Saturday, June 30, 2012

Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2 Trailer

It's finally available. Watch the teaser and official trailer below for the upcoming film, Breaking Dawn Part 2. Renesmee, daughter of Bella and Edward, will make her grand appearance. The theater premiere date is November 16, 2012.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Magic Bleeds (Kate Daniels #4)

"Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for the magic. When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it rose."

Magic Bleeds, by Ilona Andrews, is the fourth novel in the Kate Daniels series. It takes place in futuristic Atlanta where magic has overtaken technology. Supernatural beings and experienced mages roam the land. When the magic is up, guns refuse to start and cars fail to start. The process repeats itself unpredictably. Thus, society has had to readjust infrastructure and protocols according to the new times.

Kate Daniels works for the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, officially as a liaison with the mercenary guild. She also cleans up the paranormal problems no one else wants to handle—especially if they involve Atlanta’s shape-shifting community. When she receives an order to investigate a fight at the Steel Horse, a bar midway between the territories of the shape-shifters and the necromancers, Kate quickly discovers something powerful has entered Atlanta. Worse, this foe is related to her notorious father, whose powerful magic created the first vampire thousands of years ago.

This battle may be too much for Kate and Curran, the Lord of the Beasts. Panic spreads throughout Atlanta when mysterious deaths and diseases appear in sequences. With Kate trying to keep her special blood a secret, she may have no choice but to take on family.

[Warning: this section contains spoilers] Andrews never ceases to amaze me with her vivid storytelling skills in the world of Kate Daniels. I believe this was the climax of the series -- will Kate stay with the Order (whose policies she always had doubts), or switch sides to the Pack (while not entirely open to non-shape-shifter members, she does have much support and clout in the community)? I think she made the best decision (the Pack) given her extreme circumstances. She met her greatest foe (her aunt, Roland's sister) and learned a lot about her family background.

Kate also found love in Curran, the Beast Lord. Together, they've been through the best and worst of times. Although Kate didn't want to admit it, she truly desired companionship with him. She always used her occupation as a mercenary for the Order as an excuse to avoid hurting other people and keep her family blood a secret. Curran and Kate work well together as couple, and I look forward to their romantic moments. His strong desire to rescue Kate and stay by her side sealed the deal.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Slays
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Kaichou wa Maid Sama! (2010)

Kaichou wa Maid Sama! ~The President Is a Maid!~ (2010) is a Japanese teen romance comedy about a female high school student who secretly balances her work as a waitress with her duties as student council president. It contains 26 episodes + 1 OVA.

Misaki Ayuzawa is the first female student council president at Seika High School, formerly an all-boys school with a notorious reputation for its wild students. She rules the school with a strict iron-clad discipline, acting as an anti-boys dictator so that the girls can feel safe in the predominately male environment. Despite her tough demeanor in school, she secretly works as a part-time waitress at a maid cafe to financially support her impoverished family.

One day, Takumi Usui, a mysterious and handsome student known for brushing off girls' love letters, accidentally discovers Misaki's secret. He is also her academic rival, always placing one-spot ahead of her in class rank exams. Takumi promises to keep her part-time job a secret from the student body if he can spend quality time with her. Suddenly, Misaki finds her reputation at Seika High School at his mercy. Little will she know that their time together will gradually lead to a blossoming yet erratic romance.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama is your typical but slightly unique teen romance story that makes you laugh, cry and smile. Besides that, it's not original but has an interesting lead (Misaki) and sexy suitor/potential partner (Takumi). Misaki is assertive girl with difficult family circumstances, but nevertheless tries to improve herself. Takumi, while seeming almost too-perfect, has a laidback, common-sense attitude and cares deeply about Misaki's well-being. Overall, they make a cute couple. The minor characters provide a lot of funny and suspenseful moments. I highly recommend this anime.

You can continue to follow the story in the manga. After you finish the anime, the arc picks up at Chapter 36. The manga further explores Takumi's family background and the reappearance of Misaki's father. Misaki continues to face obstacles that truly test her relationship with Takumi. I really hope that the producers (J.C. Staff) consider a second season. The anime gained international fanfare among many female viewers. Since it's been two years since its original run, it is becoming less likely that will happen.

Opening Theme: "Secret" by Saya Mizuno

Ending Theme: "Heidi" by Yokan

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: The Golden Lily (Bloodlines #2)

Should she trust the Alchemists -- or her heart?

