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For those of you who couldn’t wait to see the finale premiere on Friday and watched it online (thanks to the generosity of the creators), The Legend of Korra Book 2: Spirits has come to an end after just about two months since it began. A new storyline begins in Book 2 as dark spirits start popping up in the physical world and attacking people, leaving it up to Avatar Korra to find and solve the problem. But spirits aren’t the only issue. Despite having defeated a couple of dangerous men from bringing chaos to Republic City, new human threats are rising and a little to close to home for Korra, bringing her back home to the Southern Water Tribe as family secrets are revealed and war looms once more.LegendOfKorra0201_Group02

Book 2 introduces some attention-grabbing new elements to an old bag of favorites, mixing things up in the Avatar with spirits. Now, this is hardly the first time spirits have come into play, given that the Avatar–the protagonist of both the original series and sequel–acts as the link between the spirit world and the physical world inhabited by humans. Fans of the original series will be familiar with Aang and friends’ various encounters with the spirit world/spirits, from Aang’s numerous conversations with past lives and spirits to the moon spirit’s involvement in a very emotional season one finale. But Korra takes things to a new level by exploring why the two worlds are separate which requires delving deep into the Avatar’s past. For those of you who missed the combination of the spiritual and physical world adventures in The Legend of Korra: Book 1, your wish has been fulfilled nicely in the second entry in the series.

images-3The adventures in the spirit world lead to several characters’ discovering new strengths, including the title character, Korra, and her mentor’s daughter, Jinora. Korra continues to grow from last season, physically strong as ever and connecting more deeply with her spiritual side. As I mentioned in my previous post on Korra, this female protagonist has never been the type that needs more physical power so, it was good to see her challenged once again to explore her connection with a spiritual, emotional side as she enters the spirit world and deals with the problems rising within her family. Korra has matured even more by the end of Book 2 and, while it is a little bittersweet for reasons you’ll have to watch to find out, the series has pushed her to a new level of independence.  Of course, I also love a good action scene and Korra is in plenty of them. In addition, Jinora, who played a minor role in Book 1, gets a fairly substantial one as she discovers that through her strong connection to the spirits she can help Korra in a way no one else can. As always, there are no shortages of strong, dynamic female characters in the Avatar world as the series brings back the old ones and adds new ones from Raava the light spirit to Kana, the daughter of Aang and Katara, and Korra’s slightly frightening cousin.

While I wholly enjoyed many of the new additions to the story, there was one reoccurring aspect from Book 1 that I could have done without: the love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. I appreciate a good romance, but rather than add to the overall story, this trope takes away some of the charm of Korra for me. The fact that the creators of Avatar are employing one of the oldest tricks in the book is not so much the problem as is the execution. Love triangles exist to add drama and an obstacle to what could otherwise be a clean shot to romance (of course romance is never so simple). But as commonly used a plot convention as it is, I actually think it’s difficult to pull off in a satisfying fashion. In many cases, for example, someone in the triangle is clearly a third wheel and no real threat to the main couple’s relationship.asamikorra-1024x574

The Legend of Korra‘s love triangle doesn’t fall victim to that scenario since Mako displays confusion over his feelings for the two girls, Korra and Asami, but that leads to another problem. After pining for Mako, losing him to Asami, then ending up together by the end of Book 1, Book 2 opens with Korra and Mako as a couple. I like that the series tries to explore an established couple instead of leaving it at the misleading “happily ever after” point, but the relationship ended up feeling contrived to me. By the end of Book 2, the audience has once again been thrown into a whirlwind of make ups, break ups, broken hearts, and confusion. While I appreciate the attempt, things just happen too fast to make a real impact, although the end of the season suggests perhaps things will be more stable in coming Books.

Even with some aspects that didn’t work for me, overall The Legend of Korra: Book 2 was an enjoyable second entry in the series. It brings back a colorful cast of characters and story elements while mixing in new ones that add new charm and intrigue to the series. The finale of Book 2 leaves us with a bang and a lot of questions for the next Book so, check it out.

