Monday, April 27, 2015


Set in the Victorian era, the queen's watchdog Ciel Phantomhive is a name to be feared in underground London. The ten-year-old head of the Phantomhive household is just biding his time to exact revenge on the people who murdered his parents and put him through a humiliating torture afterwards. After his brief disappearance, Ciel reappears with a mysterious butler Sebastian Michaelis who seems to be capable of doing everything, even the most impossible tasks. The others are unaware however that Ciel and Sebastian formed a contract so the boy can accomplish his goals. With very few leads, Ciel's best hope to find the perpetrators is by solving crimes the investigators could not handle.

Members of the Phantomhive household; Ciel in front

This 24-episode series with a title like Black Butler might seem frivolous and a stuff for girls to squeal over, but it does have some interesting twists near the end. There is also a significant change in the overall mood when Ciel and Sebastian find some clues to the murderers of the Phantomhive. Kuroshitsuji is not without some bloody fights and grisly deaths; this is after all about a demon who wants to devour the soul of a troubled child out for bloody retribution. Sure, the fight scenes are not on par with most action series but if you want to see people die in a fight (not just become buddies later) then you won't get disappointed.

It has some good mix of humor, action and mystery. The characters are not so hard to like. Just do not let a few enthusiastic fans discourage you before giving the series a try. If you're also into detective stuff, the series has a lot of episodes that involve solving crimes. There's one case involving Jack the Ripper. As for the accuracy of a Victorian-era setting, I cannot vouch for that (I'm no expert) although from the examples I've seen I think the series can fairly stand up to that scrutiny.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic

This 25-episode series tells of a young boy's quest to find the meaning of what it is to be a magi. Aladdin's adventures take him to different places and allow him to meet different people including Alibaba Saluja. The latter dreams of conquering a dungeon occupied by Djinns, which are scattered throughout the world and hold treasures and power. The two become instant friends but that friendship will be tested when they are separated. Transported to a foreign land, Aladdin gains some understanding on what a magi is. Meanwhile, Alibaba is forced to face a task he has avoided for most of his life.

Set in an alternate ancient world and inspired by the tales from the Arabian Nights, the series takes the viewer to familiar yet strange places, ruled by by various powerful forces. Whether the two young boys will be able to achieve their goals will be determined by the alliances they forge and the difficult decisions they have to make.

The magic system used in the series is pretty easy to understand as it has parallels in some myths. The series also borrows some names, but do not expect them to be represented the same way they are written in literature. The combat system, which is passable, uses both magic and melee or projectiles. Most of the important fights however are not resolved in this first installment.

Characters whose names have been taken from literature are not exactly replicas, but the changes seem to fit the story. If you are not into young guys who are indecisive and sometimes whiny, you might not like Alibaba; the others are okay although you generally find such character types in most series.

If you're into mythology and history, you might find Magi interesting. You do not need to have a background of the Arabian Nights however to understand the magic and combat system and the setting in the series. Everything else just seems generic to me. A young protagonist is destined to do something great but he doesn't understand his powers. He meets friends who help him and the foes try to stop him; but in Magi you get two such heroes in Alibaba and Aladdin.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Monday, February 16, 2015


Nai is searching for a guy named Karoku but his only clue to the latter's whereabouts is a bracelet. He meets a thief named Gareki whom he was forced to pair up with to escape a setup in a mansion. Later in the story, Nai and Gareki meet the members of Circus, a defense organization. This meeting introduces them to potential allies as well as place them in danger for coming under the watchful eyes of another organization. This seems to be a clue to Nai's past and the identity of the man he has been searching for.

Nai and Gareki

Fans of the science fiction and fantasy genre might enjoy the series because Karneval's story relies heavily on magic and combat, and hi-technology machines.

An interesting plot, characters, and good animation aside, the point of the story does not become clear until after a few episodes. The audience however will determine right away that there are different factions involved and that the story goes deeper than what was previously assumed. There is some back story and several supporting cast but the point of the story is still not quite clear even at the end of the tv series. 

Karneval uses characters whose true nature and intentions are not clear yet, baiting the audience to guess for explanations or look forward to more hints... or just make them frustrated. In a series just like this, the viewers should obviously not look for a resolution but cohesiveness of the information and strength of the plot development. Whatever happens at the end of the 13-episode series should be enough to determine if the story has promise or not (the manga is ongoing as of this writing). I have mixed feelings about Karneval. I think what was shown in the 13 episodes are just the beginnings of its story. There is another anime that is similar to this (Pandora Hearts) and it was frustratingly short but good. For now (if there is a follow-up tv series), I think it has just enough promise to make it a potentially good series.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Blood Lad

This 10-episode series has an interesting mix of humor, action, fantasy, horror, and romance. The biggest setback perhaps is that it is about a vampire. Unfortunately for those who are predisposed to hate the overrated supernatural creatures, Staz is not interested in acting like your typical vampire. He is one of the bosses in the demon world and likes Japanese culture more than human blood. When a Japanese girl finds her way into the demon world, Staz was excited. But while he was dealing with an intruder in his territory, Yanagi Fuyumi was killed by a monster. Now Staz has to find a way to bring her back to life.

I thought at first that the focus would be on the lead character's vampiric characteristics and how it will interfere in his relationship with Fuyumi. The story later shifted to how the girl can possibly return to her true form although it tended to drown in all the humor and back stories.

