A Redtail’s Dream by Minna Sundberg

(Yes, I know it’s a webcomic, but it is available in book form thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign by the author! You can also read the whole thing on the Internet, of course, but for the sake of easy archiving, I’ll just tag it under ‘books.’ Capische?)

Holy shit this comic is beautiful.

(All art © Minna Sundberg – http://www.minnasundberg.fi)

Hnnngh. I just love this art style. It feels organic, it’s lively, it’s muted, and it has an absolutely fantastic sense of colour theory. Everything just goes so beautifully together — I can’t imagine how long every single panel must have taken, considering how detailed they are.  (Just checked on the site – between 8-10 hours. Wow.)

The nearest comparison I can think of is Ava’s Demon, another webcomic with gorgeous, detailed art, and a similarly gripping story. But honestly, I think I prefer A Redtail’s Dream for its story.

The story is based on Finnish mythology, and concerns two main characters — Hannu and Ville. (Hannu’s the human in the above pictures, Ville’s the dog.) As the story begins, they’re living in a secluded, forested village. Hannu is rather lazy and feckless, and Ville is, as Sundberg’s site describes him, ‘the best doggy in the whole wide world.’

Then, suddenly, their whole world changes around them. Thanks to a young, idiotic deity named Puppyfox, who accidentally traps the entire village in a dream-like state, where Hannu and Ville (who keeps on shape-shifting… just go with it) must search through the landscape for a way to get everything back to normal. Since, according to Puppyfox, it’s only a matter of time before nobody will ever be able to wake up again.

I’m going to keep this sweet and spoiler free, and not try to gush too much, but oh my god you guys. Read this. I can’t even put into words how much I loved this comic — and I’m very eagerly catching up with Stand Still. Stay Silent. right now. A Redtail’s Dream is about 550 pages long online – here are the links in both English and Finnish – and the IndieGogo-funded hardback is about six hundred pages long. But still. It’s an amazing read, and I finished it in about two days. I just couldn’t stop reading. (Also, to use Tumblr vernacular, it will give you the feels. So many of them. Can I please adopt Ville? Please?)

Just go read it. You’ll be glad you did. :D

5/5.

Manga Review: Wolfsmund (Ookami no Kuchi) volume 1 by Mitsuhisa Kuji

The story of William Tell has never been rendered this beautifully as in Mitsuhisa Kuji’s stunning debut work Wolfsmund, where a fortified barrier-station torments the Swiss Alliance, murdering all who stand against it, until William and his son attempt to defy it.

A fascinating reimagining of a European legend, Wolfsmund is filled with action, politics and drama, and has all the makings of The Game of Thrones – including its share of bloodbaths – but through a perspective of historical fiction.

Amazon UK | Amazon US | GoodReads | The Book Depository

Yeah, I’ll admit that I’ve been in a huge anime/manga slump lately. I don’t think I’ve watched a full episode of an anime for about six months now. (Well, with the exception of Durarara!!x2 but I quickly got bored of that.) Not because none of the currently airing shows interest me, but simply out of some kind of apathy or whatever. I just haven’t really found the time or the urge to go back to anime. It’ll pass, I guess.

Anyway, Wolfsmund hasn’t miraculously brought me out of my slump, but it is rather good. If you’re into loosely historical manga with a setting that is so dark and bleak that George R.R. Martin would tell Mitsuhisa Kuji to cool her jets a little. (Speaking of miserable, blood-soaked settings, though… it doesn’t surprise me in the least that Kuji was formerly an assistant to Kentarou Miura.)

Wolfsmund is set in central Europe during the Medieval times, at a border crossing between Switzerland and Italy. You want to leave the Habsburg Empire, you have to cross through these mountains. The only problem is that the governor of this border crossing, Wolfram, is a sadistic tyrant who comes up with… terribly creative ways to torture people and eventually display their corpses as a warning to those who try to cross illegally.

Each chapter of Wolfsmund follows a different character, and their plight in trying to cross over the border. So often, people will pluck up the courage to try and get past the border, only for Wolfram to brutally snatch away their hopes right in front of them. He’ll lie about arbitrary rules, claim he sees straight through a disguise… just to see the look of surprise on their face and how quickly they’ll have to think up another lie on the spot. Et cetera et cetera. He’s a completely irredeemable sod of a villain, and yet I really want to see what’s coming next for him, because goddamn.

