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Anime and Manga I like
- Bakemonogatari: Entrancing, mysterious, dialogue-driven and with striking characters. And when it gets disturbing, it's intended. Specifically
- Durarara!!: My Gateway Series. It is frustratingly cut short, but as long as it lasts it's tight, well-planned and often surprising. It's amazing how much they can put in what is at heart the story of an Irish woman who moves to Tokyo in the hopes of getting ahead.
- FLCL: When I first watched it, it seemed like so many one-off gags and out-of-place action sequences. But going back over it, with the wonderful English dub, I realised how much it all connected together into a story about budding sexuality and teenage troubles. It takes many ideas from Evangelion and plays out better.
- Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence: Mamoru Oshii has a problem with writing dialogue. It's not bland, or meaningless, or pretentious, and I don't find it boring, but... it doesn't sound like dialogue. It's as if the cast were aware of being in a story and were busy annotating it or adding epigraphs. But if you can swallow it, this film ends up both more philosophical and a better film than the first Ghost in the Shell. Also, no fanservice.
- Suzumiya Haruhi No Yuutsu: I am intrigued by the Speculative Fiction side (nothing new, but it fits in fine) and even more so by the two leads. Haruhi, let's face it, is a terrible person, but I can't help but admire her. Yuki Nagato is the first character for whom I felt any sort of attraction (despite already knowing Rei Ayanami). About Endless Eight... watch the first, any of the next six and the last. The rest of the second season is worth seeing.
- Kill la Kill: It's a bit less spectacular than Gurren Lagann, but has more comedy and uses themes better. Quite a few problems, yet the energy and imagination makes it unique and compelling. On that note, I found Gurren Lagann was better the second time: once used to the stupidity I could focus on the amazing visuals, voice acting and music.
- Kino No Tabi: A meditation on, well, anything vaguely philosophical. Pity the protagonist does little more than take in exposition.
- Kuragehime: The art is unconventionally cute, the cast is unconventionally cuter, and it takes the same approach to gender norms that shounen usually takes with the laws of physics.
- Mirai Nikki: Has some big problems (a silly premise, shallow characters, contrived ending, seems not to acknowledge how bad its antiheroes are) but it has tight plotting that builds up to a truly apocalyptic climax, the sometimes very campy action is made bearable by black humour, and it shows Neon Genesis Evangelion's Shinji without the scorn heaped upon him, turning him into the adorable moëblob he should always have been.
- Majocco Shimai no Yoyo to Nene: I can't point to anything it does wrong.
- Nyarko-san: Never mind the references to Lovecraft (and everything else). It's a love comedy / sex farce made by a team who know to avoid the clichés, sexism and voyeuristic fanservice so endemic in the genre. The eroticism comes from the dialogue and characterisation, not displays of flesh. Sometimes falls flat (more often in the second season), but when it works it's hilarious.
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt: Gainax out-gainaxing themselves. There are parts I will not rewatch in a million years, but the diversity of its episodes ensures there's always something to like. It's the sort of deadpan, slightly flippant humour I love best. And Funimation's dub is great.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Some don't like its rhetoric of angst (mostly close-ups of crying) and its utterly threadbare characterisation is a real problemnote . But its strength comes from a driving plot where every blow is a logical follow-up of what has come before. And while shallow, the characters are powerful. Episode 10 is one of the most harrowing I have ever seen.
- Rebuild of Evangelion: The films do some things worse than the original series, especially the poisonous and unchanging Shinji-Asuka relationship, but in so many other ways are big improvements, and not just the technical aspects. Neon Genesis Evangelion had an unrelenting message of "You're alone and it's your fault", the films are nearer to "We're alone and it's our responsability".
- Space Dandy: The writing starts out bad, really bad, but the visuals are stunning all the way through and by the second season the writing has caught up. By the end it has a lot more to it than could be expected.
- Uchuu Kyoudai: It takes everything slowly, but uses that time to build up a perfectly believable cast whose individual ambitions I could feel like my own.
Comics I like
- Diabolik: Inevitably there are some weak issues note and the lack of continuity (there are only four recurring characters) is a problem. But in general it gives gripping intrigue/thriller plots with good monochrome art.
- Yoko Tsuno: Confusing, sometimes confused, but mesmerising.
