Hitsugi no Chaika

Chaika opening credits

Hitsugi no ChaikaCoffin Princess Chaika is a 2014 anime series based on a light novel series, light novels being short, usually illustrated novels aimed at a youngish public in Japan. Many of those are on the formulaic side, shall we say, but they make good fodder for anime series and a lot of contemporary television anime in Japan is now driven by light novel adaptions. Light novels do have something of a reputation as making lousy animes, not helped by the glut of harem fantasy adaptations, where some bland bloke is trust into some sort of magical situation as the saviour of the world, involving lots and lots of young girls throwing themselves at him for unclear reasons. The unsatiable desire for new series leads to a lot of twelve episode animes with little to distinguish themselves.

Akari, Chaika and Toru

Hitsugi no Chaika could at first glance be mistaken for one of those. You got the nominal protagonist Chaika as the innocent abroad just this side of being sickly sweet, the male focus character Toru and his “sister”, Akari, prone to violent outbursts and accusations of lechery against him. All three are fairly stereotypical characters, found in every other anime series, caught up in what seems like an equally stereotypical love triangle.

Chaika acts shocked

What saves it is the humour, which is a cut above the usual “hilarious” slapstick or offensive sexist japery, but is actually based in the characters and themselves. It helps that they’re all likeable people as well, including the antagonists. Chaika is a bit too cute at times, naive, innocent, but also stubborn and determined to fulfil her mission. Akari is hotheaded but not obnoxiously so and is toned down somewhat after her introduction; both she and Toru are competent, professional warriors in a world where war has ended five years ago with the defeat of emperor Arthur Gaz.

Chaikas pursuers

Chaika is Gaz’s daughter, lugging a coffin around the former emperor to get his remains back from the eight heroes that defeated him, to give him a proper burial. She runs into and hires Toru and Akari after the former saves her from an unicorn, set upon her by a group of agents from the current regime, wanting to stop her, fearing what she might do with the remains. These are not your usual villains, but decent people with some doubt on whether they’re in the right from time to time, especially as the cracks in the new world order start to show. I like the design of the various characters as well, especially this chap, who looks like a Jack Kirby design.

background characters

Speaking of character design, what I also found interesting was while all the main characters look pretty much in the style of modern fantasy anime, the background characters look more like they’d wandered in from a lesser studio Ghibli movie. Much less colourful, much more realistic body types. Nowhere near the quality of a Ghibli production of course, but the feel is the same.

Akari attacking

All in all Hitsugi no Chaika is an entertaining anime series much better than it needed to be. Watch it.

Butcher fails where Bellet and Kloos succeeded

Jim Butcher is currently one of the most popular fantasy writers in the world, with several series being NYT bestsellers, as well as having a television series made out of one of them. Not quite George R. R. Martin level, but getting there. He’s nothing like Annie Bellet or Marko Kloos, two much more modestly successfull writers, except in one thing: all three got on the Hugo nominations list thanks to the efforts of the Sad Puppies.

Where they again differ is that Bellet and Kloos, after some soul searching, decided to withdraw their nominations. It’s hard to overstate how difficult that must’ve for them, seeing as how these nominations may be the only time they’ll actually get on the shortlist. Consider: in any given year there are only twenty places open for a professional writer, five each for Best nobel, novella, novelette or short story, while anywhere from 1000-1500 eligible novels are published each year and ghu knows how many eligible works in the other categories. You have to be an incredibly good or well known writer to have a shot at being nominated, let alone be nominated more than once. Yet they gave up these nominations because they knew they way they’d gotten them wasn’t fair.

Not so Butcher though, somebody who on his own merits could have a stab at the Hugos. He’s kept radio silence all this time and when asked point blank, this is what he said:

I’m not sure whether his stance is naive or calculating. His presence on the Puppies ballot from the start was clearly intended as a shield, a way to give some credence to the idea behind the slate(s), that popular works have no chance at the Hugos and really, we’re only suggesting those works we really really think are worthy of a Hugo. By neither withdrawing nor speaking out against the Puppies, Butcher gives tacit approval to their slate voting, validates their political beliefs because surely this means Jim Butcher himself thinks he can’t win a Hugo otherwise?

The same goes of course for all those other nominees used as shields: if you don’t withdraw, if you don’t speak out, I don’t care that you were put on the slate involuntarily or without your knowledge, you’ve given your retroactive consent. By your actions you help support this partisan political attack on the Hugos and I will judge you for it.

UPDATE: you know who does get it right? Black Gate.

Larry Correia: entitlement and ego

Maureen O’Danu explains something I’ve been arguing from the start: that the Puppies are driven by entitlement:

Larry Correia’s public attitude makes it pretty clear that he felt that he deserved to win and that the Hugo he was nominated for was stolen from him, rather than simply won by another contender. (Larry denies this verbally, but one of the first rules of psychology is that when there is a conflict between words and actions, believe the actions.) The subjective nature of literary awards makes this a not uncommon problem. In any award where winning is at least partially a matter of opinion instead of mathematics, the language of robbery holds sway. “He was robbed” “She stole that award” “How on earth did he take that away from her.” From ice dancing to dressage to debate to writing, any ranked creative competition is going to generate these sorts of claims.