The series has surprisingly good action scenes. When you have a nearly invincible lead character whose extent of power is only hinted at, I think that more than makes up for the fan-service that other viewers might dislike. The series also has a great supporting cast. Those who will end up liking the series will find it too short. 

If you are looking for a different kind of vampire, I suggest that you give Blood Lad a chance. Then again, the effectiveness of its humor is a personal reference. Overall, I think it had some strong moments, especially the fight scenes, but the pace of the story does not make it better than most series in the comedy genre.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Sukitte Ii na yo.

Tachibana Mei vowed long ago not to make friends again so she would never get hurt, and yet a handsome and popular guy, Kurosawa Yamato, seems to have noticed something in her. All that was needed was for a nearly unfortunate incident to happen to allow fate to make her open herself up for a change she was slow to welcome.

Like most romance stories, one of them falls in love with the other eventually. The situation just got worse for Mei when Yamato finally kissed her. Everything then changed for Mei.

While this might seem like another typical romance series, Sukitte Ii Na Yo does offer a lot of things the more popular romance series do not. So far, this has been the most mature series I have watched. By mature I refer to the complications the main characters had to overcome in this 13-episode series. Most romance series do not offer beyond anything than the sweet, promising romance that is a given in any relationship that is still starting blossoming. The series goes beyond the issue of jealousy of past and potential competition, which is the extent of obstacles other series usually offer. It has also touched on more realistic issues like quality time between couples and friends, and sex and intimacy. In fact the whole point of the series was to show how their relationship develops and what problems lovers usually experience at the early part of the relationship.

On the downside, the series does make use of some common character types like a popular male and a plain girl. They were used effectively however in creating complications in the story. I know that there are a lot of girls as well who can easily empathize with Mei. Her internal struggles in trying to make sense of her feelings were presented in more maturely and realistically than other series.

The animation is good and the supporting cast do not take too much of the spotlight. If you are looking for something different and a little less humor when it comes to treating the subject of romance, you will probably enjoy this series.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Kengo: Master of Bushido

Released in 2000 and 2001, the game is playable in PlayStation 2. It has three modes, the single player mode, tournament mode and VS mode. Characters are unlocked in the tournament mode when you play the single player mode.

The player gets to pick one of the three characters (Taketsune Nakayama, Shozaemon Hyuga and Yasutomu Yoshimura). Each character has his own story and purpose of pursuing the way of the warrior. Their stories however have little effect on the game itself. At the start of the single player mode, each have individual stats showing their strengths and areas to improve. After choosing a character, the first goal is to pick a dojo and train until he is able to complete all the tests. The set of tests include basics like attack, defence, stances and ki. These tests are in the form of matches wherein the player gets opportunities to use all those mentioned. When the player is able to complete all the tests, he can now move on to challenge other dojos. 

In between matches, he has to do the self-training exercises as well. There are six training exercises that include striking posts, bamboo grove, waterfall, zen meditation, illusion and helmet splitting. Meanwhile there are eight dojos to choose from. Each dojo specializes in certain techniques. The dojos are Hirata, Moriya, Kasukabe, Ooishi, Tanbara, Udagawa, Tsubaki, and Kadokura. Beating the dojos will give the character a new sword. Each sword has a secret technique.

The player increases his stats including fame by defeating the opponents. Losing also gives some points. Every win or loss increases the character's stats. The player can also gain new moves and additional points every time he is successful in the matches.

Every time a dojo is defeated, the character acquires new attacks. These attacks can be combined to form a new combo. Four combos make up a form. Combining and making the most out of the new combos will be the key in the next matches. The more opponents you defeat, the more possibility to get new attacks. The player will meet opponents with different skills and therefore the same tactics do not always necessarily work on others. To prepare for this, you have to constantly experiment with different forms.

When your character is able to defeat all the dojos, the imperial match is next. The conditions are basically the same with the dojo matches. What happens when you succeed in your first set of imperial matches? There's more but that is for you to find out.

There are some secret special bonuses that can be triggered when your character has high skills and fame. Some cutscenes are also triggered by certain opponents.

Shozaemon Hyuga, one of the three characters to choose from at the start of the game. I picked him in my first playthrough.

This is the dojo I picked for my character.

The striking posts training. The difficulty increases after a successful attempt.

Probably the trickiest training, illusion.

A dojo match. The characters use wooden swords.

The cutscene at the start of the imperial match.

In imperial matches, the characters use swords.

The animation is not so bad in my opinion. There is some attention to detail that I was able to appreciate. An example is the split bamboo (bamboo grove training) which shows the joints in the stems after you split it. The ambiance of the game is something you would also easily recognize for its sound effects and voice acting. There are very few opportunities to witness a conversation however and only the opponents have a chance to speak.

Tedious though the dojo training and matches may be, the rewards are satisfying. The game is not easy at all. Sometimes defeating the same opponent in another match is tricky. You could almost say that you're facing intelligent opponents who can anticipate your next move. The NPCs with unique names in particular are skilled and unpredictable. It's a prerogative to look at all the possible combos before starting the matches. In most of these matches, the player has to defeat five or more opponents to complete a dojo challenge or match. When you're defeated within one of those five or more, you'd have to start again. Because it is important to train in between matches, the game is understandably time consuming. Training in necessary to have more room for points but it is repetitive. This might be the only setback in the game, apart from the difficulty of timing the attacks and parries. You might think attacking is easy just because you're using one button, but I guarantee that it's not.

