Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ranger’s Apprentice Book 12: The Royal Ranger

Hello, I’m a unicorn. The Ranger’s Apprentice  is one of my all time favorite book series, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a twelfth that came out recently. I got even more excited when I found out that there was going to be a girl Ranger, because that was the one thing I wished was introduced in the earlier books. I’ll do my best not to spoil this or the previous eleven books (especially since my sister is still reading them at the time of this post), but here is what I liked and didn’t like about the “last book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series.” I put this in quotes because the author said that the tenth book was going to be the last, then the Lost Stories came out and that was supposed to be the last, so I wouldn’t be shocked by a thirteenth book.

So, here’s the basic, spoiler free-ish plot: After the tragic death of someone very close to a Ranger named Will Treaty, he becomes obsessed with finding the person’s killer, even shirking his other duties as an elite spy for the kingdom of Araluen. In order to bring him out of his funk, his friends have him take on the princess of Araluen, Maddie, as an apprentice.

The Good: This book takes place fifteen years after the last, and it shows. Will, who was an unerring optimist in the other books, has become a lot more like his teacher, Halt. In the other books, Halt was the 2012 Master Splinter. He constantly trolled and teased his adopted son, but Will didn’t quite know what to make of him at first because Halt is the epitome of a deadpan snarker. In the first book, he literally only smiled once, and if it sounds like I’m going on a tangent, it’s because I am. Halt is my favorite character in the series and one of my all time favorite book characters. I could go on all day about how awesome he is, but it’s better just to see for yourself. Back to the matter at hand: Will, being more stoic and brooding, now has the tables turned , and he relishes in it, especially at the expense of his spoiled apprentice. The dialogue and banter between the characters is as funny as in the previous books and the chemistry really makes you feel like these people have known each other forever. For longtime fans, it feels like you’re greeting old friends as well. Even the brand new character feels familiar. I really like Maddie as an apprentice for Will. She’s not some Mary Sue who is perfect at everything Will throws at her. She’s spoiled, she makes mistakes, breaks the rules, gets scared, and talks back like every other teenager on earth, but her flaws don’t make her insufferable. She’s a fun character and I hope this isn’t the last I see of her.

The Parts That I Didn’t Like as Much: I hesitate to say that anything is bad in this, but there are a few parts I feel could have been improved. First of all, not enough Halt! I know this is nit-picky and just a meaningless gripe on my part, but Halt is my favorite character and since authors must obey their readership I DEMAND MORE HALT! Okay, enough joking and on to the more serious grievances. Out of all the books this one left the most loose ends after the climax. In the story, the villain kidnaps children who are from an abusive home to be sold as slaves. After the children are rescued by Will and Maddie, it cuts to a few months after the battle with the villain and the reader never finds out what happened to them. Were they sent back to their abusive parents? Did they become wards of the state? Were they later trained as Rangers? We never find out and that can be really distracting. The story, in general, is a lot smaller in scale than every other book. Usually the threat that the main characters need to thwart is a risk to the entire kingdom, or at least a fief. This is a group of heinous people, sure, and it gets personal later on, but the stakes are a lot less high. Also, while I didn’t mind brooding Will, some people might find the change in him pretty jarring, especially with the happy and satisfying ending of book eleven.

Overall, this is a must read for any Rangers fan and, while this is supposed to be the end, I think this book would make a great beginning to Maddie and Will’s adventures. Was this a satisfying ending to the series? Yes and no. It was satisfying in that it brings the books full circle, but Lost Stories did this even better. Like I said, I think that Royal Ranger makes a better beginning for Maddie’s adventures, and I want to see more of the darker world that was established in this book. I would be disappointed if this was the end, not because the book was bad, but because the book had some interesting ideas that I feel could be taken even further in later stories. For what it is though, this book is great, and I really hope John Flanagan decides to write more in the series. So what are you waiting for? Read it now.

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Frozen

“Where is it?” Kirin asked as she made her way down the stairs and to the basement. She felt for the light switch at the end of the staircase, and illuminated the small storage space.

“To the right of the fuse box. Pick up that demon thingy and toss it at the wall,”  Textbox instructed.