The first volume is a mere three chapters, but you get plenty of story about of around 200 pages in Vertical’s English translation. There’s talk of a rebellion brewing, and the final chapter featuring William Tell and his son is just heart-racing. My only concern for the manga from the sole volume I’ve read is that… well… there’s such a thing as Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy. Wherein, a work gets so, so bleak and keeps on throwing shocking twists at you that you eventually just get bored of it. I mean, hell, after about two chapters where characters were brutalised and tortured for simply trying to pass through a border crossing without papers, I was thinking that the next chapter was really going to have to knock it out of the park. Thankfully, it did.

But still, going into volume 2 with some precautions. 4/5.

Book Review: Beneath The Surface: Killer Whales, Seaworld, and The Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove and Howard Chua-Eoan

Over the course of two decades, John Hargrove worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld’s U.S. facilities. For Hargrove, becoming an orca trainer fulfilled a childhood dream. However, as his experience with the whales deepened, Hargrove came to doubt that their needs could ever be met in captivity. When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, Hargrove decided that SeaWorld’s wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers.

After leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove became one of the stars of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The outcry over the treatment of SeaWorld’s orca has now expanded beyond the outlines sketched by the award-winning documentary, with Hargrove contributing his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act.

In Beneath the Surface, Hargrove paints a compelling portrait of these highly intelligent and social creatures, including his favorite whales Takara and her mother Kasatka, two of the most dominant orcas in SeaWorld. And he includes vibrant descriptions of the lives of orcas in the wild, contrasting their freedom in the ocean with their lives in SeaWorld.

Amazon | GoodReads | The Book Depository

(Also featured on Bibliodaze!)

From 1990 to 2010, John Hargrove was a senior trainer and performer at SeaWorld. His career took him to the parks in Texas, California, and Florida, and he was even able to supervise the training of a captive pod of orca whales in a new park in Antibes, France. With nearly twenty years of service, you’d expect him to be resting on his laurels, proud of his work and amazed that he got to be one of the few people who have ever worked with his favourite animals.

As a child in the 1980s, Hargrove loved to attend SeaWorld in Orlando and San Antonio, and gained a deep fascination of the orca whale. Enough to move to San Antonio, and work his way up through the ranks, going through the gruelling fitness procedures, reading up on marine animal science and behavioural psychology, finally gaining the privilege to do ‘water work’ with one of the many orcas that holidaymakers in the United States have come to know as Shamu.

Until he couldn’t take it any more.

The 2013 documentary Blackfish had a very profound effect on the public perception of SeaWorld. The organisers at the Sundance Film Festival had to schedule extra screenings to accommodate the interest. It was CNN’s highest rated documentary of the year when it premiered on the channel, and it has enjoyed stellar ratings on DVD and through streaming platforms. (Seriously, it’s an excellent documentary, and it’s available on Netflix. Heres the link!) John Hargrove is one of the interviewees featured in Blackfish, and he was moved to write a book about his experiences as a piece of supplementary material for those who watched the documentary and wanted to know more.

There are those who will argue that Blackfish is pure propaganda against the Sea World. It completely demonises the company, and has been cited as being responsible for Sea World suffering huge losses, with its stock and attendance dropping in critical numbers.

All of a sudden, the illusion has been broken. SeaWorld’s dark side has finally surfaced, after years of keeping a squeaky-clean, family-friendly image. The orca whales are turned into stressed, dangerous and violent animals in confinement, who have killed multiple trainers. SeaWorld’s own lawyers tried to cover this up, even when brought before the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One trainer’s body had a pulverised chest. Another died of her injuries… and her colleagues had to take her body out of one orca, Tilikum’s mouth, piece by piece. And the kicker? SeaWorld blamed both trainers for upsetting the whales in some way, even though Hargrove claims the whales would have definitely been desensitised to whatever triggered them into this kind of aggression.

These whales live lives of quiet desperation and intense boredom. It is the kind of ennui that can be fatal — to both whale and human. (p. 72)

Ever since I watched Blackfish, I’ve been curious about the lives of these beautiful cetaceans in captivity, and the extent to which SeaWorld has gone to cover up workers’ testimonies. Tim Zimmerman’s Killer In The Pool covered much about the case of the late Dawn Brancheau, but it’s John Hargrove’s memoir which has far more authenticity.

Hargrove takes a neutral viewpoint. He knows that many people would love for SeaWorld to be totally shut down, but he argues that a lot of the whales are far too psychologically disturbed to survive being released back into the ocean. They would benefit much more from a controlled sea environment, rather than performing for entertainment. Tilikum was driven into the orca equivalent of insanity for being so under-stimulated. Heartbreakingly, it is related in Zimmerman’s book that Tilikum has been turned into a prisoner in an isolated pen, hardly ever brought out to engage in physical therapy with the trainers.

