad by fear or anger are hyper-exaggerated to best portray their emotions. But the best illustrations are the spreads taking two full pages. They portray that cosmic dread so well, I spent quite a bit of time looking at them.

And as for the science aspect of the story, while more pseudoscientific than based in reality, it seems plausible enough to believe in for the moment.

The one aspect I disliked was just how quickly things escalated in the first chapter. Within about thirty or forty pages, things go from excitement and new promises to gloom-and-doom and psychotic, murderous behavior. I would’ve preferred things to move a bit more gradually before getting to that level.

All in all, Remina by Junji Ito earns itself a splendid 4.5 out of 5. It’s terrifying in both its cosmic and human aspects and will be hard to put down for any reader. Pick it up, settle in for a terrifying ride, and never name anything Remina.

Also, someone please adapt this story into a movie or miniseries! Live action or animated, this would be a great spectacle to see on screens. Just lay off the CGI except when absolutely necessary and it could be awesome.

One thing I can always count on with a Junji Ito collection. The artwork is always fantastic. And this latest collection of short stories, Venus in the Blind Spot, is full of some of his best work.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Junji Ito, he’s a manga artist who specializes in horror, and is well known for illustrations that terrify and creep the hell out of readers. Hell, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable leaving his books on the night stand beside my bed without something to cover them, the illustrations are that terrifying. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, and I’ve reviewed some of those stories and collections here on the blog, such as his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his masterpiece Uzumaki (click here and here for those reviews).

His latest publication in North America is Venus in the Blind Spot, and I loved just about every story within. The majority of the stories revolve around obsession, especially romantic or sexual obsession. The titular story follows the members of a UFO society as their obsession with the founder’s daughter becomes skewed after they lose the ability to see her. There’s also the fan-favorite The Enigma at Amigara Fault,  which I’ve read before but was excited to find again. It revolves around finding something strange that’s just right for you, and the insanity of not claiming it, of not finding out its secret. Even if by doing so, you potentially doom yourself.

My favorite stories were Billions Alone, a creepy body horror story about people being found sewn together that’s perfect for the current pandemic, and The Licking Woman, a weird story about a wild woman whose monstrous tongue contains a poison that kills all whom it licks.

And like I said, the artwork is fantastic. Ito-sensei’s work is never concerned with looking visually appealing like other visual artists. Rather, he wants to provoke a reaction. Fear, disgust, horror, unease. He wants to disturb your inner Zen. You can see this especially with three of the stories which are adaptations of works by other authors. Yes, they’re not his stories, but he puts his all into making sure his art brings out all the terror contained within the words.

Famous image from “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” which is some of Ito’s work at its best.

That being said, the collection isn’t perfect. While there are colored pages and colored panels, they show up inconsistently, and it’s a little annoying. Sometimes I can’t even tell they’re colored, as I’m red-green colorblind and the panels use colors I can’t always see. One of the stories, The Principal Post, is one I’ve never really liked nor understood why it was published. And there’s a story about Ito-sensei himself and the influence of another artist, Kazuo Umezu,* on his work that I liked, but which might annoy fans seeking another scary story.

But all in all, Venus in the Blind Spot is an awesome, freaky and unsettling collection. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give it a 4.5. If you want to see a Junji Ito collection at its best, you can’t go wrong here. Open it up and get ready to experience the madness.

Are you a fan of Ito-sensei’s work? Did you read this collection? Are you excited for all the adaptations of his work in production? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on my own stories and see if I can’t disturb someone else’s inner Zen. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares and why is there a woman with a giant tongue outside my building?

*Highly recommend his series The Drifting Classroom. It’s like a sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies, and just as brutal.

It’s no secret that, along with horror, I’m a huge anime fan. In fact, I’ve dedicated posts to my love of Sailor Moon and to my favorite manga of all time, Red River. And because I wanted a change of pace, I figured I’d put out a list of some off the anime I’ve been enjoying lately or continue to enjoy years after I watch them. Along with Sailor Moon and Red River, these might be good places to start delving into what has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past several years. Or if you’re already a fan and just want something new to dive into, these could be good choices.

And of course, I’d love to hear from people who have already seen these series and enjoy them as much as I do.

So with all that said, let’s dive in. Here’s 8 anime I recommend.

1. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Another one of my favorite anime, this still influences me as much as Sailor Moon does. In a world where Britain is the Holy Britannian Empire and has conquered over a third of the world, an exiled Britannian prince in hiding in the recently-conquered Japan gains the power to control and influence people under certain circumstances. He dons a disguise and starts a rebellion against his father’s empire, while his best friend takes up arms against his rebel alter-ego on Britannia’s side.