“You mean the clown doll?” Kirin rolled her eyes.

“Yes, throw that demon doll at the wall!” Kirin sighed and threw the clown. It disappeared. Her jaw dropped and she walked to the spot where it vanished.

“By Odin’s beard and Hera’s nosehairs,” she muttered as she examined the wall. She tapped the area where the clown disappeared. Her finger went through the wall. “Holy cussbuckets!” she exclaimed as she pulled it out, then said, “Okay, yeah, let’s call them.” Turning out the lights and heading upstairs, she grabbed the communication device off of the kitchen counter and sent a short message to Lilly and Eli.

“So, now what?” Textbox asked.

“I’ll wait for them to reply, and in the meantime…”

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Yes, I know this movie has been has been out for over a month, but I didn’t actually get to catch it until Christmas. So, while we’re in the January new movie rut, let’s look at Frozen.

The plot follows two princesses of the Kingdom of Arrendel, Elsa, played by the first Elphaba herself, Idina Menzel, and Anna, played by Kristen Bell. Elsa has the power to control ice, but is afraid to use it after accidentally hurting Anna when they were little. After the death of her parents, she becomes queen (a Disney Queen that isn’t evil? that must be a first) but loses control of her powers on her coronation day. She accidentally plunges the kingdom into eternal Winter, and it is up to Anna, an ice salesman named Kristoff, his reindeer, Sven, and a snowman who wants to experience Summer named Olaf to find a way to bring Summer back to the kingdom.

The Good: Nearly everything is great about this movie. The plot is creative, the animation beautiful, the gags funny, the music excellent, and the characters are all likable. At first, I was afraid that I’d find the sidekicks annoying, especially the snowman, but he was was actually a lot of fun and had some pretty touching moments with the other characters. He’s sort of like Michelangelo in the new TMNT show; I should find him annoying, but he is just so innocent and charming that I let his dumb moments slide. This is also one of the few movies I highly recommend seeing in 3-D, mainly because the snow animation makes everything seem so much deeper. I also like their spin on the true love breaks the curse formula. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that you should stay for the funny legal disclaimer and the after credit bonus.

The Meh: They don’t explain enough of the world. We don’t know how Elsa came to be born with ice powers, we don’t know where the trolls came from, and how they know magic if no one else knows it exists. Kristoff’s back story isn’t explained very well other than that he was possibly an orphan raised by trolls. The script also has dialogue that, at points, is more awkward than Andrew Garfield’s stuttering in The Amazing Spider-man. These bits are mercifully brief, but is still jarring.

Overall, this movie is highly recommended. The music is so good that I won’t be surprised if the movie is adapted to Broadway, the characters are fun and charming, and the animation is amazing. This is truly a film that nearly anyone, young, old or cynical teenagers, can enjoy. So what are you waiting for? Watch it now.

“So–uh–Textbox, I was wondering, how did you know about the wall?” Kirin asked as she checked the communication device for the twentieth time that hour. There still wasn’t a reply. She sat down in the rocking chair.

Well…uh…I just remembered, I need to go wash my Furbies,”  he replied nervously.

“Texbox! Get back here!” Kirin yelled. She stood up. “I’m getting tired of you being so secretive. What’s up with the wall?”

It’s how I got here,” he said after a moment. “I think it’s some kind of hole between dimensions.” Kirin nodded thoughtfully.

“And you’re bringing it up now because…?” As soon as she asked, Kirin had a feeling she’d regret it.

It’s getting bigger.”

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TMNT 2012 Series So Far

Hello, I’m a unicorn. Here we go the lean, green ninja team, on the scene, cool teens doing ninja things, so extreme, out the sewers like laser beams, get rocked with the shell-shocked pizza kings… yeah the 2012 show decided borrow from the infamous ninja rap from Secret of the Ooze as well as being a remix of the eighties theme. If the 1980’s turtles is Adam Wests Batman and the 2003 series is Justice League Unlimited, this show would be the Teen Titans of the franchise. It even has a similar anime-esque style of animation. So for the end of Turtles month and the beginning of the new year, I decided to to take a look at the newest incaernation of everyone’s favorite crime fighting reptiles. When Nickelodeon bought the rights to the TMNT, I naively thought that the series was going to be a continuation of my beloved 2003 series. Instead, I got this. At first, I was nervous when I found out that it wasn’t going to be the case. I’m not crazy about CGI shows and prefer traditional animation, so when I saw the designs for the Turtles, I got scared.