The Golden Lily, by Richelle Mead, is the second novel in the Bloodlines series. Sydney Sage, an Alchemist, is undercover as a high school student at a Californian-based boarding school to protect Jill Dragomir, a Moroi princess, from assassins who want to throw the Moroi kingdom into civil war. Formerly in disgrace for her association with vampires and dhampirs, Sydney is now praised for her loyalty and obedience among the Alchemists when she successfully investigated a tattoo ink shop using vampire magic.

She lives among other dhampirs (Dimitri, Eddie and Angeline) and Moroi (Adrian, Sonya) in the city. In this secret location, the spirit users (Adrian and Sonya) conduct experiments to find a cure for Strigoi victims. Once a Strigoi (an evil vampire with superhuman strength and fierce taste for blood) has returned to its normal form (Moroi, dhampir, or human), that person can no longer become Strigoi again. As Sydney becomes closer to her friends, she begins to question her centuries-old Alchemist beliefs, her idea of a normal teenage life, and which path should she follow. Her world becomes even more complicated when magical experiments show Sydney may prevent--and even cure--Strigoi transformations.

But it’s her fear of being different and using magic that scares her more than anything. Equally daunting is her new romance with Brayden, a guy who seems to be her match in every way. Yet, as perfect as he seems, Sydney finds herself being drawn to someone else—someone forbidden to her. When a shocking secret threatens to tear the vampire world apart, Sydney’s loyalties are suddenly tested more than ever before. She wonders how she's supposed to strike a balance between the principles and dogmas she's been taught, and what her instincts are now telling her.

Bloodlines is a spin-off series from Vampire Academy that focuses on Sydney Sage, an alchemist and human teen who serves to protect vampire secrets and human lives. She bears proof of her Alchemist lineage with the golden lily tattoo on her cheek. She spent her entire life learning that vampires and dhampirs (half-vampires) are evil and unnatural beings, but those beliefs are put to the test when she must live among them in Palm Springs, CA.

Although Sydney was a minor character in the last two books of Vampire Academy, she has become a remarkable lead character in her own series. I am starting to admire Sydney in the same way I cheered for Rose in her efforts to reunite with her true love and former Strigoi, Dimitri. I love this series so much because Mead challenges and inspires her characters to face risks and overcome the odds. In the end, they become stronger, happier, and wiser individuals.

[Warning: this section contain spoilers.] There is also growing chemistry between Sydney and Adrian. Should a human and a Moroi engage in a romantic relationship? How can Sydney ignore Alchemist beliefs that she has ingrained for her entire life to love Adrian? In some ways, I am happy that Adrian can finally focus his attention on someone other than Rose Hathaway (from Vampire Academy series). Sydney and Adrian initially seem like an odd couple, but they do complement one another. Adrian was trying too hard to impress Rose, whereas he wants to become a better man because of Sydney. The book ends on a cliffhanger with a huge question mark on whether their relationship could possibly work. The next novel may address Sydney's status with the Alchemists. Meanwhile, I can't wait to learn more about the history behind the Warriors of Light, a group of guardians that splintered from the Alchemists.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Bloodlines series, The Indigo Spell. In the meantime, check out this latest Los Angeles Times interview with Richelle Mead. You can also find more information about the third novel in this MTV article.

Its release date is February 13, 2013. Eight more months! You can read the description here. Stay tuned!
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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: Sailor Moon (1992-1997)

Sailor Moon (also known as Bishoujo Shojo Sailormoon ~Pretty Soldier Sailormoon~ in Japanese) is a highly-popular magical-girl, action-adventure anime that debuted in Japan on March 7, 1992. Originally planned to run for only six months, the anime repeatedly continued due to its popularity, concluding only after a five-year run (1992-1997). Based on the manga of the same name by Naoko Takeuchi, the successful anime adaptation resulted in spin-offs such as as art books, musical theatre productions, video games, and a tokusatsu (live-action) series.

The story focuses on the life of a teenage girl who learns of her destiny as the legendary warrior of love and justice, Sailor Moon. As the reincarnation of Moon Princess Serenity, she must defeat evil powerful villains that once destroyed her beloved kingdom. With the aid of her talking cat (Luna), she bands together with the other Sailor Soldiers (former guardians of Moon Princess Serenity) and the mysterious Tuxedo Mask to save Earth.