Training and fighting are fun however once you know how things work. One thing I can also guarantee is that you cannot fall asleep playing the game. You can't relax when you're in a match. It requires time, attention and patience. It can be frustrating at times when you're stuck or you can't decide which combo will work, but that's the beauty of this game. The challenge makes it much more interesting and fun.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, October 06, 2014

Hesiod's Theogony, translated by Norman O. Brown

This short book provides an introduction and English translation of one of Hesiod's work. The first part is an excellent outline of the history, background, and contents of Theogony. I recommend reading the part first because it is an important guide of the themes, inconsistencies and the studies done by scholars over the years of the work.

However, I warn readers who are not into mythology. The introduction is lengthy and the tone is academic. Anyone without even the slightest background of Classical Mythology will be buried in all the information. For those who have read some of the Greek myths, Theogony is much easier to read because you'll know what to look for.

I've read Theogony a while back and I find this book helpful because of the introduction. Some of the passages make more sense now.

Rating: 10 out of 10

The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan

As presaged in the latter part of the first book of the series The Steel Remains, Ringil Eskiath is estranged again from his family; this time officially by his father. Some time after his encounter with Seethlaw and the other dwenda, Gil found a new mission and has vowed to disrupt the slave trade which he has discovered previously. Meanwhile, a messenger warns Archeth Indamaninarmal of a coming disaster, a disaster which might have something to do, or not, with Egar Dragonbane's discovery in the Afa'marag temple.

In this second installment of A Land Fit for Heroes series, more information is revealed to the reader about some of the Dark Court and its possible involvement in the unfolding of the events. There is also more mention of the Grey Places. Magic and history are interwoven beautifully and the pace is consistent with the first book. The characters, narration, and action scenes are familiar to the reader and so it is easy to pick up where you've left.

There was enough history and the tension was already set in the first book, all that was needed was to turn it up a notch, provide a few hints about what's going on and why but still leave enough room for speculation for the next book. Whether the book accomplished that or not depends on the reader's preference.

The best words to describe the series so far are neat and fascinating. Neat because it does not have a convoluted plot (not that that is bad of course) and I don't see a lot of inconsistency; and fascinating because of its magic and combat, not to mention the characters. If you liked the first book, I think The Cold Commands is not going to disappoint. 

Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

Ringil Eskiath is a bored hero of Gallows Gap. Although full of regrets of the past and is shunned by his family because of his sexual preferences, no one really notices it beneath his cocky and arrogant attitude. 

One day he was surprised to see his mother asking him for help to look for a female cousin sold into slavery. Gil agrees reluctantly. Taking with him his Kiriath sword Ravensfriend, he visits old friends and meets new enemies. What he was about to unravel however involved more at stake than just the cousin he was supposed to rescue.

Egar the Dragonbane is the clanmaster of the Skaranak, but his family and his people are dissatisfied with his ways. Ways and thinking which have been changed during his time at the wars. Meanwhile, Archeth Indamaninarmal is tied to the Yhelteth emperor. Being the only half-Kiriath half-human left, she feels out place. Both Egar and Archeth are old friends of Gil. A gathering of dangerous forces and a prophecy brings the three together ten years after the war against the Scaled Folk.

Although Gil's mission seems to be easy at first, his inquiries prove that there is more that's happening behind the scenes. And what seems to be three separate stories come together halfway through the first book of the series A Land Fit for Heroes. 

The technology and magic used in the book are not uncommon, but the concepts are easier to grasp. The author does not play too much with words to explain what he wants to say. His facility with the language is impressive and more evident in the action scenes. He's straightforward and unpretentious in his choice of words. His style is consistent with the lead character Gil. Honest, sometimes too blunt for his own good, but fulfills what is expected of him and still has some surprises left for the reader to make him an exciting character.

I have to warn the reader of Gil's and Archeth's sexual preferences (and yes, there are some bed scenes). If you're not open-minded about two characters who do not follow the usual bad-ass, straight male character and sexy, strong female character, then the book is not for you. I think however that it's one of the strong points of the book. Gil's and Archeth's sexual orientation do not diminish the quality of the book at all.

The only issue I have is that the point-of-view jumps from one character to another sometimes within a scene. But that small detail aside, the book has interesting fight scenes and magic. Plus, it's not as complicated as some other series with several story-lines to follow.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Orcs by Stan Nicholls

The volume is a compendium of three books of the Orcs: First Blood series. It includes Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder, and Warriors of the Tempest. The story is set in Maras-Dantia, populated by various races who do not get along well with each other. There is an ongoing struggle between two religious factions, the Unis and Manis, and involves various races. Apparently, according to the elder races, Maras-Dantia is losing its magic and killing the land because of the invasion and abuse of the humans. The Manis, who have humans among its followers, believe this as well and are seeking to restore some of the power lost because of the human settlements.

This edition also features a short story called The Taking which tells about Coilla's first day with the Wolverines and a short interview of the author.

Bodyguard of Lightning
In the first book, the members of the orc warband, the Wolverines, are introduced. Touted as the best orcs in Queen Jennesta's army, they were sent on a mission to recover an artifact in a human settlement. The leader Stryke and his colleagues Alfray, Jup, Haskeer, Coilla and others, were successful in retrieving the artifact. But because they did not return on time, Queen Jennesta thought she was betrayed. What's more, the warband was set upon by a band of kobolds on their way back who ran off with the artifact. This theft convinced Stryke that the artifact means a great deal to the queen and must hold some power. 