An excellent show combining war, chess-level battle strategy, political intrigue, romance, high school drama, and giant robots. All in a cool two seasons that have spawned several mangas, games, a movie series, and even a new season coming out later this year (I will catch it as soon as I catch the movies, because apparently this season is a direct sequel to them). This is not a series to be missed, believe me.

2. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A programmer by the name of Kobayashi (first name never mentioned) gets drunk one night, goes into the mountains, and stumbles across a dragon. She pulls a sword out of the dragon’s back, saving its life. The next day the dragon appears at Kobayashi’s apartment as a human girl to become her maid. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of the most popular animes out there right now, and it’s only thirteen episodes long! It’s just a silly fish-out-of-water story with dragons, but goddammit it is fun. They’re hilarious and heartwarming characters, learning to get along with this world and have a good time. I sometimes just watch some of my favorite episodes because they make me relaxed and lift up my mood. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun and laidback series with lots of laughs.

And it’s worth a watch just for the “How to Tame Your Dragon” joke in episode 2 (only available in the English dub).

3. Zombie Land Saga

A teenage girl named Sakura Minamoto dies in a car crash after she leaves for school one day. Ten years later she’s resurrected as a zombie, her mind and personality intact but her memories lost. That is crazy enough, but then the guy who resurrected her, a weirdo named Kotaro Tatsumi, informs her that she and six other zombie girls must form a pop idol group and become popular enough to somehow “save” the Japanese equivalent of the state of Idaho (sorry Idahoans, but the only time I ever hear anything out of your state is when there’s a presidential election). All while keeping their identities as zombies a secret from the public.

Considered by many to be one of the best anime of 2018 (including yours truly), this anime is a satire making fun of the Japanese idol industry as a whole as well as the anime focusing on them (yeah, that’s a genre). It’s hilarious even if you’re not familiar with either industry or genre, and it’s heartwarming too, with a cast of characters you grow to love and root for by the third episode. And it has the best examples of a trans character and a disabled character I’ve ever seen in anime. That alone makes it truly special.

You should give it a watch just for the outta nowhere rap battle in episode 2.

4. Shimoneta: A Boring World in Which the Concept of a Dirty Joke Doesn’t Exist

You know how there are people who believe if pornography and swearing were banned by law and sex education highly regulated, a more pure society would arise and people would naturally become better? Imagine if technology got to the point where that was enforceable and Japan somehow tried to make this happen. That’s the concept of Shimoneta, which follows a young man who wants nothing more than to be a moral, upright citizen and distance himself from his father, who was jailed for protesting the government’s efforts to over-regulate sex education and sexual content. Too bad he gets wrapped up with a classmate of his who is secretly a “dirty terrorist” and wants to decriminalize potty mouths and sexual content in our everyday media, and ends up founding an organization with her.

It’s a brilliant thought experiment on the part of the anime, and gives both sides of the argument, as well as what happens when either side becomes too extreme, a fair hearing. Of course, being anime it does it with as many dirty jokes as possible, to the point I’m surprised my floor isn’t covered in dirt whenever I watch it, but it’s still a brilliant anime. If you want a raunchy comedy with brains behind it, Shimoneta may be for you.

5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

One of the latest entries in the isekai genre,* a 37-year-old businessman is stabbed to death after a mugging gone wrong, and ends up being reincarnated in a world out of a fantasy game. The thing is, he’s been reincarnated as a slime monster. Which normally would suck, but he soon finds himself becoming a protector for the many peoples living in the area he reincarnated in and taking on several foes with his unique powers. Within the span of a few episodes, this slime, renamed Rimuru Tempest, will become a great player to the events of his new world.

This anime has recently wrapped its first season, and a second season is already ordered for next year. Not hard to see why, with great animation/visuals, and relatable characters, especially Rimuru who is kind and funny and makes being a ball of slime look desirable. All set in a rich world filled with a variety of creatures with unique abilities and cultures. And my God, I think the society Rimuru creates should be the model for every community in the world who wants to make coexistence between different groups a thing. I’m kind of jealous.