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47347 I believe it’s safe to say that Attack on Titan was the hit anime series of the season. Dramatic, stylish, and shocking, the series grabbed the audience with a titan-strength grip and wouldn’t let go, even after a season finale that went down with a boom! For those of you who don’t know the set up, the series is centered in an alternative world where humanity has been pushed to the brink by things called titans–human-like beings that tower above humans, making them look like dolls in comparison. For some unknown reason, titans began rampaging long ago, making humans their prey. Driven to desperation, humankind secluded itself within a space sectioned off by three impenetrable walls to stave off further titan attacks. In addition, they created a special military group trained in combating titans, although with little success. Despite the warnings from his mother and his adopted sister, Mikasa, that he’d get himself killed, young Eren dreams of joining the most ill-fated sectors of the military that venture outside the Walls. His other friend, Armin, also dreams of going outside the Walls, although doing so through the military is the last thing on his mind.

But after living in relative peace and safety for some time, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin’s lives are forever changed when a colossal titan breaks through the first Wall, once again releasing the horrors of titans on humanity. They manage to escape to the solace of the second Wall, but not without experiencing loss–Eren’s mother and later, Armin’s grandfather. Eren’s father has disappeared, too, but before that, he leaves Eren with a key to their basement and a mysterious message that Eren find out for himself what is hidden in the basement. Seeking revenge and the answer to his father’s strange demand, Eren becomes a military trainee with his two friends and begins the fight of a lifetime.

Balancing combat sequences in which the threat of death is very real with intense moments of character interaction and development, elements of mystery, and even some humor, Attack on Titan quickly became my addiction of the season; it’s the full package. One of the best surprises of all was the way the series has handled its female characters in relation to its male characters so far. It’s been a trend in shonen manga/anime (that is, series directed at boys) to star a large cast of characters who fight alongside the male hero. Within that group, there have been a good number of female characters in the ranks of fighters, albeit significantly fewer relative to the number of male characters. The catch is, however, those female characters are often differentiated from the male fighters as intelligent and technically skilled, but lacking in prowess and actual battle ability compared to the men. That’s not to say there are not exceptions, but I often run into that type of set up.

That’s why it was nice to see Attack on Titan playing with this trend and switching things around a bit. Instead of making the hero’s female friend the strategically skilled but physically weak character and the hero’s male friend the super skilled, battle prodigy, as happens with popular series such as Naruto, the series flipped the stereotypes. Mikasa acts as the prodigy soldier whose skill excels her comrades and Armin plays the role of the physically weaker genius strategist. I like this change because it removes those skill sets (combat skill/intellect) from a stereotypical connection with one or the other gender. Guys can excel at using their heads instead of their fists and aren’t always great at combat. On the other hand, girls can be great–even better than their male comrades–at combat.shingeki_no_kyojin-06-mikasa-blade-sword-looking_totally_badass-crowd-scouting_team

That brings me to my thoughts on Mikasa. Mikasa, if nothing else, is an intriguing female character. Cool and collected to an almost alarming degree, you’re not going to see this female character hesitate in the face of danger. She’s shown over and over to be more than capable, starting in the first episode when Mikasa scares away a group of bullies who are about to hurt Eren and Armin with her mere presence. (Yes, you read that right: the female friend saves the guys for once.) In later episodes, she’s shown to have the potential to rival one of the best fighters in the military, a battle-hardened man named Levi. She’s not just physically strong, but also mentally as strong as steel. She’s able to rally herself to fight on even in the face of devastation.

She’s certainly far from perfect (she is human after all). Her devotion to Eren is at times worrying–sometimes it seems like Eren could tell Mikasa to jump off a bridge and she would–but it’s made clear that Mikasa has not made herself a mindless servant to Eren. Most notably, Eren tells her repeatedly that he doesn’t need or want her to protect him anymore, but that hasn’t stopped Mikasa from following her own wish to do so anyway. This absolute devotion does, however, make me pause and think of trends of female characters devoted to an extreme–romantically or otherwise–to a male character, which isn’t my favorite.  At least in Mikasa and Eren’s case, the devotion is a result of a traumatic event, which makes Mikasa’s reaction, and the strong bond that forms from the event, more understandable than simply being an unhealthily love-crazy girl. I also like that, from the beginning, Eren and Mikasa’s bond is founded on helping each other, instead of one (aka the girl) always hanging on the other for survival. So far, Eren and Mikasa’s has been fairly even give-and-take. With any luck, the series will keep it that way. In addition, rather than make the tough-as-nails Mikasa vulnerable, a gimmick used frequently, the revealing of her tragic past serves to depict how she became so tough. The use of Mikasa’s background (as well as Levi’s) brings difficult questions about what it means to obtain the strength we often see in action-driven series like Attack on Titan.