Legion of Thunder
By now they already have an idea what the artifact might be but the Wolverines now have to decide what to do with that knowledge. Still uncertain but feeling they have no choice, the group decides to search for more Instrumentalities or stars. Stryke also believes that they can use the stars to bargain with Jennesta or use it for something else.

Queen Jennesta is just one of their worries however. Setting off on this new mission also puts them against whoever owns the other stars.

Warriors of the Tempest
The adventures of Stryke and the Wolverines have stirred the minds of their fellow orcs in Jennesta's army as well as their newfound enemies. They now have to complete all the five instrumentalities to see what will happen. It is not yet clear what the artifacts can do but Stryke and the others can't turn back now even when the odds are against them.

The choice of orcs as the lead characters is a welcome change. I'm quite fond of the orcs myself from some games and dismayed that other media like books always give them the role of enemies. This series is consistent in showing how the orcs think about and interact with humans. I was apprehensive that later on they would welcome a human into their ranks or a human would ally with the Wolverines and join their adventures but thankfully that did not happen.

Most of the orcs are likable and Stryke has just enough brains and bravery to make him a good lead character. Queen Jennesta on the other hand is too cruel and extremely evil. Therefore it makes her role less effective, boring and predictable. She isn't a contemplative type as well so her actions are just evil for evil's sake.

The author uses some names that are quite similar to some real-world myths and religions. Some of his metaphors seem out of place as well, like the use of ninepins (bowling) to describe something in the third book.

Each book provides very little clue to the instrumentalities. There is just enough information for the story to move on. Readers are as much in the dark as the Wolverines on what to do until the final scene in the third book.

The strong point of the series is its action scenes. It has some good one-on-one combats and large-scale fights that were delivered quite well by the author. There are very few casualties in the Wolverines in all their fights however, but I think this just adds to their reputation as the best fighters among all the races of the fantasy genre. 

Despite having interesting protagonists, the direction of the story seems predictable even in the first book. The only thing that kept me going is to discover what the instrumentalities were for, so I guess the author's tactic in not giving too much away succeeded.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Grania: She-king of the Irish Seas by Morgan Llywelyn

History tells of a woman who defied tradition to follow her heart's desire and succeeded. Grania was the daughter of the Black Oak Dubhdara and Mairgret of clan O Malley. When most women were expected to fulfill their roles and housewives, Grania instead wanted to sail the seas. At a very young age she was known for her willfulness and insight. A natural leader known for her charisma and unconventional means to get what she wanted, she was a constant object of admiration and sometimes resentment of men and women alike. 

First married to Donal O Flaherty, Grania has had her share of lovers like most heroes portrayed in adventure stories. Although I'm not fond of romance, Grania's affairs seem intriguing and more often her treatment of the men is refreshing for a lead female character. She still retains her qualities of being a woman, a mother, and a wife ---aspects that give her more advantage over the male leaders who are also after power. It is only fitting therefore that a female also tell her story.

The point-of view sometimes jumps from one character to another within the same paragraph, but the lapses are minor nuances compared to the other qualities of the book. The timeline also jumps in some instances, highlighting only the important events of Grania's life; but this is to be expected in a book that tells her story.

There is no need for the reader to do some research if he is not familiar with Grania. The author already provides that, but if you've read a bit about her already you'll find this book even more rewarding.

There is an attempt in the book to compare Grania to Elizabeth I of England. This is an excellent comparison and quite empowering for the female reader. Although they were both women of power and means, they suffered the same prejudice that some still go through today: being labeled as weaker because of their sex. Both Grania and Elizabeth however were women who ruled as kings, even performed feats greater than the men who surrounded them. Yet they're not so alien and distant to women like myself  because of the prejudices they had to live with.

I've previously read books by Morgan Llywelyn (Druids, Red Branch, and The Elementals) and I've always found her writing so enjoyable. If you've also enjoyed her previous book(s), Grania won't disappoint.

I recommend this book to those who like history in general and historical fiction novels. I also recommend the books by Llywellyn I've enumerated above.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Lightning by Dean Koontz

Laura Shane was born on a night of a freakish lightning storm. Her life since then has been filled with both despair and mystery. Despite losing her mother and later her father at an early age, Laura grew up to be a strong and positive woman. Through most of the trying times of her life, from her birth then an incident with a store robber and more, Laura feels like she's being watched over by someone. This guardian appears during some of her life-threatening encounters and what's more puzzling is that he does not seem to age even as years pass. Ever since his last appearance however, Laura begins to doubt the existence of this blond, blue-eyed, gun-toting guardian.

Lightning's pace is consistent from start to finish even when the timeline jumps from days to years sometimes. Laura's fantastic experiences may be a bit exaggerated but they are consistent with the idea in which the story revolves. The technical details explaining the guardian's appearances is explained well but the book will not drown the reader in unnecessary information. It is partly historical fiction and sci-fi, both of which were handled just enough not to make me cringe with embarrassment. The last part seems protracted though.

The book has some excellent lines. This passage in particular is my favorite:

"... there are two things that different kinds of people believe that are the worst... some people believe the best way to solve a problem is with violence... 
Pacifism... pacifists believe you should never lift a hand against another human being no matter what he has done or what you know he's going to do.

You try to avoid violence. You never start it. But if someone else starts it, you defend yourself, friends, family, anyone who's in trouble."