Other horrifying factoids from this book include the fact that Seaworld has interbred their animals for profit, for the purpose of selling the offspring to other water parks internationally. SeaWorld also regularly lies to their audience, withholds food from whales who underperform (p. 76), and presents a whole bunch of different orcas as the legendary Shamu. As shown in Blackfish, Seaworld also claim that a collapsed dorsal fin is just a physical quirk. That is most definitely not the case.

I would soon learn the cause is confinement: floating motionless at the surface of the pool without support for the height and weight of dorsal fin leads to the collapse. […] Orcas in the wild spend much of their time fully submerged. Seaworld’s pools may be large in human scale, but they do not in any way approach the breadth and depth the orcas have available to them in the ocean. In captivity, the broad sail-like dorsal fins so characteristic of male orcas remain exposed to the air and to the sun… (p. 36)

Also, the average life expectancy for an orca is supposed to be around fifty years in the wild. At SeaWorld, Hargrove would estimate that the life expectancy is probably around ten years. Which is bizarre — in captivity, an animal’s life expectancy normally rises, rather than lowering so exponentially.

This book was an incredible eye opener. It enraged and enlightened me in equal measure. Hargrove himself is angry at the organisation he left behind, but at the same time, he knows from experience that Seaworld have captured the imaginations of millions, funding research into marine biology and getting people worldwide interested in the precious ecosystem of the Earth’s oceans. Seaworld can certainly be defended for these attributes, but people are certainly going to think twice when human lives are so callously thrown away by irresponsibility and corporate blindness, as well as a willingness to cut corners when it comes to animal welfare.

Seaworld began simply with one man parading around an orca he had captured on an expedition. It then grew into an enormous business, with billions of dollars and many thousands of holidaymakers making the pilgrimage to Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, and sponsoring other marine animal parks around the world.

But, even with this perfect veneer, there had to be something unpleasant lurking beneath.

Imagine the situation in human terms and the closest institution that comes to mind is a prison, where the inmates are completely dependant on the guards and the system to provide them with the basic needs of life: food and water. It is a terrifying and depressing metaphor for trainers who love the whales and who feel responsible for them. Why? Because in the analogy, even if the prisoner-whale decides that it likes some of the guards better than the others, in the end, they are all still guards, part of the same system that oppresses them. (p. 77)

4.5 stars.

Books I’ve Read Recently

I haven’t posted a review of any sort since Seeker back in March. Since then, I’ve visited Krakow, Berlin, got all my university assignments done, and right now, I’m just chilling out watching X-Men whilst searching out places to get a job in the local area. It’s as if that book was so bad, it killed my interest in any YA fiction whatsoever. Huh.

Well, I’m going to get back into reviewing over this summer, so let’s hop to getting some books out of the way! I’m not going to include absolutely everything I’ve read over the past two months, so here’s some highlights and lowlights.

Perhaps one of the more interesting books I’ve read over the past few months was Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari. The author’s background aside, this book presents a really intriguing viewpoint on why the war on drugs in the West is such a futile battle. All that prohibition has led to is a veritable skyrocketing of crime and poverty — and in states where drugs are legal, where drug abusers are treated with dignity rather than condemnation, there are nowhere near the severe problems in areas where the more conservative drug laws are in place. Seriously, I’d heard about Portugal’s scheme before, but I had no idea quite how effective it was. I gave this book a 4/5 on GoodReads, just so you know. Thanks aplenty to Katya for the recommendation!

I’m not going to speak about this book too much, considering I’m going to properly review it soon, but wow. Beneath The Surface: Killer Whales, Seaworld and the Truth Behind Blackfish by John Hargrove and Howard Chua-Eoan was a real eye-opener. If you haven’t seen Blackfish, then go ahead and stream it on Netflix. It’s well worth the watch. Seaworld may have some noble intentions, sure, but it’s such a damn awful shame that the corporate side of the park often chooses to ignore sound research and even try to cover up human deaths. Seriously. Dawn Brancheau died because, of course an experienced team member would have her hair up in a ponytail that the clinically insane whale Tilikum could easily grab. Wanna know why Tilikum is insane? Years and years of extremely poor stimulation, attacks from female orcas and a sense of severe isolation from the social group. It’s absolutely tragic, and it’s no wonder SeaWorld’s stock has dropped. 4/5 stars.

Oh, The Girl at Midnight had such potential, but… no. I’m sorry, but I’ll call it like I see it. This book is like the lovechild of City of Bones and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, with heavy emphasis on the latter. A lone girl who’s quite artsy, who has a special, paternal relationship with a sagely magical being who’s part animal. This girl later gets drawn into a battle with supernatural forces inhabiting the ‘other world’ her guardian used to inhabit. At least Melissa Grey spares us by having a much better sense of humour than Cassandra Clare, and better writing skills, but damn. It’s like some publishing executives decided that the young reading public didn’t ‘get’ Laini Taylor, so they just got the author to shave off a few things here and there. *sigh* 2/5. And I didn’t finish it.