Not my style at first, but it has grown on me.

I initially thought that they were too blocky and strange, but now they’ve grown on me, especially after seeing the promo video of a training session. Before the video, I expected to hate the show, the video, I got excited, in spite of myself.  When I started watching the show I was initially distracted by the goofy anime faces the Turtles would sometimes pull, and was wondering how the show would balance the choice in style and the serious matters that the 2003 series dealt with. But, I was again pleasantly surprised by how well the show combines comedy and tragedy. So, beware of spoilers  (seriously, there is a huge one), because I’m diving into the basic plot and characters.

Basic Plot: After the deaths of Tang Shen and his daughter, Miwa, at the hands of the Shredder, Hamato Yoshi moves to New York City. The day he purchases four small Turtles, a strange man bumps into him in the street. Sensing something off about the character, Yoshi follows the man into an alley. Here, he sees another man hand the stranger a canister full of strange mutagen. A rat gives away Yoshi’s position, and he is mutated with the Turtles in the ensuing fight. He then takes up the name of Splinter (again, not adequately explained why he changes his name) and trains the four Turtles in ninjutsu. On their fifteenth “mutation day” the four turtles head to the surface for the first time and encounter a teenage April O’Neal as she and her father are being kidnapped by and alien race known as the Kraang.  These were the same creatures who mutated the Turtles and they are plotting, you guessed it, to take over the world. And Textbox if you even think about quoting M. Bison in that Street Fighter movie, I swear I’ll…

*turns around dramatically* OF COURSE!

*sigh* It was inevitable, wasn’t it?

About as inevitable as Mikey eating pizza.

I thought so. You do realize that meme died in 2011, right?

You’re the one writing this.

Great, a meta joke. You know what?  I’m just going to ignore you now.

Fine!

Fine.

FINE!

Anyway, now that the Turtles know of the Kraang, they must prevent the invasion and terra-forming of Earth while also trying not to be killed by the Shredder, who still wants revenge on Hamato Yoshi..

The Characters:

Leonardo: As the theme song goes “Leonardo is the leader in blue, does anything it takes to get his ninja through.” This is probably the most fleshed out version of Leo I have ever seen, and he is  freaking adorable. He’s this universe’s equivalent of a Trekkie, who has the show memorized, wants to be just like the hilariously sociopathic Captain Ryan (think of him as hammier Captain Kirk), tries and fails to come up with a cool action phrases, always tries to deepen his voice when he wants to sound heroic, and has huge blue eyes and oooh, I just want to eat him up.

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That picture, by the way, is from the episode where he has a crush on a girl ninja in the Foot Clan and goes to April for advice. D’awww… Erm–anyway, I love how Leonardo isn’t the level-headed and wise leader that the rest of his brothers automatically look to. He’s still learning and inexperienced. He gets frustrated when the rest of the Turtles don’t follow his orders and challenge him, and sometimes wishes he could have fun like the others. He, essentially, acts the same way an actual kid would act if he was under the constant pressure of leading an insubordinate team while having to save the world on a regular basis. Unlike the 2003 Leo, who shows the weight of leadership in a very subtle way, this Leo is more likely to voice his frustrations with the rest of the group, but not in a way that I want to tell him to suck it up and quit his whining. Honestly, I’m surprised that most of the franchise’s writers haven’t used this personality before. It seems so obvious that the sheltered teenage leader of a group of heroes would look up to and emulate a character on a television show and would be frustrated when his brothers disobey his orders. It’s a very clever take on a character many would consider boring.