Correia took this further, speculating on the basis of negative comments he had received from either fans or writers (he has never specified) that he was specifically denied his award because of his political views. He has said that he believes has been specifically denied because he owns a gun store, is Mormon, is conservative, or all or some combination of the above.

You could see that entitlement at work even in Larry’s 2011 Worldcon report which is slightly too full of not winning the Campbell award, when he was in a field with Lauren Beukes, Saladin Ahmed and Lev Grossman, among others, not the weakest of competitions. It’s almost as if he felt he’s owned the Campbell, which of course he does. It’s not enough to just be nominated and get on the shortlist, something most new writers never manage in their two year eligibility window, he of course deserved to win.

And you do wonder if it’s his background, conservative, gun shop owner, Mormon, with ties to the Bush-era US military that’s the problem here. Not in the way Larry thinks, with all the evil leftists sneering at these things, but that all these make him susceptible to his entitlement complex. What Larry can never get his head around was that most people, like me, had never heard of him until he started making an ass out of himself last year with the Sad Puppies. I had no clue about his politics, his background or his writing, just got to know him as an obnoxious loudmouth, a crybaby that wanted to ruin the Hugos because he felt underappreciated.

But it didn’t surprise me to learn that he was a wingnut, not even if he’d reined in the evil SJW rhetoric. This sort of entitlement, by people who already are successfull by any objective standard — how many people get to be a professional writer in their chosen genre after all and a bestselling at that — but who want everybody to acknowledge that they are the greatest, especially those they see as their enemies, is pretty much a rightwing disease. And Mormonism, with its history of persecution and theological sense of entitlement, is a religion that’s pretty good at creating this type of asshole (it’s perfectly possible to be a conservative Mormon without being an asshole, of course and millions of people manage to do so.)

American conservatism is stewed in entitlement and persecution complexes and Correia and Brad Torgersen show all the hallmarks of it. For those of us who have spent the last decade and a half looking at what we used to call warbloggers, their type is depressingly familiar. They always think they’re better than they are, they always think everybody is out to get them, that there are huge conspiracies solely there to stop them from getting their due and they’re always projecting their own actions on their opponents. It was Correia and co who introduced partisan politics in the Hugo nomination process, but they had to invent a SJW conspiracy to make themselves the good guys. Perhaps they need to do this because they just cannot help but see everything in the context of partisan politics and believe everybody else does so too.

The end result though is that Correia is a massive cock wrecking things because he feels people aren’t nice enough to him.

Eric Heuvel sketching

Eric Heuvel sketching

You may know that Ligne claire/Clear Line was a term coined by Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte to describe the artwork of Herge and E. P. Jacobs, a style that was enormously popular in Franco-Belgian comics up until the sixties, combining strong colours, an uniform thickness of line and cartoony characters with realistic, detailed depictions of things like cars, planes and other machinery. It was appropriated in the late seventies by Swarte and others like him (Theo van den Boogaart in the Netherlands, Yves Chaland, Ted Benoit, Serge Clerc et all in France) to provide an ironic contrast between the definately adult stories they wrote and the seemingly innocent, straight forward art style, long since coded as belonging to childrens’ comics.

In the Netherlands however this resurgence in Clear Line artwork went further than just as an ironic fad. New generations of artists in the late seventies and eighties rediscovered the style as perfectly suitable for straightforward action stories, the most successfull being Henk Kuijpers, who with his Franka series produced arguably the most popular Dutch comics series of the eighties, not hindered by his habit of getting his heroine to take her top off.

Eric Heuvel is another of these Clear Line cartoonists, perhaps the best one currently active in Dutch comics. He started his aero adventure strip January Jones together with Martin Lodewijk, veteran scenario writer, in the early nineties and restarted it a few years ago, when the biweekly comics zine Eppo was resurrected. He’s one of the magazine’s most popular writers and at normal comics cons in the Netherlands there’s a huge line waiting for his autograph or sketch. At the Dutch Comic Con though, the Eppo audience wasn’t quite there, which meant I only had to wait a short time to get the sketch below and got to talk to him about his love for aeroplanes. I love his work and I love the January Jones series for having a no-nonsense, capable woman as its protagonist without any of the bagage that sometimes brings with it.

Eric Heuvel Sketch

Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos do the right thing

Annie Bellet has withdrawn her Puppy slated story from the Hugo ballot:

I am withdrawing because this has become about something very different than great science fiction. I find my story, and by extension myself, stuck in a game of political dodge ball, where I’m both a conscripted player and also a ball. (Wrap your head around that analogy, if you can, ha!) All joy that might have come from this nomination has been co-opted, ruined, or sapped away. This is not about celebrating good writing anymore, and I don’t want to be a part of what it has become.

So has Marko Kloos:

I also wish to disassociate myself from the originator of the “Rabid Puppies” campaign. To put it bluntly: if this nomination gives even the appearance that Vox Day or anyone else had a hand in giving it to me because of my perceived political leanings, I don’t want it. I want to be nominated for awards because of the work, not because of the “right” or “wrong” politics.