- Life And Times Of Scrooge Mc Duck: Don Rosa is the consistently best Disney comic author I know. Historical references, a wealth of hidden details and a sort of restrained cartoonishness make it his magnum opus.
- The Sandman: An enchanting set of stories, that shifts to a different style each issue.
- The Fosdyke Saga: So little-known, yet so brilliant. Amazingly expressive art when you consider the monochrome newspaper-strip format, so imaginative in its antics, consistently funny and you can see the love for Manchester shine through. Also worth checking are Bill Tidy's other cartoons (seriously, his output is incredible).
Webcomics I like
- Order of the Stick: Starts off with okay-ish jokes, turns into brilliant drama and adventure. Needs no knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons. The biggest problem is how it treats the goblins: Redcloak makes a fine villain as their leader, but the rest seem to be evil not because they enjoy it but out of a sense of duty. It occasionally looks at the implications of Always Chaotic Evil but doesn't follow them through. And if Belkar were an NPC, he would have been killed long ago.
- Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: No, it's not pornographic (though it must be noted that as the author's skill improved, the cast came to wear less covering clothes). The first strips are lame, but from nr 74 onwards it becomes funny, quirky, endearing and one of the cutest things I've seen.
- DM of the Rings: Often hilarious, and a telling look at certain role-players (though I should not it does not match my limited experience of them). The author said he was was surprised that the idea was not picked up by others, mentioning that Star Wars might be a good candidate, because if there's one thing the Internet is good at it's taking a successful formula and running it into the ground. Maybe, someone suggested, because those ready to put time and effort into a good webcomic are not those who think of parodying the likes of Star Wars. Until...
- Darths & Droids: The team behind Irregular Webcomic took up the challenge. I expected a parody of Star Wars, which it does very well (pointing out what the prequels do badly), but I was surprised at the depth of character and the good use of multi-layered storytelling.
- Questionable Content: I can't quite point to what it does well, but it does it well indeed.
American television I like
- Babylon 5: Engrossing, despite a slow start (and end), a massive war that never kills anyone in the main cast, and some bad moments of protagonist-centric view and some preachy episodes. Well planned storylines and an epic outlook that had not been seen before on television.
- Friends: It was quite tame and conventional, even more by today's standards, and dragged out Ross and Rachel for 10 seasons, but is worth seeing for the jokes (and acting) alone.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Whilst I did get frustrated at its mostly static situation, I loved the humour and especially the lightness.
- Scrubs: Thought rather highly of itself, but could afford to. Very intelligent Plot Parallels and ethical dilemmas (if at time too artificial).
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: I could make any number of criticisms on minor points, but overall it's a wonder of story, character, art and animation. The sequel Korra is not as good with the writing, but still worth seeing/
British television I like
- Blackadder: Blackadder The Third and Blackadder Goes Forth at least. Rowan Atkinson plays a horrible man, but you can't help but admire his cunning. Tony Robinson and Hugh Laurie are also great.
- Life on Mars: Bringing the police procedural back to its roots while also dissecting those same roots. Very character-driven. Pity they couldn't end it well.
Films I like
- The LEGO Movie: I've played with Lego since my earliest memories note , but this film is for everyone, with the passion and energy of loving fans together with knowing how to make fluid animation and good comedy. Just don't bother with looking at it in political terms, it is entirely about toys and how to play with them.
- Gravity: Predictable but perfectly convincing.
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: Terry Gilliam brings to this film a unique cinematography.
- I like Pixar films in general, but especially Up, WALL•E (the first half at least) and Toy Story 3.
- I don't care much for most Disney films, but I do like the visually inventive Alice in Wonderland, the dramatic The Lion King, the highly self-aware The Emperor's New Groove, the avant-garde Fantasia, and the Disney renaissance in which they took their old tropes, took them to pieces, and put them back together fit for a more cynical age: The Princess and the Frog, Tangled and Enchanted.
- Wolf Children: Taking a fairy-tale premise and treating it with the utmost seriousness. It works fine.
- Lawrence of Arabia: Nevermind that the real Lawrence was not as tall and handsome. It shows us why he was such an admired leader, and the burden that came with bearing the cause of an entire people.