But Mikasa isn’t the only dynamic female character in Attack on Titan, not by a long shot. The series is full of female characters who are just as skilled and active as their male comrades. From fellow new recruits to veterans to zealous researchers, there are many types of female characters popping up to play significant roles. Without spoiling anything, there’s a particularly nice twist involving a female character at the end of the season.

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Imagine that. Practical uniforms for both men and women!

And can I just say that I am extremely happy that for once the female characters don’t get a cute/sexy, feminine version of the military uniform in the series? Creators seem compelled to give female officers miniskirts or pink versions of whatever uniforms the male officers are wearing, even combat operatives. Just because they’re female doesn’t mean you have to give them a cute uniform. It was refreshing to see a series that isn’t afraid of treating the female characters just like the male ones: they are treated seriously and don’t exist as attractive things to drool over. In fact, not only do the uniforms not objectify them, but the character designs themselves show that the female characters aren’t just there as eye candy. While there are some female characters in the cast that are cute or beautiful, there are also a number of female characters that don’t fit traditional and limited ideas of beauty. There are also no conveniently angled shots of female butts or boobs nor any unrealistically large female anatomy present. The female characters are treated just like the male characters. To me, that pretty much sums up how Attack on Titan succeeds with its female characters.

It’s violent. It’s brutal. But with interesting characters that break gender roles, good mix of character building and action, and a compelling plot that keeps you begging for the next installment, Attack on Titan is without a doubt my favorite series of the season. Give it a try if you haven’t already. You can watch the entire season for free (and legally) on Crunchyroll.com now.

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images-85What do you get when you mix a multiple layered cat-and-mouse chase, one motorcycle, and a girl and an outlaw with nothing in common but the quest to find one man and nothing to lose? You get one stylish anime called Michiko & Hatchin. Hana, a.k.a. Hatchin, is a ten-year-old girl with no mother, no father, and a foster family who is more concerned about the money brought in by volunteering to take care of Hatchin than they are about her. Now, Hatchin is a practical girl, but after suffering the bullying and abuse of her foster family day after day, even she can’t help but daydream that maybe her long-lost father will show up some day and sweep her out of that crummy little house. No father shows up, but a certain outlaw named Michiko does come literally crashing in. Michiko knows Hatchin’s father and she’s come to get Hatchin with the hopes that the girl will be able to help her find him. A reckless criminal on the run isn’t what she’s imagined as the person who would come to get her, but Hatchin takes a chance, marking the start of one of the craziest rides of her life. 

Much like Michiko herself, the show is bold and, at times, brutal. Full of cops both dirty and devoted, gangsters, honest workers and criminals alike, there’s more than a fair share of shoot outs and close calls. While Michiko searches for Hatchin’s father, Hiroshi, a childhood friend-turned-detective is hot on Michiko’s heels, driven by more than just the job description to catch her. On top of that, poking around for Hiroshi inevitably means poking the hornets’ nest since Hiroshi was involved in a violent gang and made some pretty nasty enemies as a result. In their search, the two make their way through rough areas in what appears to be South America, viewers are shown a dark world where kids no older than Hatchin tote guns for gangs and steal to make a living, revenge is common and merciless, gangs kill without mercy, and the powerful abuse their status.

But while there is plenty of action, the characters are what truly shine in Michiko & Hatchin. On their wayward journey, Michiko and Hatchin images-87encounter a myriad of people, from Hiroshi’s childhood friend, Satoshi, who survived the streets as a kid by becoming a ruthless gang leader, a young woman willing to work at a strip club and steal for her sister’s sake, a girl abandoned by her family and adopted by the circus, in love with the young man who taught her, and many more. Just as Michiko and Hatchin struggle to reach their goal, so to do the various characters along the way, each trying to reach different goals in different ways.

At the center of this bright cast are Michiko and Hatchin. The two appear completely mismatched and get off to a rough start; where Michiko is forceful and underhanded, reckless, and confident to a point of naivety at times, Hatchin is more honest, careful, and skeptical. Michiko is the first person in Hatchin’s life who is there to protect her, but Hatchin is filled with doubt about Michiko’s motivation and dislikes her dishonest ways of making a living. Likewise, Michiko wants to take care of Hatchin, but is unused to it and unsure of Hatchin’s reactions to her actions, making Michiko extremely awkward. Neither are particularly honest with their feelings to each other and both get themselves into trouble as a result, but they slowly learn to understand one another. The relationship that grows between these two different, but equally strong and independent ladies over the course of the 22 episodes is the true star underlying the action. It was nice seeing a series focus on the relationship between two female characters in a positive light for a change; yes, there’s the search for the guy and yes, there is bickering and headbutting, but none of those typical aspects takes over.         hatchin-animestocks[com]-11