It can’t have been easy for either writer to give up an honour that few authors will get to experience even once. It’s a credit to their character that both choose the right thing to do, voluntarily withdrawing rather than profiting from an unearned nomination. Hopefully, this also means that some of the writers excluded unjustifiably from the Hugo ballot thanks to the Puppies now can be added back in.

What I found interesting in Bellet’s withdrawal is that she felt “stuck in a game of political dodge ball” thanks to her nomination. It’s clear that for those writers on the Puppy slates but not part of the hardcore loonies, there is a lot of social oprobium they have to deal with, as for some strange reason people have not greeted the slates with unadulterated joy. For the Wrights, Days and Correiras this is not a problem, they’ve burned their bridges a long time ago, but for those drafted into the slates (or gods help them, who were naive enough to volunteer), it seems there is a cost, there’s social pressure to reject the slate. If we’re lucky, now that the first two writers have done the decent thing, have gotten respect from the sane part of SF fandom for it, more will follow.

Marissa Delbressine’s sketch

Marissa Delbressine sketching

The Dutch Comic Con was partially sponsored by the publishers of Eppo magazine, the bi-weekly comics zine that seems largely aimed at nostalgic forty and thirty something people remembering its original incarnation. As such the audience at the comic con turned out to be slightly too young for them and the artists signing at their stand were not the busiest, shall we say? Where at a normal convention you’d expect long rows of people interested in autographs or sketches, here the artists outnumbered the fans when I came round with my sketch book. Which gave me the opportunity to talk to Marissa Delbressine for somewhat longer than I’d expected, which is always nice.

Marissa Delbressine is the artist on the action adventure comic Ward which has been running in Eppo and so far has been collected in two albums. Written by veteran scenarist Willem Ritsier, it is the sort of uncomplicated adventure comic that could’ve been published three decades ago too. What I like about is that it’s so family orientated: the series may be named after the mysterious loner Ward, but the real protagonists are the Kessel family: Frank, Isa and their two children, Lonneke and Tom. It’s rare to see any sort of happy but realistic family in a comic like this and especially since the two women graduated from their professional hostage status at the end of the first story, each of the characters has come alive.

Delbressine’s art is a huge part of the appeal of Ward to me. For the strip she draws in the realistic tradition of e.g. a William Vance, but she isn’t afraid to inject a bit of cartoonish exagerration in her figures, especially the faces. What I especially like is the way her characters are immediately recognisable, none of them quite the archetypical action figure or superheroine. I like the way she shows the difference in ages between e.g. Isa and Lonneke: it’s immediately clear that the one has a couple of decades on the other, without having to fall back on the stereotypical signifiers of age like greying hair or wrinkles. Below is the sketch she did of Isa, coloured in and all. More of her work can be found at her Tumblr art portfolio.

Marissa Delbressine sketch

The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison

Cover of The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor
Katherine Addison
502 pages
published in 2014

One of the dirty little secrets of book reviewing is that the circumstances under which you read any given book can massively influence how you feel about it. Since I read the first half of The Goblin Emperor on a sunny Thursday afternoon while drinking a nice IPA sitting at an Amsterdam terrace and the other half sitting in my garden on the Friday afternoon following, drinking an even nicer IPA, it’s no wonder I feel quite mellow about it. But in this case I would’ve enjoyed it even had I read it during one of the grey, dull, wet afternoons that you normally get in Amsterdam in early April. This is a great novel and well deserves its Hugo nomination. It’s also the sort of novel you can’t help but read fast, a true page turner.

The Goblin Emperor at heart is a very traditional power fantasy, about the boy of humble origins who becomes emperor by happenstance and now has to very quickly learn how to survive in a world of political intrigue he’s completely unprepared for, filled with people who either want to manipulate him or replace him with a better figurehead. It’s one of those fantasy scenarios other writers can write multiple trilogies about to get to that point, but Katherine Addison has her goblin hero confirmed as the emperor within five pages, the rest of the novel being about him getting to grips with his new job, woefully inadequate though he feels.

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Books read March

Really? I’ve only read four novels this month? Apparantly so. Granted, most of the month was spent reading through this list of short fiction, but even so, this is disappointing.

Juniper Time — Kate Wilhelm
Read for Joachim Boaz’s Kate Wilhelm review series. This is one of the novels the cyberpunks were rebelling against.

Reaper Man — Terry Pratchett
I read this in the wake of the news of Terry Pratchett’s death, his most fitting novel as it revolves around mortality and DEATH.

King’s Dragon — Kate Elliott
It’s unfair. Here I was expecting at best a compentently written epic fantasy story, but instead Elliott made me think, by never choosing the lazy option, by actually creating a medievaloid fantasy world that is more than just modern people in medieval drag. It also has one of the most harrowing depictions of the psychology of domestic abuse I’ve read in any novel.

The Shining Girls — Lauren Beukes
Serial killer horror is not my thing as it so often puts its sympathies with the killer more than with their victims; cf. The Silence of the Lambs. Beukes however keeps her sympathies firmly where they belong, showing the waste and destruction the killer engages in without glamourising it.