Monday, April 30, 2012

"Don't be The Story Siren" or "Write your own stuff and don't plagiarize"

I'll warn you, this is old news. If you're reading this, you've probably already read one of a wide score of blogs about The Story Siren and their plagiarism. I think that Gossamer Obsessions said it best in their blog entry where they boiled everything down to "Plagiarism is wrong, no matter what the circumstances, and apologizing doesn't make it any less of a bad thing". They even made a list of the arguments against the popular cries going on in the various threads and forums. And I want to say that just because it's computer programming type stuff doesn't mean that it's automatically OK to copy a site's code verbatim. Yes, there's a tendency to use the same codes, but there's also sites that code in a particular way and don't want to have their stuff copied. That's why you ASK and if they say yes, why you mention where you pulled the info from. If you didn't write it, don't pass it off as your own. Even if you're the worst writer in the world, don't steal. 

Look, it doesn't matter if she was a popular blog or a nobody blog. Plagiarism is wrong and I can't help but think that many of the defenders are defending her because they've never had anything stolen from them. Yeah, styles and tips entries aren't that exciting but this stuff still takes just as much work as the blog entries like this- if not more so. What makes it worse is that you have this popular blog that's taking all of the credit for YOUR hard work and getting accolades and even a little pay for it. All those books that TSS gets? They pretty much get all of them for free. And that's not including the money they're getting from ad placement. They probably aren't making enough for the blogger to retire on, but they're still getting paid for your hard work. Think about it this way: you wrote a graduate paper. It's awesome. A while later you open up a magazine and see that your professor has published your paper under her name. No mention of you at all. She even used the illustrations that you drew and included that funny story about that cousin of yours. But your professor can't draw worth a lick and she has no cousins. Yet she's still the one getting the attention from your stolen work. 

What I think makes me the maddest about this is that TSS is going to come out of this mostly intact. Most publishers don't tend to care too overly much about plagiarism or quality when you're popular. Just look at certain infamous reviewers that continuously get books despite them predominantly quoting book jackets (and getting them wrong on top of it). 

What we need to do is boycott the site for the time being. Not forever, but enough to let them know that plagiarism will not be tolerated. After all, if she comes out of this with the idea that she can plagiarize and still keep her reading public, then how long will it be until she does it again? Maybe she will, maybe she won't, but history has shown us in many different situations that people who get away with something tend to do it again because they know/think that they can. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Manhwa Review: Boarding House of Hunks

Title: Boarding House of Hunks
Author: Hwang Mi-Ri
Volumes: 17
Available through: MangaFox (Free!)

First off, you need to know that I didn't pay a single red cent for this manhwa. I read it all free through MangaFox, which I'm pretty happy about. I read the entire manhwa, but I didn't overly like it. Why not? Because it's like some overly played up version of 90210, the characters aren't very likable, and the romance between the two main characters isn't really all that great. I think what ultimately irked me about this manhwa was that it was pretty bad, but not so bad enough that I would completely give up on it and move on to another series. After a while I justified continuing reading by saying that I was already halfway through the series.

The one saving grace of this manhwa is that the artwork is pretty nice. There's some weird effects to the art, such as shadows on a character's face resembling facial scarring, but I'm willing to chalk that up to the scanner. Not everything scans well into the computer, so with scanlations you learn to expect the odd feature or two. Overall though, the artwork here is nicely done and pretty to look at. It's also close enough to its Japanese cousin that manga-fans won't get too much of an artwork culture shock.

Then there's what I didn't like about the manga. The characters in it are pretty unlikable. This isn't always a bad thing, as sometimes you can have characters that are unlikeable/unpleasant, but are still people you want to read about. This wasn't really the case here. Jae Yoo is supposed to be this rambunctious and energetic girl, but she really just comes off like a brat. I think I was actually cheering on her rival more than Jae Yoo.