Now, Michiko and a good number of the other young female characters to appear in the show are repeatedly portrayed as sexy, the worst of which can been seen in the show’s opening, which reduces Michiko to a nude figure over and over. This made me worried initially, but while I never warmed to the opening, I felt the depth of the female characters behind the sexy masquerade more than balanced it. The sexiness was over the top at times and having a couple of more young female characters who weren’t sexy would have been nice, but it didn’t ruin it. The show is full of interesting female characters with realistic problems that include but also range beyond men, which made up for it. In fact, the diverse and strong cast of female characters in Michiko & Hatchin are one of the most striking things to me about the series.

It’s not perfect, but Michiko & Hatchin has a lot of excellent things going for it. There’s plenty action and drama to be had for those who want it, but its strength lies in the relationships and characters, both male and female. And focusing on the relationship between two female characters gave the series an almost “girl power” vibe without feeling forced or cheesy. If you don’t mind realistic violence and some brutal reality, give it a try; it’s streaming on Hulu.com for free.

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Oz_The_Great_And_Powerful=Print=Poster===WDSHE_WorldwideMeet Oz. Oz is a con-man magician with more lies than magic tricks up his tattered and patched up sleeve. With his slicked-backed hair and charming smile, he easily woos lovely, naive ladies with laughably over-the-top and cheesy stories about heroic dead grandmothers and music boxes bequeathed to him, which he’d love to give to the woman of the hour. Yet for all his ego, the one girl he truly has feelings for has moved on and, even while cheating his one and only friend/partner and taking almost all the profit for himself, his business isn’t raking in the money he wants. That’s when, in the middle of a storm, Oz is chased into a hot air balloon to escape some unhappy boyfriends and he is transported to the whimsical world of Oz. Here, he meets wide-eyed and innocent witch, Theodora, who quickly becomes convinced that Oz is a powerful wizard prophesied to save the people of Oz from the terror of an evil witch. Stuck in this strange, new place, the dubious Oz’s journey begins as his path crosses with two more witches and a war between good and evil erupts. Say hello to the basic set up of Oz: the Great and Powerful.

As a kid, The Wizard of Oz was a much watched movie in my household. I remember popping in the old, clunky VHS tape and sitting down to enjoy the magical tale about a girl from Kansas and her tiny dog, swept up in a tornado into an alternate world where there are talking scarecrows, lions, and tinmen, roads of yellow-brick, good witches and bad witches, cities of dazzling emerald, and (who could forget?) flying monkeys. Therefore, it was with excitement and little bit of apprehension that I saw a modern film was in production which was supposed to act as the prequel to that beloved old tale. I knew Oz: The Great and Powerful would never recapture the charm of the original; however, I did not know that by the end of the movie–scratch that–about fifteen minutes into the movie, I would be battling two very different emotions–laughter and anguish–and neither of them good.

Putting aside other, more technical issues I had with this tale, one of the biggest short-comings were the four major characters, Oz and witches. Oz, who in all respects is an egotistical playboy with delusions of grandeur and wealth, is somehow the person who everyone in the film looks to as their only hope. As for the witches, Oz: the Great and Powerful may boast three female characters who in every right should be powerhouses in this story, but like the movie’s protagonist, it quickly becomes obvious that is little more than a pretty facade filled with hot air. Popped were my hopes of even decent female characters, when, minutes into the film, Oz is shown telling sweet lies to a gullible girl who believes even the most pathetically blatant lies. For a guy whose only skill seems to be deceiving others, Oz isn’t very good at it; rather the people around him, especially the women, seem particularly dull. This theme only continues and deepens once Oz reaches, well, Oz.

Thedora, a witch who is shown to have terrifying power, is reduced to a naive girl who latches onto and depends upon Oz like a lost puppy; she falls for his lies, hook, line, and sinker, and, while Oz has only just arrived in this new world and has no powers, he must save the witch from Oz from a flying monkey.  To add insult to injury, her character development, which is motivated entirely by something Oz does and makes all her major actions throughout the story either passively letting the guy take the lead or a reaction to a guy she’s hung up on, is something that makes this feminist cringe.