Like most of the author's books in the 1980s, Lightning has vivid action scenes, the skillful choice of words to get his points across, witty humor, and unforgettable characters. The book has all the familiar Koontz trademark that fans of his earlier books love.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch

This collection of the majority of European mythology will make the lover of myths cry out for joy. Bulfinch's Mythology includes Greek and Roman myths; Norse; Celtic; Arthurian and British legends (Beowulf, Hereward and Robin Hood); tales of Charlemagne's Paladins; and a few Egyptian and Eastern (Zoroastrian/Persian, Hindu, Buddhist) myths and legends.

The stories are limited however and only the more popular tales are included. It is a general overview of most myths but the focus, as expected, is still on Classical Mythology. The pages dedicated to the Greek and Roman gods take up most of the book, followed by Charlemagne's Peers.

Despite my disappointed to find that I'd be reading stories I'm already familiar with, the book does have its surprises. There is a chapter dedicated to monsters and how myths are formed. Some of the epics are summarized, much to my dismay, but it might be a good introduction for readers who find the longer versions too tedious. Egyptian and eastern myths are scarce as mentioned, but it is in this book that I have read about Charlemagne's Paladins or Peers for the first time.

The book lacks so many things but it is still a must-read for mythology lovers like myself. If you've already read most of the stories here, meeting the gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters all over again is still rewarding. The author provides some analyses as well but it is not the purpose of the book. Overall, the Bulfinch's Mythology is a good but limited introduction of of popular myths and legends.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Greece: Temples, Tombs and Treasures

Greek history enthusiasts will find this beautiful volume an invaluable addition to their collection. Filled with vivid illustrations and photos, the book is a general outline of history of ancient Greece from its prehistory until Alexander's death. 

It contains mostly descriptions of major architectural and archaeological finds and a narration of events at the time they were built or made. The book is informative but not detailed enough for the scholarly purposes. It however provides a good overview of architectural styles, art and a condensed history of the area.

I recommend this both for casual and scholarly reading. If you are interested in mythology, the book also mentions a few things. The text is easy to understand and reader friendly (however, the reader might want to check some updates on the progress of the study of finds).

Rating: 9 out of 10

San Antonio Spurs 2014 NBA Champions

Even more than months after the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth title, I still feel like everything is a dream. As a long-time fan of Tim Duncan, last year's loss to Miami Heat still feels like a nightmare whenever I think about it.

It took me more than a month to recover after that loss. I'm just a fan and I felt terrible so I can't imagine what it was like for the players. People who did not believe and appreciate them said it was the end of the line for the "old" guys. Duncan and Manu Ginobili were passe. They said some might retire or go to other teams, but they proved them wrong again. Of course I didn't wanna believe all the bad things they wrote but it was not easy to keep thinking like that after that kind of loss. They said it would not be easy to recover from that nightmare. Of course it wouldn't be, but how the players will deal with that will say a lot about them individually and their spirit as a team.

Whatever the unbelievers and haters said, we fans knew that our Spurs players were made of a tougher sort of material. Yes, most people would not easily forget a game 6 loss like that. Yes, they're still humans and they made mistakes in that series. But unlike other teams that suffered a big loss, the Spurs are tougher.

They kept saying no, they can't bounce back 'cause they're old. The joke about old players is old. Yes, we can see that our superstars are aging. But how many superstars can claim that their team is still a title contender even at the twilight of their careers? Besides not everyone on the team is old. The younger guys proved that they were more than just talented. They were willing to be coached and to play team basketball. Just look at Kawhi Leonard now.

2014 Western Conference Champions

When they won the 2014 Western Conference Finals, I heard some people say that it was an easy match for them because some players in the other team were not at their best. But have they forgotten their old players joke? Wasn't my team old and slow and boring? Tony Parker wasn't even at his best in the series against Oklahoma City Thunder, so why do people still deny that the Spurs are good? Didn't the other team have the season's MVP? We won but people criticized the team and the fans and still glorified the losers.

Even getting there was not easy. I almost thought they'd lose to the Dallas Mavericks. And I was surprised they cruised through the second round. But what amazed me more is the kind of basketball they played throughout the season.

Yes I know they've been playing beautiful basketball for years. That's why I became a fan in 2002 after all! The passing and ball movement, the defense, the unselfish superstars---I've watched all that for years. I was delighted to find however that they improved all of that. And this is the season after that loss in 2013. Who said the Spurs can't bounce back?

Even when people were praising their team basketball, there were still those who claim that the Spurs were not talented enough to beat Miami Heat in a rematch. Well guess what? Even the world's best player for the past few years can't beat a team with experience and spirit. Old and boring my ass.

The Big Three: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili

In fact, the rematch was a disappointment partly because the Heat played like they did not want to win and partly because Spurs were just too damn good for them this year. I expected more heat from the Heat, but I think they looked old and lost. They relied too much on their superstars but the superstars weren't as good as the boring players after all. If I was a Heat fan I'd be ashamed of that performance. My Spurs last year may have lost in the Finals, but we weren't that terrible!

If this season was a redemption tour for the Spurs, they more than redeemed themselves in the eyes of their fans and critics. The critics can keep writing them off for next season if they want, but we've got new talent and experienced superstars. Keep saying boring and old if you want until the Spurs beat your team/s (then you'd start saying your team was just not at its hundred percent, duh). I didn't even mention yet the records they made this season on their way to the championship.

