Book: Animen 5-6

"Animen 6"

In the first four issues of Animen, we meet four of six plane crash survivors who suddenly gain superpowers–based on animals that they see just before they lost consciousness during the crash.

They find out that the lightning that caused their plane to crash, was also the source of their new-found powers. And that supernatural beings want to take the pieces of lightning embedded on their bodies to rid the world of humans.

Yes, it’s not the most original of plots–but at least it has one. And you can pretty much tell where the story is going.

Oh, wait. Were you looking for a synopsis? Well, I can’t really include the actual synopsis as it pretty much spoils whatever happens in the previous issues; so you’ll have to make do with the gist. Which is what I already gave. So let’s get one with it–

Whatever goodwill I had for the series is quickly dissipating. Not because the quality went down, it’s the same. It’s just that… I can’t believe I was taken in for a ride. I actually thought Animen was on to something okay, if not good. But as we get to know the characters better, I find myself not caring less and less about them. And, to be honest, I also find them a little grating.

On a good note, all the characters have distinct personalities. Unfortunately, you can’t relate to any one of them. One owns a chopper, one owns a yacht. Both of them don’t seem to have any family or work. And our one anchor to the crazy world that writer Ron Mendoza is relegated to the sidelines, while he tries to make a romantic move after killing– Oh, wait. Spoilers.

So, yeah. The characters of Animen, now that we know them, are shallow, self-absorbed, and kind of selfish. They don’t have redeeming qualities, and the only thing that’s keeping me from rooting against them is the fact that the villains are… well… more evil.

But I plan to stick with the series. It’s just a few issues now, anyway. Let’s see where the writer takes the plot. And I will read them without expectations. Or, at the very least, with less expectations than I had for the first six issues. Let’s just hope that whatever happens in the last issues would actually make sense.

Book: Animen 1-4

"Animen"

It was a terrible, horrible plane crash which left many people dead–but Lawrence and five other passengers inexplicably survived it unscathed. But soon after, things got creepy and weird. Angry mythical creatures started haunting Lawrence.

And to make things more complicated and bewildering, a pair of wings spring from his back. Had he become a possible circus attraction–or a winged superhero? What about his fellow survivors? Was the same thing happening to them? Had they become freaks like him?

I’ve only read the first four books so far, and I’m happy to have finally found a Black Ink title that I like. There is purpose in the story, in the events that transpire, and in the holding back of information. But, most importantly, there is a sense of gravity in the way writer Ron Mendoza is handling his characters. You can connect to them. You can relate to them. And you can actually feel the pain that they are going through. And this makes me happy.

No, I don’t mean the pain part. I mean I’m happy that Black Ink actually produced a title that can hold up.

That said, I do feel like Animen could use a good script doctor. Some of the dialogue are clunky, and the plotting is still a little off… But after My Midnight and Dark Side? I’m just happy that Animen exists. And hopefully, the storytelling will continue to improve in the following issues.

Book: A Bottle of Storm Clouds

"A Bottle of Storm Clouds"

Award-winning author Eliza Victoria mixes magic with the mundane in this special concoction of 16 short stories. A girl meets a young man with the legs of a chicken. A boy is employed by a goddess running a pawnshop. A group of teenagers are trapped in an enchanted forest for 900 days. A man finds himself in an MRT station beyond Taft, a station that was not supposed to exist. A student claims to have seen the last few digits of pi. Someone’s sister gets abducted by mermaids.

Take this bottle of storm clouds and explore the worlds within.

I just realized that I’ve run out of Filipino books to read, and I still have a couple of dozen imported books to go through! That needs to be remedied, and fast! But in the meantime, let’s settle in and talk about Eliza Victoria’s collection of stories: A Bottle of Storm Clouds.

I’m not going to be objective here. I’m not a fan of the short story format when it comes to fantasy, as the payoff usually doesn’t satisfy the investment you’ve put into the world-building. Fortunately, A Bottle of Storm Clouds features only a couple of stories that don’t live up to the expectations they set you up with. Most of the time, author Victoria sets up her world quickly with a few choice words, leaving the rest of the very short stories to make you fall in love with her characters, before they break your heart.

My personal favorites of the bunch is “Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling Street,” “The Just World of Helena Jimenez,” and “Once, In a Small Town.” Those are the stories that, while perfect as is, would also do well in a bigger scale–as their own novels. Although, “The Just World of Helena Jimenez” is very reminiscent of Eliza Victoria’s own Project 17 already. So maybe just the other two.

In “Ana’s Little Pawnshop on Makiling Street,” Victoria creates a wonderful world of mythological creatures co-existing with human beings. The idea of bartering for something more valuable than money? It’s not original, but the author infuses it with so much earnestness, and so much loneliness, that you can’t help but feel for the characters. Even the unassuming protagonist whose point of view we follow.