I’m going to write a review of the webcomic A Redtail’s Dream by Minna Sundberg soon enough. Oh my god, it was beautiful. The artwork is gorgeous, and the story was so engaging that I pretty much read all 500+ pages in one go. You know the last webcomic I read like that? Homestuck. I already have a lovely dog of my own, sure, but I want Ville. He’s so sweet. ;-; And I love how steadfast Hannu is, while also maturing and learning lessons along the way.

Finally… Ugh, this book kind of annoyed me. I normally really like Jon Ronson’s writing, but So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed really leaves a lot to desire. It seems really poorly researched, compared to his other works, and just not as narratively engaging. Meh. :/ My friend Katya wrote a review that encapsulates all the issues I had with this book. I’d say a 2/5 for this book, but even then, that feels overly generous.

And that is that for now! I’m hoping to start uploading reviews soon — and by soon, I mean in about a week. Pinkie promise.

(Also, anybody doing Camp NaNoWriMo this year?)

Near-June Update!

Yeah, it’s Near-June, since I already did a May update and I wanted to write a new one on a spur of the moment. My blog, my rules.

I AM FINISHED WITH UNIVERSITY!

Well. I have a retake exam in August, so I’m not entirely finished. There was a clerical error of some sort, and I wasn’t on the course’s list of candidates for some reason, so I couldn’t download my seen exam paper and, y’know, do the exam in May. So I’m not graduating this summer, but I’m kind of in two minds to not bother with the ceremony at all. I just need to get my degree and transcript, and get myself on a TEFL course!

It’s been an emotional three years. I struggled with depression and anxiety for the past two years, and was on the verge of quitting university entirely. I’m so glad I didn’t go through with that decision. I already had awful self esteem, and quitting would have just had me sitting around miserably for however many months it’d take me to recover. So I’ve just been trying my best to get my assignments done throughout my final year, made some wonderful friends, and had some incredibly memorable experiences. Shout out to all of you, if you’re reading this blog!

I’m going to get back into reviewing. I have several reviews written, but not posted, so watch out for those in the coming days/weeks. I’m even in the process of writing a little piece on a web-comic I pretty much just started today, but am so enamoured with that I just had to get something written up. You’ll find out soon enough! (Please pretend to be excited. Or not.)

See you around!

A Few Thoughts on the Recent Chapters of Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)

Okay, so. For the better part of three years, I wrote monthly posts on the new chapters of Black Butler, as they were released in Japan. The manga had some good storylines, and for some reason, I kept going back to it, as terrible as it often was. (Seriously, I hated the Weston College’s never-ending cricket tourney.)

I summed up my thoughts on how bizarre things had gotten a few months back. Tanks burst into the plot, as did poisonous gas, concocted by a little girl who was raised to be a herbalist witch and whose manipulators/handlers had done everything possible to make her believe she was living under a werewolf curse in a medieval German village deep in the Black Forest. …Okay, cool. Where are you going to go with that?

Well, spoilers ahoy, so let’s be nice and put them under a cut.

Continue reading

Mayday!

Nah, I’m not in any real danger. Here I am again. (Fun fact of the day: “mayday” basically is what Anglophones picked up from the French military’s “m’aidez”. Sounds the same, but it just so happens that we have a similar word in our own language. And happy May Day/Beltane to you for Monday, if you celebrate it!)

Shit, I’ve got like two months before graduation. And a whole four months before I visit Japan. Oh man, I’m so excited for this summer. But also melancholic. Uni’s been amazing, but academia and I aren’t particularly good friends. One thing I’ve discovered in the field of English Lit and literary theorising is that… well, you don’t seem to be taken very seriously if you aren’t a classicist, a Shakespearean, etc. I’ve always preferred my classes on more modern literature, and… yeah. Not so sure about doing a Master’s in English Lit.

Seriously, would I even get approved to write a thesis on narrative theory in video games and how it correlates with books that centre themselves around video games, like Ender’s Game and Ready Player One? Or even movies like Wreck-It Ralph and Pixels?

So! Basically, dissertation is almost done and going to be submitted next week. Then it’s just chipping away at several assignments before June is out, as well as studying for an exam right at the end of May. I can do it! It’s going to be a tough month for me, but I can do it.

I know I can. Because I won’t let my anxiety/depression beat me.

So… I’ll post pics of graduation. Promise. :D