6. The Rising of the Shield Hero

A darker isekai than the last entry, this is considered one of the most controversial anime in recent years (and its first season still isn’t over). A young man is transported to another world with three other teens to become the legendary four heroes who will save this world from Waves, invasions of terrible monsters bent on destroying the world. Problem is, he gets to be the Shield Hero, which compared to Sword, Spear and Arrow isn’t as cool. As if that weren’t bad enough, soon after arriving in this new world, he is betrayed and finds himself losing all his money, dignity and respect, even from the other three heroes. Alone, unable to trust anyone and still required to go save the world, he ends up buying a slave named Raphtalia to help him in his missions, and sets out to destroy the Waves. At the same time though, will he find a way to redeem himself and find hope again?

As I said, this is one of the most controversial anime of recent years, due in part to how the protagonist is betrayed (I won’t go into why here, you’ll have to watch the first episode and decide for yourself if you want to go further afterwards). However, I will say that besides that, it is a great story of someone going against impossible odds and trying to find hope again. I look forward to every Wednesday when a new episode comes out, and will be waiting eagerly for the next twelve or thirteen on the way.

7. My Hime

Also known as Mai-Hime, this is from the same studio that brought us Code Geass. A teen girl and her sickly younger brother go to an exclusive boarding school, only to find out that the girl is a Hime, one of thirteen girls selected to participate in a ritual that occurs in the area around the school every couple centuries. Armed with fire magic and a dragon named Kagutsuchi, she must fight off terrible monsters or risk losing all she cares for. But there’s a secret plot afoot at the school involving the Hime, and if she isn’t careful, the teen girl will be the latest victim to fall prey to the ritual’s dark purpose.

I own this series on DVD, and still break it out every couple of years. It takes what seems to be a lighthearted story and expertly adds darker elements over time, drawing us in to the plot as well as into the lives of these characters. I’d give it a try if I were you.

8. My Otome

A spin-off/sequel to My Hime (it’s heavily hinted the events of My Hime cause the events of My Otome), a teen girl goes to a famous school for Otome, women who use nanotechnology to become superpowered warriors and keep wars at bay by working directly for the rulers of different nations. The girl goes there hoping to become an Otome and find out who her mother, a former Otome, was. While there, she makes friends, falls in love, and becomes embroiled in a plot to take over not just the country the school is located in, but the whole world.

This anime features a lot of characters from the original anime (possibly reincarnated after several centuries), and a less cosmic/Apocalypse-themed plot, but at the same time allows these new characters to shine and has the same expert storytelling as the previous series. If you like My Hime, definitely check out My Otome.

Well, that’s eight anime I recommend. Thanks for sticking with me through this long article. But tell me, which anime peaked your interest? Have you seen any of the above-mentioned shows? What were your thoughts? And what would you recommend seeing? Let’s discuss.

And if you like anime and horror, maybe consider becoming an advanced reader for my upcoming novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The concept itself is influenced by anime and my love of the medium, and I think it shows. If this at all interests you, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

*For those unaware, isekai stories are about people from our world who end up in alternate worlds or dimensions with strong fantasy or sci-fi elements. They often end up becoming chosen heroes, going on quests, or otherwise becoming central to the events of the world they’re in. Sometimes these worlds are real life versions of video games the protagonist is playing prior to changing dimensions, is itself a video game, or has some video game elements. It’s one of the most popular genres out there right now. The more you know.

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

It’s here! It’s today! It’s the day I celebrate every damn day of the year, even during the High Holidays, but which I celebrate twice as hard in October, because everybody is celebrating it too. It’s Halloween!

I’ve always loved Halloween and the month of October.* In fact, I consider it the most wonderful time of the year. And before you say December and Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, think about this: during this month, you start worrying about a fat old man who watches and stalks you for three-hundred sixty-four days out of the year, and then one night breaks into your home via the chimney. And depending on whatever his judgment of your behavior is, he’s either going to leave behind awful fossil fuels or consumer goods that violate so many patent, copyright and trademark laws, you could be pulled into a class action lawsuit just by association. Prove me wrong!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems I have with calling December the most wonderful time of the year.

But back to Halloween. You know what makes it really special? It’s a holiday both for the mainstream of society and outcast. For one day, you’re allowed to be someone else and revel in that. No one’s allowed to break that spell, and those who do are cursed to be jerks.

No one’s ever accused me of being mainstream. There were times where I didn’t have many friends, and when I did, I was always a little bit different from them. Call it being neuroatypical, call it being half-human and half-entity from another universe, call it just being different. There was always this barrier between me and other people.

But on Halloween, all that changed. Kids and adults changed into costumes, became other beings and we were all equals. We all had a simple goal of showing off our costumes, getting candy, and having a spooky delightful time. It was magic for me. And as I got older, that magic has still been part of my love for the holiday. That, and more people actually get my obsession with things dark and creepy and horrifying and get into it, too.