This anime lasted five seasons (200 episodes) and featured three films. The five major story arcs revolves around the reincarnated defenders of a kingdom that once spanned the Solar System and around the different evil forces that they encounter. The major characters are teenage girls who can transform into heroines named for the Moon and the planets they used to represent. The use of "Sailor" comes from a style of girls' school uniform popular in Japan, the sērā fuku ("Sailor outfit"), on which Takeuchi modeled the Sailor Senshi's uniforms. The elements of fantasy in the series are also heavily symbolic, often based on Greek/Roman and Asian mythology.

The anime has been cited as revitalizing the magical girl genre by adding dynamic heroines and action-oriented plots. The music (insert songs, battle music, and image songs) are both catchy and memorable. Each voice actor also sang character songs. It has influenced other popular magical-girl series, such as Fushigi Yuugi and The Vision of Escaflowne. It also had a large international following in Asia, Europe and South America before it was picked up for production in North America. The English adaptations of both the manga and anime series became the first successful shoujo title in the United States. The anime adaptation of Sailor Moon attempted to capitalize on the success of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Dragon Ball Z.

In my childhood, I loved Sailor Moon because it symbolized empowerment for girls. I watched teenage girls enduring everyday pressures while at the same time protecting the world from evil forces. I was awe-struck by their pretty transformations, their strong friendships, and reoccurring themes of love and justice. My cousins and I would rush to the living room to make sure we made it in time to watch the show every afternoon. It is primarily responsible for opening me up to the world of Japanese animation. Nearly twenty years later, Sailor Moon has developed an international cult following to this day. In 2004, there were over 3.3 million websites about Sailor Moon!

In 2011, Sailor Moon saw a resurgence in popularity with the bimonthly release of the new manga comic collections in English and the video game. Some ideas thrown around have been to 1) Re-dub the entire series (in 2009, Funimation considered this option because the English version censored many scenes from the original Japanese version), 2) release a Blu-ray set, and 3) stream the episodes over Netflix, Hulu, etc. Naoko Takeuchi, the manga artist and creator of Sailor Moon, also created a website to commemonrate the 20th anniversary of the highly-acclaimed series (stay tuned to other anniversary-related events).

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed watching Sailor Moon in my childhood. I highly recommend this anime and hope that you take the time to watch it. DVD copies are difficult to find because Toei Animation still holds the license, but it is available to watch online various anime streaming websites. Sailor Moon fans may also want to check out Warriors of Legend: Reflections of Japan in Sailor Moon. The book analyzes the nuances of Japanese society and its effect in shaping the main cast of Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon American Opening Theme (English)

Sailor Moon Transformations and Attacks (English)

All Sailor Scouts Group Transformation (English)

Outer Scouts Transformations and Attacks (instrumental)
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: At Grave's End (Night Huntress #3)

"Some things won't stay grave's end"

At Grave's End, by Jeaniene Frost, is the third novel in the Night Huntress series. As Christmas approaches, it should be the best time for Bones and Cat as husband and wife. In the last novel, Bones claimed her as his wife in vampire customs and became his own independent Master. As a team, they work together along with the military to protect mortals from rogue vampires. As Cat's deadly reputation as the Red Reaper spreads, however, vampires can know how to uncover her disguise on missions. Since Cat can no longer keep her true identity a secret, it becomes harder for her to avoid terrible danger.

Meanwhile, a former lover from Bones' past reappears with a vengeance. She is determined to put a stake in his heart. It is later revealed that she is the estranged wife of Mencheres, Bones' grandsire. Unfortunately, Cat's special agent skills and tricks have not prepared her for such ancient, lethal magic. When Bones is pronounced dead in a vision, she almost loses her will to live. Therefore, Cat must fully embrace her vampire abilities if she wants to protect others and save herself from a fate worse than the grave.

Like the two previous novels, At Grave's End does not disappoint. In fact, Frost includes sexual imagery, action, betrayals, and twists in this paranormal romance. There are many new character and plot introductions, and it was a pleasure to turn every page. This novel also makes for a nice holiday treat.

Meanwhile, Cat and Bones continue to be the best bad-ass couple out there. While their relationship is full of sarcasm and irony, both work together flawlessly to solve mysteries. For Cat, her list of enemies continue to grow once the undead realize her dangerous streak. Overall, I can't get enough of the Night Huntress series because it entices and excites you to want more of their chemistry. I recommend this book to all fans of paranormal and urban fantasy genres.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Night Huntress series, Destined for an Early Grave

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Music Video: "Black Rose" by Eliza Rickman

Eliza Rickman, California-based singer-songwriter, is an alternative folk singer and performance artist. You can read more about her background (including her fear of singing!) here. Below is one of her most popular singles, "Black Rose."