Glinda, a woman shown to be sharper than the average Oz women since she’s able to see threw Oz’s lies and one of the sole leaders of resistance against the wicked witch, is similarly stripped of any meat as a female character. Despite her intelligence and power as a leader, she turns to Oz to take action against her enemies as if she were unable to do something herself. Yet when one looks at the two characters, a witch with magical powers and a group firmly behind her or a man who has only just come to this world with only lies in his arsenal, one wonders why Glinda seems powerless without Oz in the lead. In the end, she’s made into the maiden with a pure heart and little substance under her fluff, a pretty accessory.

In this world of powerful witches, the only ones who seem able to lead themselves are the “evil” ones. This old-fashioned idea, which is plain to see in Disney princess movies and fairy tales, frames women who have power like queens and witches as power-hunger vultures or twisted souls and puts them in juxtaposition to the pure heroines who embody traditional ideals of what a good girl is. Yet these girls the viewers are supposed to cheer for are the ones who end up helpless and dependent on a male character. We aren’t supposed to like the female characters who want power or take action themselves. On top of that, the female characters in Oz: the Great and Powerful seem to exist to highlight Oz’s “greatness,” whether it’s his power to save them from their troubles and danger or showing his prowess over the evil ones. Oh, and did I mention that the Wicked West of the West gets a sexy upgrade? Because, you know, just because you’re overflowing with malice and busy sending flying monkeys out to wreak havoc doesn’t mean a girl should neglect to show a little sex appeal. oz-witch

There are many good tales about apparently unethical characters who must struggle between doing what’s right or what’s easy, doing something selfish or doing something selfless, and sink or swim making their choice. These moral dilemmas show inner battles that all people experience. Yet Oz: the Great and Powerful speaks of egotistical fantasies where a blowhard lives in a world all too ready to fan his ego; a world where people (especially women) line up to hang on his every empty word, where everyone waits with breath held for one man to take action, and even three powerful witches with magic at their command and kingdoms at their feet are blown away by a dashing con-man with nothing by parlor tricks and lies up his sleeve. Even the name, “the Great and Powerful” reeks of a puffed up ego. Oz (and, in fact, the description of the movie) claims he is on a journey teetering on whether Oz will be simply a good man or cross the line into greatness, but throughout the entire film, I found myself wondering how great, or even good, enter into this lackluster tale where sexism runs so thick it seems to have been taken straight from the era of black-and-white pictures the movie tries to emulate in the first fifteen minutes.

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51HS5B-v9gL._SY300_Continuing my exploration of Otomen, I sat down to read the next three volumes of this slightly goofy tale of a young man struggling to keep his socially accepted manly image when his really passions lie in “girly” activities like sewing and cooking. In these volumes, protagonist Asuka is still trying to juggle his inner self with his exterior image and what society’s expectations are for a man, but he’s  unwittingly started to gather a group of guys (and one girl) who also have qualities/interests that are considered weird for their gender. For now, rather than serious and continuous drama, Otomen touches on social questions through somewhat over-the-top episodic “adventures.”

At volume 6, this series continues to depict issues of gender roles and stereotypes well. Creator Aya Kanno seems determined to tackle all taboos of things considered too feminine for men to be interested in. Asuka’s main interests are cooking and sewing, Juta creates a popular girls’ comic, and three more male characters have appeared whose interests are makeup, flowers, and music considered too feminine for men’s taste, respectively. Almost all of them feel the need to hide their interests, even Juta who is constantly trying to get Asuka to be himself, and other characters who buy into gender stereotypes make comments reinforcing traditional ideas.

I like how Kanno is handling character development; even as Asuka and the others find fellow men with interests outside the narrowly defined socially accepted masculine interests, none of them suddenly shout to the world, “I like cute things!” or what have you. When the whole of society seems to look down on something, it makes sense that the characters in Otomen aren’t jumping to reveal their secrets. But with each encounter with someone else who has similar struggles, Asuka gains some small amount of confidence and sees his struggles reflected clearly in other people. He also gains acceptance within his growing group of friends. However, even with that, others in Asuka’s life still hold tightly to traditional gender roles, making him feel forced to keep up his act of macho-ness. That feels like a very realistic situation.51iSqS6G3KL._SY300_