- Inception: It does fail to follow its own rules several times, and barely resembles real dreams, but the pacing, tension, imaginative setups and character drama make it a very good example of crossing genres.
- Double Indemnity: Everything you expect in film noir done just right. Made me feel tense like few other works did.
- Mildred Pierce: Everything you don't expect in film noir done just right. I'm told things were toned down from the novel, but it was still a highly subversive work when it came out, and still today is surprising and telling in its attack on contemporary ideas on women.
- Pickup on South Street: Samuel Fuller pitched it as an anti-communist film, but if it espouses any way of thinking, it's anarchism. Very vivid characters, and thoroughly an exercise in what they could get past the censors.
- Kiss Me Deadly: There are many things to see in this film. How a rather misogynistic and very red-baiting pulp thriller was turned into a deconstruction of itself. What it said about contemporary society, consumerism and alienation. But what I noticed most was how a film noir comes close to full horror.
- Doctor Strangelove: Less topical now, but no less funny and engrossing. It manages to satirise everyone involved without turning them into mere caricatures.
- Night Watch: The Russians beat Hollywood at its own game with a few percent of the budget. Doesn't make much sense, but visually striking in all sorts of ways. It's the sort of film you have to watch more as a roller-coaster ride than a narrative.
Authors I admire
- The fiction of Isaac Asimov in general, but Foundation is what made me actually read full-length novels with its brilliantly simple idea of epic scope.
- Arthur C. Clarke, his short stories cover a variety of intriguing ideas and some display a remarkable sardonic humour.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Self-aware, inventive and incisive as anything. And at times just rib-cracking hilarious.
- J R R Tolkien, though it's the Silmarillion that really got me into his mythos. I recommend buying Christopher Tolkien's The Leys of Beleriand, third book in his collection of his father's unpublished writings. Some wonderful poetry.
- H P Lovecraft, inventor of modern horror. The best of his stories I've read are the truly dream-like Celephais and Nyarlathotep (both just a few pages long), and the very atmospheric The Colour Out Of Space. You have to swallow his florid prose (sometimes good, sometimes hilarious), his visceral racism note and the fact that some stories, like The Call of Cthulhu, have since become a mass of clichés and much parodied, but he remains a great innovative writer.
- Larry Niven. Some of his futurism has been hilariously wrong, but there's no denying his vision, imagination and hard science.
- Tom Holt. My enjoyability of him varies, though I can't always say why. Falling Sideways is the best I've read, though that's because it is untypically upbeat.
- The Brontë sisters. Not so much the best-known, Jane Eyre (though it does have some good, very modern dialogue), but rather Wuthering Heights, a character study but also a genuine horror, and the obscure The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a study of an abuser who might have made a decent husband had he less money and power. My biggest problem with them is that the heroines come across massive inheritances far too conveniently.
- Philip Pullman. His Dark Materials suffers from being overtly anti-Christian (while most Narnia novels are subtler, but have other problems) and cramming in too many things towards the end, and the ending is both anti-climactic and rather contrived. But I prefer them to Harry Potter because they are grander in scope, have a more coherent setting and more emotionally charged.
- Jasper Fforde. Very silly novels for intelligent people.
- Michael Wright. Whatever the degree of autobiography he uses, he can make almost-normal life into fascinating prose.
- Chinua Achebe. He is valuable enough for the perspective of colonialism from the other side, but he is exceptional in showing personal conflicts that resonate universally, the interlocking layers of colonial rule and a glimpse of the rich oral tradition of the Ibo.
- Cynthia Harrod-Eagles: Her Morland Dynasty novels, family disfunctions through the ages, deserve all their hundreds of pages. Impeccably researched and psychologically compelling.
- Douglas Jackson. He can portray Roman border wars in all their bloodshed and still make me wish both sides could win.
- Robin Hobb. She can make fantasy that requires no suspension of disbelief.
Singers and composers I like most
- Loreena McKennitt: Mesmerising. She scours the world for inspiration, arranging folk songs, putting old poems to music and writing her own songs into which she puts a part of her being. "The Mummers' Dance" is the best.
- Enya: Her songs are not as meaningful as McKennitt's, but each one is a very distinct tune while always having her own unmistakeable style. "White is in the Winter's Night" is the only Christmas carol I know that I do not find unbearably cheesy. The songs of her former group Clannad are also good.