Then there's the romance between Jae Yoo and Ji Hu. It's nice, but seriously... I couldn't really believe that they were all that into each other. It's like watching Itchy and Scratchy try to date. Every once in a while they'd get all googly-eyed at each other, but generally it's nothing but fighting and not even the type that would be endearing to the reader. I almost felt like I was watching an episode of a true crime show where we're told the buildup to how/why one person murdered the other. If these were real people then scenes of their relationship would be exhibit A in the murder trial.

I think what really bogs down the series as a whole is that there's a whole lot of nothing going on and a cast of characters that's way too big. When it initially started, had a humbler plot, and had a smaller cast of characters, it was a lot better. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. Now we have a huge cast and plot points that just seem to repeat themselves over and over again. How many times do we need to see our lovers fight? Do we really need to see them doubt each other again? Is it really necessary to keep every single minor character in the storyline? For that matter, do we really need 17 volumes of this? I can't help but feel that if some of the characters had been trimmed and the storyline condensed, it'd be a much better read overall.

I know that there's going to be people that like this series, but this is really just a mediocre series at best. I know, I know... I shouldn't have expected a lot from a series called "Boarding House of Hunks", but I've read series with stupider names that ended up being a lot of fun. The thing is, I don't expect much from my manga, just that I'm entertained. Not every series needs to be Kare Kano in order to be fun, after all. In the end BHoH is something that I'd only tentatively recommend as a free read and not really recommend as something you'd buy off the shelves.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Film review: The Devil's Carnival

If you were lucky enough to be in the Richmond, Va area last night, then hopefully you were smart enough to attend what is quite possibly one of the quirkiest things to hit the city: The Devil's Carnival. Brought to you by the same people who created Repo! The Genetic Opera, this movie is best described as a very experimental dark musical that will rock your socks off. It's the greatest show on earth, but with devils and carnies. (Not that there's much difference between the two, mind you.)

Since I can't go too much into the plot due to the creators asking that spoilers are kept to a minimum, I'll try to keep anything spoilerish to myself for the most part.

First off, let me just say that this is one movie that's worth the expensive ticket. If you're in a city on the road tour and wondering if you should plunk down the $20+ for the movie, do it. It's a hell of a lot of fun, mostly due to the sheer amount of fan energy. I have to give a shoutout to Brittany "Shiro" Tyburski, as she was one of the people who helped whip the crowd into a frenzy and record the entire proceedings. She's the epitome of the uber fan, the one that you just look at and go "damn, you're hardcore!" Shiro had an energy that was hard for even Zdunich or Bousman to match, and they had the insanely hot and talented Emilie Autumn on stage with them.

The night started off with several burlesque acts, with some (eventually) scantily clad ladies doing a little strip tease for the audience. (Note: this is not the same as having a skanky $4 stripper give you a lap dance- these are ladies who have worked hard to make this into an art form and do Gypsy Rose Lee proud.) These lovely ladies were pretty well received by the audience, who gave each dancer a rousing cheer. The next big feature were some behind the scenes footage of Repo! The Genetic Opera, which even the Repo! virgin next to me enjoyed. I was fortunate enough to be sitting in front of some rather loud fans that shouted/sang along with every single lyric, which was a blast. It adds to the whole experience, and let's be honest: who really went to this expecting for the audience to stay politely quiet at all times?

There was also a costume contest and the winners of the "Sing for the Devil" contest were announced. I was able to recognize many of the faces in the video (one of which was actually in the audience last night), including one Anthony Stewart Head. Sorry Jester, as cool as it was to see you sing, ASH was really the highlight of that video. Somewhere in all of this (I forget the order) we have Emilie Autumn and Terrance Zdunich reading us Aesop's Fables. I still hold that the two of them need to sing together. It's probably a good thing that this didn't happen last night, as I think that the sound of a theater full of panties/underwear hitting the floor would have been deafening. (Those who have heard either of these two sing can attest to how amazing their voices are.)