In addition, Kanno makes a good point in volume 5 about female and male roles in society. Ryo, Asuka’s girlfriend who has more masculine traits than feminine, is elected to represent her class in a contest to find the most ideal girl. Ryo doesn’t want to let her classmates down, but she’s not good at traditionally feminine things like flower arranging or cooking. Even with Asuka’s help, her lack of skill in those things is revealed to the school and she faces some criticism and disappointment. However, after a pep talk from Asuka, Ryo wins their acceptance through her hard work. She may not be the traditional ideal woman, but the crowd is not only okay with that, they’re impressed by Ryo’s mix of femininity and masculinity. This is just one example in one story, but I think this speaks to the overall trend of society being able to embrace females with masculine traits/interests more easily than males with feminine traits/interests. Certainly, that’s true for American society. As a woman, I can take a martial arts class, play video games, and choose career over family with perhaps some resistance from society, but if a man took ballet classes, collected dolls, or wanted to stay at home and take care of the kids, he’s looked down upon.

51yi06ATKLL._SY300_However, while I love how Otomen has explored male characters who break gender stereotypes, I can’t help but wish there were more female characters behaving outside gender roles as well. Ryo is a lot of fun to watch since she often takes a different role than other high school romance heroines, but the other girls are shown drooling over handsome guys, squealing about new makeup products, and reading shojo manga. No offense intended against any of those past times, but they’re all extremely gender stereotyped. There has also been a case of the often portrayed vicious female rivalry over a guy and the ugly ducking makeover scenario. These are small things considering my overall enjoyment of the series, but I would like to see another female character who isn’t typical.

In short, even with some slight drawbacks, Otomen continues to be a fun series prepared to deal with all sorts of male stereotypes and some female stereotypes. The growing cast of characters are likable and cute and the somewhat crazy episodic adventures they go on often make modern statements about gender. I’ll be sure to review the next few volumes and I’d like to do a special post on relationships in Otomen since I couldn’t fit it in this post.

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images-66Rain splashes down on pavement as police lights flash red. A section of a busy urban area in Japan has been crossed off by unmistakable yellow crime scene tape. A lone young woman approaches a stern-looking officer in front of the scene, who informs her bluntly that they’re short on officers and she’ll have to learn on the job. It’s the classic set up for rookie Akane Tsunemori’s first day on the job as an inspector for the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division and the beginning of a gritty futuristic crime drama called Psycho-Pass.

Set in a relatively realistic setting of Japan in the future, people have created something called the Sibyl System, an omnipotent and all-knowing computer system capable of reading people’s inner workings like their mental states and personalities–their psychology. (Interestingly, the system reads these things off a device in each person’s body called a Psycho-Pass, a play on the the Japanese word for “psychopath.”) In order to create a peaceful and efficient society, the Sibyl System can determine things like what jobs they would be best suited for and, more disturbingly, if they are a liability to society, someone who has the potential to commit crime. The latter is called a person’s Crime Coefficient.

images-69Female protagonist Akane Tsunemori is blessed with an incredibly stable Psycho-Pass and when the system determines that she is capable of taking on some of the top jobs in society, Akane decides to take the one job only she was determined suited for in her graduating class: an inspector. It’s a job few can handle given the intense and rough nature of it, which puts investigators in contact with some of the worst of society.

That leads us to the male protagonist of this series, Shinya Kogami. Like Akane, he joined the Division as a promising inspector some years ago. However, somewhere along the line, he become unstable after he became obsessed with a certain case he had been working on and his Crime Coefficient rose to a point where the system deemed him as someone who could potentially commit a crime. As a result, he had two choices: sit in a mental hospital the rest of his life or become an “Enforcer,” someone with a high Crime Coefficient who works under the supervision of an inspector like Akane.images-68

Together he and Akane Tsunemori, along with the other Inspectors and Enforcers as well as some pretty screwy criminals, show the audience the two sides of the Sibyl System: those who are accepted and must work to keep order and remain good citizens and those who are seen as dangers to society, potentially or already. In the world of Psucho-Pass, there is no magic or pink-haired and ditzy heroines, nor are there romantic messages about friendship and true love. While it may be futuristic, it is firmly grounded in harsh reality, exploring the human mind. Can a system truly be relied on to tell us if we are mentally stable or a danger to society and is it right to condemn those who may or may not become a harm to society just based on their potential mental instability? Are humans the master of their own will if they are so reliant on this system? It’s questions like these that are raised from the beginning by the characters in this world.