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels #3)

"When magic strikes and Atlanta goes to pieces, it's a job for Kate Daniels."

Magic Strikes, by Ilona Andrews, is the third novel in the Kate Daniels series. After Kate, mercenary for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid, discovers werewolf Derek nearly dead, she must face her greatest challenge yet, something she hasn't experienced in nearly ten years. Mysterious ancient beings with unknown magical abilities desire to grab their hands on a powerful gem that could destroy the entire Atlanta shape-shifting community.

She also promises Jim, a were-cat and head of security, to not reveal the details of the heinous crime to the Beast Lord. Her investigation leads her to the Midnight Games, an invitation-only preternatural gladiatorial event. The winners proceed to the next round and the losers suffer an early grave. It will be up to Kate and her shape-shifting companions to stop the dark, apocalyptic plot fairly and squarely.

I am officially hooked to this series. I finished this book in three days! I love the main characters in the Kate Daniels universe. The authors also incorporate a mix of Norse, Hindu and Asian mythology to spice up the mystery and action. The Midnight Games eerily resembles the gladiator tournaments in Ancient Rome. I also thought of Kate in the role of Katniss in the The Hunger Games. In a few weeks, I will start on the novella, Magic Mourns, which takes place right after Magic Strikes.

Readers will learn how Curran became the Beast Lord, and how Kate's ancestry gives her special magical abilities. Curran is a menacing heartthrob who is willing to risk his life for Kate. Despite her stubborn demeanor, Kate also fears how a romantic relationship could damage her image professionally (Readers will also discover both are six years apart in age). It's a risk she's not willing to make despite her true feelings. She is also pushed to her limits when one of her friends is brutally tortured beyond recognition. She feels responsible and vows to fight to the brink of death to amend things before more people get hurt. Readers will feel very empathetic to Kate, and learn how she became who she is today. It's another reason why I like her character so much.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Bleeds.
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Vampire Knight (2008)

Vampire Knight (2008) is a Japanese vampire romance anime . It takes place in an alternative future where vampire hunters were formed to defend humans from immortal vampires. It contains two seasons, Vampire Knight and Vampire Knight Guilty, with a total of 26 episodes.

It was a stormy winter night when 5-year-old Yuuki Cross was attacked by a vampire and rescued by another vampire.10 years later, Yuuki, now the adopted daughter of school headmaster, Kaien Cross, has grown up to become a guardian. With her adopted brother and childhood friend, Zero Kiryu, both swore to protect the Day students (humans) from the Night students (vampires) at the elite boarding school, Cross Academy. This role also enables Yuuki to stargaze at her childhood crush, Kaname Kuran, who rescued her ten years ago.

Zero, now eighteen, hates vampires for destroying his life --- the murder of his parents and the kidnapping of his twin brother. His also struggles with transforming into a a creature of the night himself. On that fateful night, he was bitten by a powerful pure-blood vampire. The bloodlust becomes harder for Zero to control. The Kiryus were a legendary vampire hunter family, and Zero swore to uphold his family name by killing rogue (Level E) vampires.

Although Kaien believes vampires and humans can co-exist together, Zero does not believe that vampires have renounced their evil and murderous ways. When Yuuki begins to remember her childhood, she must make an ultimate decision: will she choose a life with Kaname, her childhood hero, or Zero, whom she wants to protect? Yuuki and Zero begin to show signs of a forbidden love. Furthermore, a darker secret is about to emerge that will unlock the truth behind Yuuki's past. Everyone has a role, and there is no escape until the mystery is over.

This dark romance was wonderful to watch. Everything falls into place like a chess piece. I could feel the pain and confusion from the main cast as each try to figure out their role in Kaname's plan. Yuuki's strong desire to help others continues even if her fate changes. Each story arc kept me on edge for the entire 26 episodes. Typical for many Japanese dramas catered to female teen audiences, the male characters look more beautiful than the female roles! To my astonishment, the English dubbed version is actually very good.

Although it disappoints me that the producers will not create a third season, you can pick up the story in the manga at Volume 10, Chapter 47: Towards Each of Their Respective Paths. Overall, I highly recommend this anime.

"Futatsu no Kodou to Akai Tsumi" by ON/OFF

"Still Doll" by Kanon Wakeshima

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