Congratulations my San Antonio Spurs! I never once regretted sticking with you guys and waiting for seven years for a fifth championship. The future looks bright with a talented kid like Leonard but we'll wait and see what kind of career he makes with a great team like the Spurs. 

2014 Lineup:
Jeff Ayres
Aron Baynes
Marco Belinelli
Austin Daye
Boris Diaw
Tim Duncan
Manu Ginobili
Danny Green
Cory Joseph
Kawhi Leonard
Patty Mills
Tony Parker
Tiago Splitter
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Assistant Coaches:
Jim Boylen
Chip Engelland
Chad Forcier
Sean Marks
Ime Udoka
Athletic trainer:
Will Sevening
Strength and conditioning coach:
Matt Herring

2014 AWARDS:
NBA Coach of the Year (Gregg Popovich)
NBA Executive of the Year Award (R.C. Buford)
NBA Finals MVP (Kawhi Leonard)
All-NBA Second Team (Tony Parker)
NBA All-Defensive Second Team (Kawhi Leonard)

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

In the third book, Joffrey Baratheon was poisoned at his wedding feast and Tyrion Lannister was accused by his sister of the crime. The guest Oberyn Martell became Tyrion's champion but was killed by Gregor Clegane. Tyrion escapes with help of his brother Jaime. Tyrion however confronted and killed his father and Shae.

Brienne of Tarth searches for the Stark sisters to keep her promise to Catelyn and Jaime.

Arya Stark goes to Braavos because she has nowhere to go and she remembered the offer given to her previously.

Sansa Stark escapes King's Landing and pretends she's Petyr Baelish's daughter. During their stay at  the Eyrie, Littlefinger murdered Lysa Arryn. Now they both have to keep up the pretense of being father and daughter. 

Cersei Lannister thinks she's in control of the realm, but she's ran out of friends and allies and sees enemies everywhere she turns. Maybe Cersei's hold is finally slipping away especially now that Jaime is tired of taking part in her schemes.

Samwell Tarly has to go to Oldtown to keep Aemon Targaryen safe from Melisandre's plans and he has to train as the new maester for the Watch. He's scared of the trip however and of the consequences when his father finds out of Jon Snow's plans for him.

Seastone Chair or Iron Islands is empty. Balon Greyjoy's death left people undecided who should succeed him. The brothers Evron and Victarion and daughter Asha want the throne. To solve this and to gain the blessing of his god, Aeron calls a Kingsmoot.

Dorne wants to avenge Oberyn Martell but the Lord of Sunspear Doran Martell does not want any trouble with King's Landing. Plotters want to create trouble to start the war Doran does not want.


A Feast for Crows tells the aftermath of the events in the previous three books of A Song of Ice and Fire series. The "crows," which are the survivors, are scavenging for scraps. Some of the characters affected by the wars are initiating change and some are just picking up where they left off. The stories are set mostly in King's Landing, Dorne, Braavos and the Iron Islands.

The book introduces several new characters and is told from different points-of-view. * The tone of the narrators is more like a preparation of big things to happen like those that culminated in book three, but is a close-up of just half of the story. In fact, I do not know what to make of the sudden change of pace and style in this fourth installation. The pace is slower. The characters are certainly more introspective than in the previous three books. It is a style I'm quite familiar with (and quite fond of) in other series I've read, but I do not know yet how will this affect the succeeding books in this series. 

There is more magic, less large-scale battles, and a sudden focus on the different religions and gods both old and new  and who seem to suddenly play  important roles. The prophecies and dreams, particularly those involving Cersei and Daenerys, seem to be more significant. Some people and traditions are introduced, adding more diversity to the world that was introduced to the reader.

I can't help but notice as well the gap between releases of each book in the series. It might not be such an issue (okay, it is if you've waited for years unlike me who started the series just recently) if not for the change in style and pace in this book. I think by now however, the readers who are already hooked with the series are willing to endure the wait to find out what will happen to their favorite character.

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Prophet (Aeron Greyjoy/Damphair)
The Captain of the Guards (Areo Hotah)
The Kraken's Daughter (Asha Greyjoy)
The Soiled Knight (Ser Aerys Oakheart)
The Iron Captain (Victarion Greyjoy)
The Drowned Man (Aeron)
The Queenmaker (Arianne Martell)
Alayne (Sansa)
The Reaver (Victarion)
Cat of the Canals (Arya)
The Princess in the Tower (Arianne)

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

Jaime Lannister, defeated and captured by Robb Stark was released by Catelyn under oath. Overconfident and unquestionably a good warrior and talker, his life is about to change in his trip back to King's Landing with Brienne of Tarth and cousin Cleos Frey supposedly to Jaime's advantage. His moniker Kingslayer continues to haunt him despite his attempts to hide it.

Catelyn Stark is second guessing herself. Maybe she was a bad mother who made wrong decisions. Only the outcome of the war can tell if what she has done for her family was right.

Arya Stark is still on the run. What she has witnessed of the world so far only served to make her tougher and colder.

Tyrion Lannister, betrayed again despite what he has done for the realm, thinks he has found solace in a few allies and a woman whom he thinks adores him. It's just a matter of time until his enemies move to take him out of the game.

Davos Seaworth thought everything was lost until he recalled what he had given up to serve his king Stannis. He resolves to stay by Stannis's side and counteract or lessen Melisandre's influence.