Finally we come to the movie. It's freaking awesome and hopefully it'll come to video relatively soon. As expected for a movie that's only about an hour long, everything moves pretty quickly plot-wise. We have our three sinners, all of whom were brought to Hell through their own devices- a scene that was, in my opinion, one of the coolest in the flick. I'll have Woe-Maidens shrieking "CONFETTI!" in my mind for a while now. Emilie Autumn's The Painted Doll was one of my favorite characters from the film, in all her mismatched eyes and shattered face glory. The audience was treated to a Q&A with the lovely Autumn afterwards, who described the insertion of the lens as incredibly painful. (The things we do for art!)

One of my personal favorite scenes was the game between Ms. Merrywood and The Twin. The song is one that I've listened to over and over again on my iPod, and it got a lot more play after I headed home that night. Ivan Moody's A Penny for a Tale was also a great song/scene, but then I could probably go on and on about the songs until I've listed the merits of each one. I'll keep that part short and say that the songs are a lot of fun when you view them in the context of the film.

Now for an overview of the film as a whole. Everything goes so incredibly fast, so while the film was awesome (and I want to stress that), you don't get as much of a feel for the story as you might've with Repo!, which is understandable. This movie is more about the music and setting the tone for future episodes in the series. You're given enough to satisfy, but you're left craving more story and face time for each of the characters.

Now for the Q&A: we had the typical questions asked up front, such as "will there be a Repo! 2" (no, since Lionsgate holds the rights and won't let up Bousman and Zdunich even fix the subtitles on the DVDs, let alone do a comic or sequel/prequel, which is why B&Z decided to just start anew with TDC). Fans asked questions ranging from "why are you self-financing this- isn't that a risky move?" to "Can I have a hug, Terrance?" Bousman's answer was that at some point he realized that while he could've coasted by on big name Hollywood movies like the Saw franchise, it ultimately wasn't what he wanted to do, which I respect. Financing your own film is risky, but in the end Bousman justified it by saying that even if everything bombed, at least he got to make the movies that he really wanted to make. This is something that I think all of us can appreciate, as that's not something that many creative professionals of any output would be willing to do. (How many of us know authors, filmmakers, or actors that have decided to continue churning out clones of their work in order to keep the cash flow going, sacrificing their own creativity in the process?)

In the end I can't help but whole heartedly recommend this to fans of Repo! or any cult movie. There's going to be people who walk away from the experience a little underwhelmed, but ultimately this is a blast and something worth recommending for just about any fan.

Oh, and Terrance got his hug.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book Review: Magic Knight Rayearth Volume 2 by CLAMP

Title: Magic Knight Rayearth (Volume 2)
Author(s): CLAMP
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: April 11, 2012
ISBN: 1-59582-669-6

If you're a manga/anime fan, odds are that you've heard of Magic Knight Rayearth in some form or fashion. How could you not? It's by the incredibly talented mangaka team of CLAMP, which is oft heralded as the crème de la crème of the manga world and it's easy to see why. Regardless of what the current lineup is, their artwork is almost always something to admire.

This volume collects the second half of the Magic Knight Rayearth series into one big, wonderful volume. While I know that there's some that dislike the idea of having 600+ pages of manga in one big volume, the price on this (about $20) is rather good- which is going to be a relief for many fans used to shelling out $9-12 for one manga that might be around 200-300 pages. It's cost effective when you consider how much manga you're getting, which is something any manga fan will like. (There's a reason people joke that drugs would probably be cheaper than indulging your otaku habit!)

Now for the artwork. Unfortunately the copy I was given seemed to be pixellated at points, possibly to deter from theft, but the funny thing about this is that even despite this, the CLAMP artwork still looked pretty good. If it's going to be on par with the quality of the previous volume, you'll be in for an artwork treat. (My copy was an electronic galley, so no worries about the physical copies having any sort of glitches.)

What interested me most was the translation. I remember my old TokyoPop translations of the series, and even though it'd been a while since I'd read my editions I noticed a difference in the translation. It's similar enough that you won't shake your fist and say that someone translated wrong in either camp, but it's different enough that it was like a different experience, one that I liked. There are no worries about Dark Horse pulling some cutesy "let's rename EVERYTHING for the English speaking audience" nonsense, but then I'd imagine that those fears were mostly allayed by the release of the previous volume.