- Cecil Corbel: I've heard her sing in five different languages and she gets them all right.
- Julie Fowlis: The best modern singer of Gaelic songs I know of.
- Sgoil Chiùil na Gàidhealtachd: In Gaelic, Scottish dialects, standard English or just instrumentals.
- Tom Lehrer: His muse may not have been fettered by taste but it certainly knew how to do black humour.
Videogames that I enjoyed playing
- Katawa Shoujo: An sexual explicit visual novel, where every girl has a disability, from a group who met up on 4chan. What would you expect it to be?note Rin is one of the characters I have felt the most emotional attachment to ever. Everything about her leads to a heart-rending tragedy that flows naturally out of who she is.
- Iji: Short, rather limited gameplay, and one bad Difficulty Spike (seriously, what is it with Asha?), but still a remarkable effort for an amateur freeware project. It really creates the feeling of mowing down hundreds of alien soldiers.
- Yume Nikki: I did not find it all that scary, once I learned hardly anything could harm the player character, and certainly not compared to The Witch's House by the same developer (which I cannot recommend because of the ending, pure trolling that left it with much less emotional impact than it should). But it is haunting and intriguing, leaving plenty of tea leaves for the audience to read (I myself can only accept that she is troubled, had some violent and perhaps sexual trauma, does not fit into society and is resentful towards the world). But you will need a walktrough at some point, with all the hidden and stochastic events.
Other things on the Internet of note
- Yugioh The Abridged Series: Much imitated but never surpassed. A unique combination of jokes and voice acting (Little Kuriboh can bring up a running gag twenty times without it being stale).
- Mirai Nikki Abridged: One of the few followers that comes close. Doesn't parody the original so much as give it a slight push into comedy.
Things I find enjoyably bad
- Guilty Crown: Excellent art, animation and soundtrack, some good ideas, the writers aimed to make a more hopeful version of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and failed very badly. If they had put some effort into the writing it would have been the show of the year. Instead, we have flat characters with no consistent motivations, ten episodes with no evident plot, a belated plot ripped from Evangelion without the aura of mystery or attention to detail, buckets of clichés and jarring fanservice that is too brief to even be enjoyable. (And more disturbingly, a strong Japan-as-victim nationalist subtext in the first episodes.) The first half is bad throughout, the second shows some of its potential; they put a stop to the most obvious problems and manage to make their Shinji-expy into a mix of an insecure teenager and an inspiring action hero. (Did the writing team change? Or were they given the time to flesh out their ideas?) You can watch it without your brain to enjoy the action, or laugh as someone gets sliced through the middle then gets back up saying it hit no vital organs, or watch it critically to ponder how it could have been done right. (First thing that occurred to me: switch around protagonist Shuu and his love interest Haru. Maybe not any better, but certainly less clichéd.)
- The forums of World of Warcraft. With millions of players, it's not the most sensible, open or articulate who post there. It is incredible to see so many posts that imply or state that the player base agree with them and it's only because of irrational bias from the developers that they have not acted on it (in real terms, if you said there that the sky is blue, you would plenty of dissenters). And all the myopia that comes from those who play enough to have a stake in the game but not so much that they can see the overall picture. If you built your impression of the game from the forums, the conclusion would be that it is going through its worst period, the last patch ruined it, all playstyles are disfavoured and every class is unviable. It's sad, but can be amusing.
Articles in need of TRS attention
- Indecisive Parody: And maybe Indecisive Deconstruction. The title and description imply the creators could not stay on a parodic/straight approach to the genre. Yet there are plenty of homages that parody while also giving everything you expect from the genre and those behind it knew exactly what they were going for. "Mixed Parody" would be better.
- Just Eat Gilligan: A case of someone wanting to use a well-liked line instead of an indicative title. It's fairly well-defined, but the wicks and examples cover all sorts of interpretations of that phrase.
- Pass Fail: This one is straightforward. The title and description do not fit most of the examples, and I have no doubt that the examples have it right. Should be renamed "Passing" and the description made to fit the sociological definition with a note that it is sometimes played for a clumsy aesop.
- Speak Friend and Enter: Is it restricted to doors? The description is at odds with the title and the examples.