Sansa Stark feels more alone now that the people at King's Landing have no use for her. Wiser than before but still gentle at heart, she has to keep playing her part in whatever role is given to her. Thinking she found allies in the Tyrells, she is disappointed but not surprised that Queen Cersei still has other plans for her.

Jon Snow joined the Wildlings as a request of Qhorin Halfhand. He still feels he's lost like he has always been. Not only has he lost his chance of returning to his family, but he might also lose the Night's Watch. Once an outcast, he is still an outcast. 

Daenerys finally finds the power she has always had: being a woman and a Targaryen. Everything seems to be going well for her, but she still cannot forget that the dragon has three heads. Her victories are dampened by that threat of another betrayal and the reality of ruling the conquered peoples.

Brandon Stark is still growing accustomed to his newfound power but it does not quell his longing for home and family. He has to go on a journey with new friends because he is compelled by a task he does not yet know.

Samwell Tarly has to be strong now. With no one to rely on, he has to face dangers mortal and otherwordly and prove he does not need to be brave and to be a skillful warrior to be a man of the Night's Watch.


Told from the point-of-view of eleven character like the previous two books of A Song of Ice and Fire series, the third installment by far has the most action, twists and revelations. The character-driven story has kept up its excellent portrayal of unforgettable characters in a world that seems always torn by chaos and permeated with an ever-present feeling of despair.

The author may not be very skilled at vivid descriptions of hand-to-hand combat or large-scale battles, but his talent at spinning intrigues and surprising twists for his characters is an enjoyable experience. In the other two books, the threat of the White Walkers and the identity of the Wildlings were not yet apparent as they were overshadowed by the more immediate threat of war among the former subjects of King Robert Baratheon. In A Storm of Swords however, more players in the story are introduced and the reader's view of the world is still expanding.

So far, this third book is my favorite in the series because it's more action-filled and is a successful attempt to try to piece together all the individual stories. By this time, it's much more interesting to make hypotheses on the possible direction of the story and the ending of the series.

Rating: 9 out of 10

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

The land is split into six factions after King Robert Baratheon's passing. The current king of the Iron Throne is Joffrey, Robert's supposedly eldest son. But rumors about his parentage spread doubts of his claims. They believe that Jofrey and his siblings are products of incest and have no right to the throne. The others vying for the title take center stage. Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Robb Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, and the Greyjoys all want a piece of the action.

Stannis and Renly are convinced each has a legitimate claim to the throne when rumors of incest spread. After the execution of Ned Stark, the North rose in rebellion and proclaimed Robb King of the North.Meanwhile, Ned's ward Theon decided it was ripe time to please his father by handing him Winterfell. Far away from King's Landing, Daenerys and her khalasar set out to find what the future has prepared for them. Thus begins her journey to power. Her challenge is to gather enough resources and people to her cause.

The story like the previous book is told from the point-of-view of several characters. Most of the names will be familiar to the reader.

Tyrion Lannister escaped the clutches of Catelyn Stark after he was accused of trying to murder Brandon. He's back at King's Landing to maintain a semblance of order after the mess made by his nephew Joffrey. Tyrion has a chance to redeem himself. He thinks his talents have been recognized when he was appointed as King's Hand. Now he has to protect himself and his interests to fulfill his duties.

Bran Stark has to be tough and wise when he is given the task as Lord of Winterfell. But he is just a boy and his brothers and his mother are far away. He doubts his capabilities and is unsure of being accepted by his subjects because of his condition.

Arya Stark has to survive and pretend she's a nobody until she's safe, but in a land plunged in chaos, staying alive will not be easy. She has always been strong and quick-witted for a little girl, but she will be tested greatly.

Sansa Stark's world of knights, ladies and adventure is shattered by betrayal and lies. The truth was there all along but she endured and pretended. However she has to keep playing the gullible young lady until she has a chance to escape.

Jon Snow joined the Night's Watch which set out to investigate and perhaps confront the threat beyond the Wall. They are outnumbered, inexperienced and they don't exactly know what they're up against. Jon's mettle will be tested when he has to choose once again between honor and duty and his heart's desire.

Catelyn wants to be at her younger children's side but her eldest needs her. More than even her wisdom as a mother is needed to try to stop the impending war and to find the best possible way to see the safety of Robb from the trouble she started.

Davos Seaworth is a loyal and honest friend and adviser of Stannis. He swears to do whatever it takes to protect Stannis from himself and his enemies, even those posing as allies like Melisandre.

This second installment of A Song of Ice and Fire series has the same pace as the first book. It's character-driven and full of tension and action from start to finish. As readers get to know the returning and new characters even more, the world in which the story is set expands with every history and information provided.

Use of magic is more evident with the introduction of Melisandre, yet the theme is still more about power struggle and politics. Like I mentioned in my previous review, if you're into vivid battle scenes involving magic and fantastical creatures, the book scarcely has any of that. Not yet at least. 

Despite the promise of large-scale battles, the only let-down in the book is the way the battle at King's Landing was delivered. The Battle at the Black Water was told from the first person perspective and so it was limited. It only confirmed what I already though of how the fights will be handled in the first book. It's a sad reminder that the next large-scale battles to come would be treated the same way. If you watch the television series, it might make up for the lack of a satisfying action scene in the book.

Still, for those who are contented with just the unforgettable characters, A Clash of Kings has not disappointed in that aspect. 