Donatello: Here’s an interesting fact, this isn’t the fist Turtle that voice actor Rob Paulsen has played. In the eighties, Paulson also was the voice of Raphael, as well as nearly every character from your childhood. The guy is amazing, but I digress. Donatello is the super geeky brother, like pretty much every incarnation, but, unlike the other versions he doesn’t get much respect for his genius. Sure, his brothers find his skills impressive (when they can understand what he’s saying) but Donnie’s often the butt of Raph’s jokes. He, like Leo, is also adorable. You’ll notice that I use this adjective to describe the Turtles and April a lot. Out of the four brothers, he’s the clumsiest and not the best fighter, but his awkwardness makes him even more lovable, especially when April is involved. Donnie has a huge and obvious crush on her, which makes his attempts to court her even funnier. I wasn’t crazy about the crush at first, mainly because I was more used to Donnie and April respecting each other over a mutual love of science, but his unrelenting dorkiness and the humor used in the relationship made me root for him in spite of myself.

Raphael: Out of the four Turtles, he’s the one I wouldn’t use cute for an adjective. He certainly has his moments, especially when he’s scared for his brothers or when interacting with animals. Raph, the gruffest character, is surprisingly good with small creatures. Usually, he is the snarky one who will make fun of his brothers even when they are minding their own business. This incarnation is Raphael at his jerkiness, but he also has a lot of the best lines. Raph is the first to call out Leo when he says something that would otherwise be cheesy.  He constantly exasperates Leo by challenging his authority, even after he sees the burden his brother carries. Even though he and his brother tend to argue, the two tend to trust each other with serious issues that the others wouldn’t understand. For example, Raph keeps Leo and Karai’s relationship between the two of them until it put the rest of the team in danger. Also, like most incarnations, he has anger issues and a tendency to brood, but will always be there for his brothers.

Michelangelo: By most rights, I should hate this character. He is astonishingly stupid most of the time, hyperactive, and goofy, but there is such a charm and innocence to him that I don’t mind it when he does something so dumb that I wonder how he is still alive. I guess that a part of the reason I don’t mind it so much is because his brothers call him out on it when Mikey is an idiot, and that they tend not to give him any respect, even when he gets something right. It’s not like he’s stupid all the time. There are points where he has to be clever and can come up with a plan on his own. He usually just isn’t very focused.  It takes some really good writing to make a character free-spirited and goofy,  but not to a point where he is annoying. His innocence is what makes him so charming.

April O’Neal: She is the target of the Kraang because of some sort psychic ability that allows her to be more in tune with the universe. Like her other incarnations, April is tenacious, stubborn, and determined, especially when it comes to her missing dad.  She also acts as the Turtles connection to the outside world. She’s been captured more that the 2003 April, but mainly because she is specifically targeted by the villains. I don’t really mind that she was captured at least three times in the first season, because she is also being trained by Splinter and has begun to hold her own in a fight. I also don’t mind that she has been de-aged to a teenager as opposed to the usual twenty-something adult she usually is portrays. This way, she is more like a sister than the other incarnations. Like I said, I like Donnie’s crush on her because it is mostly meant as a joke, but I just don’t want a love triangle between him and Casey Jones. (No, I won’t talk about Casey yet, mainly because he has only appeared in two episodes so far and hasn’t interacted with the Turtles.) I really don’t like love triangles, but if they do it and do it well, I might make an exception. April, like the rest of the character on the show, is charming and fun to a point that I don’t mind her tendency to become a damsel in distress.

Splinter: This is probably the most fun and tragic version of Splinter.  He is very dignified, but also has the funniest lines in the show and constantly jokes with and trolls his sons. His sense of humor almost distracts you from the inherent sadness of the character. This is someone who has lost everything, from his wife, daughter, and home to even his own humanity. There are points, especially when he interacts with April, where the camera will linger on him just long enough to show that he isn’t as cheerful as he appears. Yet, even though he lost everything, he still adores his sons, and isn’t brooding or depressed.

Oroku Karai: This is a major spoiler entry, so if you plan on watching the show, you may want to skip it. You have been warned. Karai is Hamato Miwa, aka Splinter’s daughter who was raised by the Shredder to hate and blame her real father for her mom’s death. That is pretty heart-wrenching for her and especially Splinter. Imagine discovering that your previously believed dead child is alive and well, but hates you with every fiber of her being. Poor Splinter. On the other hand, since Karai and Shredder’s relationship is somewhat strained, she’ll be on Splinter’s side as soon as she truly believes that Oroku Saki is the murderer of her mother and that will take away the tension between the rest of the characters. Personality wise, she is the Catwoman to Leo’s Batman, always tempting him with the darkside and a lack of responsibility. She cares a lot less about loyalty to her “dad” and is willing to disobey him more than the 2003 version.  As of now, she is the only character in the series that would dare to taunt the Shredder, and that is admirable.