But also this strange equalizing. For one night, we’re as different as can be from ourselves and from others, but we’re all equal and having a fun time. In a world where the wrong kind of scary is all too common, that’s something special.

I’m pretty sure if there’s a Heaven that I’ll be allowed into, and if that Heaven individualizes itself for each person in it, it’s going to be a forever Halloween. Lots of people in costumes, and my costume changes at my whim. Plus real monsters to fly around and terrify with. Lots of candy that never tastes bad and never upsets your stomach. There are endless horror themed rides and mazes, as well as libraries and theaters with an endless supply of horror movies, TV shows, books, manga and anime, music and art. All to digest at your leisure. The sun is never a problem (which is good, because even outside of sunscreen season, I have to worry about sun damage to my skin and even to my eyes!), and it’s just cool enough for sweatshirts. And everyone’s as friendly and chummy as the Addams Family, even after you scare them silly. And no one ever feels left out.

Like Hell Fest, but much better.

Seems like a nice dream, doesn’t it? And if it’s one I can someday achieve (though hopefully not too soon), I’ll be happy.

Wishing you a Happy Halloween this year!

In the meantime, I’ll work on making a Heaven on Earth. By that I mean, becoming a successful horror author who can afford to host an awesome Halloween party every October and get a bunch of people into a room to celebrate being scary together.

Wow, I really went on a ramble, didn’t I? Anyway, I think you get what Halloween means to me, don’t you? And I hope it means something special to you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out by the end of the day, a review of a new scary movie. Until then, Happy Halloween and pleasant nightmares!

*Even if, in Central Ohio, this is the month when summer heat and humidity changes to winter chill. Yeah, there’s no autumn here. It just switches from one extreme to the other. I’m pretty sure God’s punishing us for something, but I can’t figure out what.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog how much I love manga and anime. I’ve even written before how writers should check it out for a boost to their creativity. Well today, I’d like to talk about my favorite manga series, Red River by Chie Shinohara, which ran in Japan from 1995 to 2002. I absolutely love this series, and have since I discovered it prior to entering college seven years ago (and for numerous reasons, it took me nearly that long to get each volume and read it). I’m actually rereading it now, and I’m still in love with the story.

With the awesomeness of this series, it’s one I actually don’t see a lot of people talking about, so I thought I’d do a review to spread the word a bit. I don’t know if this post will get a lot of reads, or if the review will get a lot of people interested in reading the manga, but you never know. So without further ado, let me tell you about Red River:

The manga follows Yuri Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who finds herself pulled through time and space to the Hittite Empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). She’s been brought there because Nakia, the current queen and the emperor’s third wife, needs to make sure her son, who’s rather low in the succession order, attains the throne and a special sacrifice is needed. Yuri is meant to be that sacrifice, and narrowly avoids being killed thanks to the intervention of Prince Kail, the third Hittite prince. Together, they try to find a way to get Yuri home, while also circumnavigating not only Nakia’s schemes for power, but the schemes of others who would do them and the Hittite Empire harm, and at the same time finding something in each other they couldn’t find in anyone else.

This is a story of the same stripe as Game of Thrones: struggles for power in a grand empire, magic, history, battles with swords and chariots, romance, an exotic setting and a rich culture, and some great characters whom you grow to love and root for (and somehow remember a lot more easily despite the Mesopotamian/Biblical names).  And the characters are the best part:

First off, there’s Yuri, our heroine. I love this sort of character. While she starts off as a damsel-in-distress, she grows throughout the story, showing strong nerve, cleverness, and a desire to do what’s right, which allows her to save herself from difficult situations and gain several followers along the way. Prince Kail, based on the historical Mursili II, initially comes off as a playboy prince, but over time reveals a young man with the weight of the empire on his shoulders. He’s a brilliant politician and tactician, occasionally rash and impulsive, but above all loyal to those he loves and will go out of their way to help them if he can. And Queen Nakia is the villain Cersei Lannister aspires to be: while she’s beautiful, she doesn’t rely on her looks. Instead she uses a combination of magic, political power, brains, and manipulation to accomplish her goals. She doesn’t necessarily even need Yuri’s death to accomplish those goals, it’s just Plan A. And believe me, if she sees an opportunity, she’ll develop a Plan B, C and D.

A full-color shot from Red River.