As for the female characters in this series, it’s hard to deny that Akane Tsunemori is a strong female character, both mentally andimages-65 physically. She starts as the newbie in the group and Shinya Kogami, being her senior, acts as a kind of mentor. At times I felt like Kogami overshadowed her, but given that he is more experienced, I suppose it’s natural. Yet while Kogami may have more experience, it is interesting to watch as Akane transforms over the course of the series’ 22 episodes from an inexperienced, somewhat idealist rookie into a sharp and hardened inspector. Also intriguing is the interactions between the two protagonists, Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami, as the two struggle to solve problems in extremely different ways. Tsunemori has faith in the system and believes in creating a peaceful society while Kogami has fallen to the position of Enforcer and walks a darker path. After one run through of the series, I was overall pretty happy with Akane Tsunemori’s portrayal.

If moody and gritty isn’t your thing, this probably isn’t the series for you. I also want to warn readers that the show does have a lot of graphic violence and can be pretty brutal. (It’s certainly not a show for kids.) However, if you’re okay with that and you’re in the mood for a stylish anime that tells a more mature story with two equally interesting protagonists and a dark, deep, and twisting plot revolving around crime and human psychology, you might want to check Psycho-Pass out. It’s streaming on Hulu.com for free.

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200px-Seraphina_book_cover_(US_addition)I was browsing the shelves of the library the other day when I came across a book with a cover of a dragon in a medieval city and “Seraphina” scrawled over it. I was intrigued by the hint of fantasy oozing from it, but what I found was something more than dragons and swords. Seraphina takes readers to a rich world where, after centuries of fighting, dragons and humans have come to a shaky peace. The knights of old who slew dragons have been banished and dragons shift into a human guise to interact with humans. But while peace may have been established between the two groups’ kingdoms, understanding between humans and dragons is still far off. Humans see dragons as monsters incapable of feeling and dragons think humans are at the will of emotion rather than logic. A group of radical citizens called the Sons of St. Ogdo continues prejudice and violence against dragons and a prince of the ruling family was mysteriously murdered in a dragon-like fashion just before the start of the story.

There is certainly action and intrigue (weighted by a hefty sense of realism mixed perfectly with fantasy), but the core of the story is something more personal. Caught in this turbulent time is the protagonist, Seraphina, the daughter of a well-known lawyer with a secret that could cause tremendous grief to both him and Seraphina if the truth were exposed; Seraphina’s mother, her father’s first wife, was actually a dragon. As a half-dragon, half-human child, Seraphina has been kept out of the public eye as much as possible, taught not to draw attention to herself and forced to lie to keep her dreadful secret safe. She is caught between two groups who cannot seem to see eye-to-eye and both of who condemn intermingling. In a world that rejects even the possibility of her existence in disgust, in which neither group accepts what she truly is, how is she supposed to accept herself? This question hangs over both the readers and Seraphina as she struggles with self-acceptance and trust in her interactions with the other characters, as she draws closer to acquaintances and pulls back for fear of being rejected and exposed. It doesn’t help when she’s constantly reminded of these differences, from the silver scales on her wrists and waist to the strange people and memories that inhabit her dreams and if left unchecked, cause her to collapse.

But while Seraphina may struggle with who she is, she is not going to let that keep her cooped away her whole life. She possesses the inner strength to go after her love of music, landing her a job as assistant to the court composer. Through this job, Seraphina suddenly finds herself more in the public and in the thick of things than ever, between a job tutoring the second heir to the throne, Princess Glisselda, and a meeting with her cousin, Prince Lucian, and a personal connection with dragons like her uncle Orma. With an important anniversary of the peace treaty approaching, Seraphina is drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of the queen’s son. Her knowledge and connection to both dragons and humans may prove vital, but she must also keep her secret hidden as she grows closer to Glisselda and Lucian. But the lies she tells to protect her secret could ruin those thin connections.

The whole story is very well done and interlaces various elements and themes seamlessly. It has a good pace, balancing action with internal struggles and character development in a way that keeps readers engaged on several levels. I found myself curious from the first page and very quickly hooked. Finally, while there was a bit of romance, it never became the main drive of the story, which I appreciated. Romance done well is fun, but I often see it become the central factor in novels with female protagonists. This seems to perpetuate the stereotype that the most important event in a woman’s life is finding love. However, in novels like Seraphina, writers show that romance is an important event, but many of things contribute to the adventure.

In the end, the title says it all; as much as this is a story of political intrigue, prejudice, and medieval fantasy, the heart of the story lies in a girl named Seraphina’s journey of self-acceptance and discovery. And that journey, I think, is something that almost all of us can relate to on some level.

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