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Ned Stark is a benign lord of his subjects at Winterfell and a loving husband and father. A good friend of King Robert Baratheon, he just wants to live his peaceful life away from politics and intrigues at King's Landing even when he has proven he was a good warrior and administrator. His loyalty, honesty and love for the king however will be tested in storms to come. Given the choice of revealing a secret that would shatter the realm and start a war or to remain quiet for the safety of his family, it seems he would pick the obvious. But forces he could not control are mounting up the pressure that would ultimately involve not just they key players of the court but everyone else and pit one man or woman against another in a battle for the throne and the redemption of hurt loved ones. In the midst of all the human struggle is a greater threat known to and recognized only by a few.

This first installment of A Song of Ice and Fire series is told from the point-of-view of eight characters; namely, Bran, Catelyn, Daenerys, Eddard, Jon, Arya, Tyrion, and Sansa. The series follows two major storylines; the first is the fight for control of the Iron Throne of the seven kingdoms after the death of the king and the threat beyond the Wall, whether the threat is posed by the Wildlings, White Walkers or both, is for the readers to find out.

Brandon Stark is a boy of 7 who dreams of becoming a knight. He loves to climb and explore. When he fell one day it signalled the beginning of a struggle started by two influential women of the realm.

Catelyn of houses Tully and Stark is a strong, determined mother and wife of a family she unknowingly broke apart because of love.

Daenerys Stormborn, 13, lived a life in terror of her brother and assassins real and imagined. This exiled princess learns at a young age that the world is a cruel place.

Jon Snow, 14, a bastard son who struggles to be accepted and loved but who wants to just disappear at the same time. He is a member of a loving family yet not entirely a part of it.

Arya Stark is a feisty girl of 9 who wants to become a fighter. She's strong and smart for her age yet the same qualities might just get her into trouble.

Sansa Stark is a gentle lady who wants to please everybody. Kind at heart but naive and idealistic. How long her world of chivalric knights and courtly glamour last will depend on the people and herself living up to that fantasy.

Tyrion Lannister is shunned all his life because of his appearance. Sometimes he's too smart for his own good. He only wants to be a good son and useful to the realm, but nobody wants him.

The characters are colorful and closely resemble real people. Their ambitions, fears and happiness are consistent with real human emotions and how people would usually react when confronted with problems. His characters is what makes the book special. The human drama (the book is more about it than magic or fighting) that make up the soul of the book. The lack of good action scenes, magic, and even the originality in its storylines (the fight for the throne and a threat from inhuman forces) are compensated by the distinct and unforgettable characters. It is not setting-driven even if there are two storylines; it is character-driven. Moreover, the characters can't be classified as exclusively good or bad. Magic and combat are not the dominating elements in the book. Combat and what little semblance of magic is in this first volume are just hinted at. There are very few fight scenes in this part of the series, but even those few are passable at best. Imagery is not as good as what you would expect from a high fantasy series. Major battles are skipped altogether and narrated only after it took place. A sufficient and practical tactic, but the point-of-view is limited and sometimes biased. If you're looking forward to huge battles written skillfully, you'll be disappointed in that regard.

The pace is different for every character and dependent on who is telling the story. Sometimes a lot of things happen in a day but there are moments when the events span weeks or months.

For the characters to be effective, the world they live in should have an elaborate history. The book did not fail to provide that backdrop.

The series has an Arthurian and Middle Ages feel to it especially because the story is mostly told from the POV of noblemen who are at the center of action. There's no POV from the common people. The court intrigues, clothing, festivities and setting remind me of legends of chivalric knights. If you're a fan of adaptations set in the Middle Ages or medieval literature in general, you will find a lot of parallels here.

Almost throughout the book the feeling of near hopelessness is persistent. There is a stark contrast between people with power and the commoners that it almost makes you feel like you are nothing when you don't have anything. Sometimes I find myself asking if there's no middle ground at all. There's some balance in this tilt of power however. Although some characters might have more wits, resources and power than the others, that does not guarantee their safety. Everyone can be a victim. Not only is it a game of power, wealth, influence and brains, but luck as well.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Ezio Auditore (Assassin's Creed Brotherhood)

Ezio Auditore in one of his outfits in AC Brotherhood
I used graphite and colored pencils on oslo paper
My deviantArt link is here 

Assassin's Creed Embers

Set years after Assassin's Creed Revelations, Ezio Auditore lives in a countryside with Sofia Sartor and their children Flavia and Marcello. A retired assassin, he was alarmed to find a hooded figure talking to Flavia one day. It turns out the stranger, who introduced herself as Shao Jun, was looking for Ezio to ask him how to rebuild the assassin order in her country and how to help her people. Ezio at first refused but Sofia convinced Ezio to let her stay.

Shao Jun (left) and Ezio Auditore
Ezio and Sofia
"... love of people, cultures, and the world... fight to preserve that which inspires hope and you will win back your people."

This sad and beautiful 21 minutes and 22 seconds short animation film shows Ezio at the twilight of his life. Though dissatisfied and full of regrets, he is still a formidable fighter in the film even if he's slower than the hero in the three games. Ezio's fans will love this peek at Ezio's last moments (and it's good to know that he and Sofia made a family) and might find the ending a bit intriguing. I was holding my breath at the ending and was quite sad when what was foreshadowed had to happen.

Voice Actors:
Roger Craig Smith - Ezio Auditore
Angela Galuppo - Shao Jun and Flavia Auditore
Anna Tuveri - Sofia Sartor
Peter Arpesella - young man

Directed by Patrick Plourde, Stephane Baudet