The storytelling is also phenomenal, taking actual historic events and people and weaving them seamlessly into a story that also manages to balance intrigue and romance very well. In addition to Nakia, there are other enemies, usually enemy states and their leaders, who attempt to conquer the Hittite Empire or just to the characters themselves. Throughout the series, suspense is kept high with a variety of plots against the characters, as well as numerous twists that keep readers on their toes. And the romance is never too sappy or idealistic, but often shows how the leads have to struggle not only to make their relationship work, but also to make it legal in the eyes of the Hittite Empire (politics, am I right?).

And finally, there’s the art style. It’s meant to be quite appealing to readers, with characters having proportions similar to what they might have in the real world. There’s also plenty of attention to detail when it comes to locations and attire, which one would expect for a series like this. It all comes together in a visually pleasing package, which is what manga artists go for, so good on that.

Sadly, Red River never had an anime produced, but the manga is available in the United States and Canada (I think, anyway). If you want a story that encompasses ancient Middle Eastern history while filled with intrigue, magic, and romance, this may be the story for you. Check it out, and dive into what could definitely be called a whole new world.

Today I’m doing something different, and showcasing one of my favorite things: collect dolls and figurines! I’ve mentioned it maybe two or three times on my blog, but I have a growing collection of these, coming in a variety of styles and themes, and from a number of franchises. Why am I showing this off, when this is a blog about a horror author? Read on, I might get into that later in this post.

First off, plenty of anime figurines. As many of you know, I’m a huge anime and manga fan, so it’s no surprise I have figurines based on anime characters:

From left to right: Homura Akemi from Madoka Magica; a cutesy chibi Christmas version of Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion; and Madoka Kaname, also from Madoka Magica.

Hatsune Miku, a famous Japanese music persona; Nina Wang from My-Otome; and Asuna from Sword Art Online.

Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion, outitted in a Gothic Lolita style (this one partially inspired a novel).

Except for the Nina Wang figurine, which I bought on Amazon, all of these figures were purchased at Akiba Arcade, a local place that caters to the Japanese game, manga, and anime fans in Columbus (which are many). They have a ton of Japanese games and merchandise, and I visit as often as I can. Yeah, they can cost a lot (most of these cost between $40 and $60), but they’re well worth it.

Of course, not everything I have that is Japanese in origin is anime/manga-related. For example:

This is a maneki-neko, or a lucky cat statue. In Japan, these babies are supposed to bring good luck, especially financial luck. I don’t know if it has, but I’ve noticed my life has improved bit by bit over time, so maybe it’s having an effect?

Of course, not everything I have is Japanese. True, a lot of it is, but not everything. Like these:

Ninth Doctor Funko Pop doll

Sailor Moon and Luna Funko Pop dolls.

Jason Voorhees Funko Pop doll

Lizzie Borden bobblehead doll and a raven statue. Nevermore! Thwack!

The barfing gnome from Gravity Falls; a Grinning Jak from The Nighmare Before Christmas; and Waddles the Pig from Gravity Falls

Yeah, the Sailor Moon one is technically Japanese, but Funko is American, so it evens out. And you’ll notice, a lot of these are related to franchises or pop culture properties I’m a fan of. The exceptions in this group is the Lizzie Borden bobble head doll and the raven. The former is related to an amazing experience I had earlier this year, while the latter is just a fun Halloween decoration that I have out all year because for me, every day is Halloween. Not to mention, they’re creepy.

And now for some of my most recent acquisitions:

 

These are Sally and Jack, and they’re pixified versions of the Sally and Jack characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas. In fact, you can see them holding doll versions of their namesakes in their arms. These are first-edition figurines made by the Hamilton Collection. There are two more figurines in the series, and I hope to collect those two in time. For now though, I’m really happy with these two. Thy’re very pretty, based on a truly awesome movie, and I just love to see them when I walk in the door each day.

And finally, here’s the oldest figurine I own.

This is Zero from the anime Code Geass, which is still one of my favorite animes ever. I made it in art class back in high school, because I couldn’t afford figurines or dolls at that time, and not for several years afterwards. Zero was my way of saying that one day, I would be able to own these sort of things I’d always wanted. And I think I can say I’ve accomplished that goal.

And my collection is growing every day. I’m probably going to get the other two figurines in The Nightmare Before Christmas series from Hamilton, as well as many more figurines from various anime (including an actual Zero figure), and maybe even some of the more traditional kinds of dolls, the ones that wouldn’t look out of place in Victorian England, among others. I’m saving up for them, and for a cabinet to put them all in so they don’t get dusty. And when that happens, maybe I’ll post about those new editions too. We’ll see.

That’s all, Followers of Fear. Just wanted to post about my weird hobbies and show you all how proud I am of them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.