The end result is that this is a collection worth having. I'm not savvy enough with translations to know which of the TokyoPop or Dark Horse translations were closer to the source material, but if you're someone that's debating whether or not to get the Dark Horse books or scarf up TokyoPop's big book release of the series through some other source, go for the Dark Horse. The volume is nicer looking and seems like it'd last longer through multiple readings. (I'd seen editions of the TP one that were literally falling apart on the shelves, and that's when they were brand new.)

5 out of 5 stars

(ARC provided through NetGalley)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Unintentionally hilarious children's book covers

Hi all! I'm not dead yet! I swear! Just horribly backlogged from the massive amounts of schoolwork I have going on. Anywho, this is my first post with the new Blogger format, so hopefully it won't look uber weird when I post it.

Today I have some unintentional hilarity coming your way via children's books that were meant to be taken seriously but as you can see, inspire giggles over their cover artwork and/or titles.

One, Two, Three, PULL!

I'm not sure what is supposed to be going on here (probably the chicken trying to get a worm), but this brings a whole new meaning to the term "getting down on the farm".

Never Smile at a Monkey

Hey, remember those creepy mechanical monkeys that would clap cymbals together? The ones that you were almost entirely certain would come to life while you sleep and eat your soul, inspiring Stephen King to write his short story Monkey Shines? This book cover brings forth that creepiness.

If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow

Remember it, because in the end it's good to remember what the Boogeyman looks like before he pulls you into the closet. I'm not sure why someone thought putting a face-removing clown on the cover of a children's book would be a good idea. While it's been a long, long time since I was a child, this would have been the fuel of pants-shittingly terrifying nightmares. 

MA! There's Nothing to Do in Here!

A heartwarming tale brought to you by the word "hydrocephalus". This is less terrifying for kids as much as it is for any expectant mother. If you're tired of your pregnant friend whipping out ultrasound photos and telling you to "feel the baby kick", then give her this book and ask her how painful she thinks it'd be to deliver a baby with a head this big. 

It's Easy to Play Classical Themes

You and LVB, making beautiful music together. Other than the obvious joke here, does anyone else feel like Beethoven is going to take a huge bite out of this kid's noggin? I guess that's just one of the risks you take when you necromance composers back from the Great Beyond.

I Will Love You Forever

OK, so it's not the cover alone that made me include this, although the idea of cleaning that mess is pretty frightening. Sure it has a ridiculously oversized toilet and hand towels that are inexplicably at toilet paper level by the toilet. (Going green, I guess?) What makes this book so unintentionally funny and creepy is that the story is essentially about a mother's love for her son. Sweet, right? Well... when you have the mother driving across town with a ladder strapped to the top of her car, all so she can break into her son's house and cuddle him during the night and rock him back and forth... well... These are the things felonies and psychiatric visits are made of. Not to mention that it's pretty hard to score with the ladies when you have to explain why your mother breaks into your house to cuddle. 

Prayers for Children

This little girl stares. She stares through space and time. She stares into your soul. And she's found you wanting, you dirty sinner. Children of the Damned, anyone?

The Long Journey of Mister Poop

Yes, this is a real book. I'm familiar with the good old classic Everyone Poops, but this is the first time I've seen a digestion book give a piece of poop legs and a beret. To add onto the fun, there's some trippy artwork inside. 

The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade Book 

OK, OK, this one is more adorable than funny but look at this cover and NOT have the line "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" run through your head. 

Sometimes My Mom Drinks too Much

I admit that I stole this from Parenting Fails. I have no regrets. 

Latawnya, The Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs

Horses on drugs. Horses drinking alcohol. Horses ODing in front of other horses. All of this and more, inside this book. If you haven't heard about this book, then it's time you expanded your horizons. This book has inspired a dramatic reading via YouTube, has its own Wikipedia page. (where it details a lawsuit by the author against well, EVERYBODY), and TV Tropes entry. It's only fitting that this book ends out the somewhat misnamed "hilarious book cover" post.