Shredder: At first, I didn’t like the Shredder’s voice, mainly because I was more used to the soft, threatening hiss of the 2003 series, so Kevin Michael Richardson’s deep, booming voice took me by surprise. Now that I’m used to it, I really like it. The Shredder is as intimidating, if not even more intimidating than the 2003. Whenever Shredder shows up, any lighthearted episode will quickly become much darker. The best example would be the episode “The Gauntlet” which starts out with a mutant pigeon and ends with the wounded Turtles barely escaping a battle with the Shredder with their lives. While the Turtles and Shredder don’t often interact, when they do, you’re going to need popcorn, because things are about to get good. The new Shredder is awesome, and I am embarrassed by any doubts I had in the beginning.

Bradford/Dogpound/Rahzar and Xever/Fishface: I’m lumping these two together because they are both Shredder’s second in command and an amalgamation of Bebop, Rocksteady, and Hun. Chris Bradford is a world famous martial artist and the Shredder’s protege. He also looks like Chuck Norris, and I find that hilarious. Xever is the sociopathic Leader of the Purple Dragons and the Shredder’s street connection. These two aren’t as interesting or as gleefully evil as Hun, but are certainly more competent that Bebop and Rocksteady.  They are the ones that the Turtles usually fight, and are extremely skilled, but are nearly always defeated by our heroes, even with just “a go-kart and a water balloon.” It’s a long story, and even Shredder was confused about that one. These characters are fine, just a little less memorable than the rest of the characters on the show.

The Kraang: These aliens are an amalgamation of the Utroms and Krang from the eighties. They’re trying to terraform planet Earth so that they can invade, and have a tenuous grasp of English at best. Their dialogue is hilariously redundant, but that doesn’t take away the threat that these aliens pose to the world.

The ones who are known as the Kraang feel the emotion known as annoyance at the one who is known as Kirin for the one known as Kirin mocking the one known as Textbox.

Thank you for that illustration on how they talk. Have a cookie.

Thanks. Can I talk now?

Nope. Anyway, the Kraang are fun villains and a creative take on the character–

But it’s kind of important.

In a minute, just let me finish this. Overall, Nickelodeon’s TMNT is a more that worthy successor to the 2003 series. It manages to blend lighthearted humor with drama and not be corny. I love the 2003 series, but there are moments when they took themselves a little too seriously and came off goofy and cringe worthy. This show knows how to switch from humor to drama smoothly and with minimal cheese. The animation is wonderful and stylistic.  There is an interesting blend of 2-d and 3-d that makes the show have a unique look. It really feels like I’m watching a comic book. I also love the designs for the villains. They all are creative and threatening. Seriously, look up Rahzar’s design, it is awesome. The anime faces take a little getting used to, but now I barely notice it. This show is a love letter to the franchise. There are so many in jokes, references and foreshadowing that you need to watch every episode at least three times in order to catch them all. So what are you waiting for? Watch it now. Booyakasha!

“Booyakasha?” Textbox asked incredulously. Kirin shrugged as she reread her article.

“It is Mikey’s catchphrase,” she replied as she corrected a misspelled would.

“It sounds weird when you say it,” Textbox muttered. Kirin rolled her eyes. and scrolled to the bottom of the page.

“It sounds weird when anyone says it. Now you wanted to tell me something?” she asked as she pressed the save button and closed the window.

“Yeah, you know how Scully and Mulder haven’t contacted us two months?” Kirin glanced up, intrigued by what the inter-dimensional voice in her head had to say. She got up from the rocking chair next to her bed and walked to the nightstand. Picking up the old Ipod  communication device Eli Freud had given her after the Graron attack, she turned it on and saw that there weren’t any messages on it.

“Yeah, what about them?” she asked curiously.

“You may want to call them.”

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