Meanwhile, “Once, In a Small Town” creates such a rich world of stories that I think author Victoria can further mine. The idea of a town full of people with magical abilities? A gift that automatically doubles as a curse? These are great hooks and plot points for a bigger story that’s just waiting to be told.

I must say: Eliza Victoria has a great handle on creating mood with her words. And although I’m not a fan of short story collections, I must say this is a book that’s truly recommendable.

Book: Queen of the Clueless

"Queen of the Clueless"

If you’ve been feeling neglected by the Goddess of Love lately, don’t worry — Hannah Maquiling, college sophomore, is in training to take over. The Original Goddess is missing, but Hannah is Interim Goddess now, and she should figure out how to solve humanity’s love problems soon. Quin (God of the Sun) is still her mentor, still really hot, but apparently isn’t as honest about his other earthly relationships as she thought. It’s frustrating, and enough to make her check out possibilities with Diego (God of the Sea) and Robbie (Cute Human).

In the meantime, she’s decided to spend some of her precious training time helping to break up a relationship, instead of putting one together. Why? Because the girl in question happens to be her best friend Sol, whose boyfriend is stealing not just from her, but from other people on campus. Sol didn’t exactly summon the Goddess, but this is what power over Love is for, right? Surely it’s not just about matchmaking, but ending doomed relationships too. (Even when it’s not what people want.)

A few things:

Number one, the synopsis makes Hannah seem like a slut. Excuse the language. But honestly, when you read the book, she really isn’t. She’s just confused about her feelings.

And I can’t believe I’m defending the character. That I actually like the book enough to defend the main character.

Although, to be fair, Queen of the Clueless is a lot better than the book that preceded it: Interim Goddes of Love. I really, really didn’t like that book. But I decided to give the sequel a try. Good thing I did.

Two, the writing’s way better and the characters are more defined; and although I still find our protagonist annoying and unlikable, she’s more tolerable now.

The best part about the Queen of the Clueless is the fact that Quin, Diego, and Vida (Goddess of the Moon) no longer feel like poor copies of Greek gods. They’re their own persons now. Which is good.

Pacing is better too. Although, I did find it disconcerting in one of the latter chapters when Hannah started talking to an unnamed character at length. It took a whole page for me to realize she was talking to Robbie. And I just want to say this, while the characters really are more defined now, they still have a tendency to talk the same way. Especially Sol, her kleptomaniac boyfriend Neil, and Robbie.

And I lost count of my points. So, anyway…

Another thing I liked about this book is the inclusion of Sol’s family (however late), and Hannah’s phone conversation with her mother. This was the part where I finally saw the identity of the book. This was the part where I finally saw the book’s universe anchor itself in the Philippines. Because it’s one thing to say it’s based in the Philippines, and it’s a whole other thing for it to feel Filipino.

That was actually one of my qualms in the first book. It’s set in the Philippines, but the locales and the exchanges felt ripped out of a dozen imported high school dramas. It didn’t help that the characters talked in English. But as we can see with Queen of the Clueless, the language didn’t matter. This book had the Filipino identity without it being an overpowering factor. And because the locale had an identity now, it didn’t feel like a floating piece of land that was cobbled together from ideas taken from various American television programs.

Now I’m actually looking forward to reading the book that follows this.

If you’re still on the fence about getting this book, why don’t you check out what other people have said about Queen of the Clueless:
I Like it Dog-Eared
Chachic’s Book Nook
Thoughts and Pens
My Book Musings

Book: Skyworld, Volume Two

"Skyworld, Volume Two"

The Queen of the Asuang and her legion have taken over the country.

Alexandra Trese leads the resistance along-side Makabo, a Tikbalang warrior, and Kaio, a Duwende trickster.

Trapped in their epic battle is Andoy, a teenage boy tasked with uniting an army of Tikbalang, Enkanto, Kapre and Duwende against the Asuang.

But before he can lead them, he must first recover a mystical sword that was once part of the fabled Yamashita Treasure.

And so ends Skyworld.

Ultimately, I’m not a fan. The story is sound, the structure is good–but the overall product is not something I’d gush about. I’m not saying it’s not good. It is. But the story doesn’t deliver on the promise of the premise. As I feared.

My main problem with the story is its length. Because the whole thing is so short, we never really connect with any of the characters we’re supposed to care about. Maybe Alexandra, but that’s because we know her from another series. A better series. The others?

I’ve already finished the book and I still know nothing about main character Andoy–save for the fact that he’s the chosen one. Makabo and Kaio are supporting characters in the most basic sense. They support Andoy, and that’s pretty much it. There’s a hint of something more for Makabo, but that’s nipped in the bud even before it completely takes off.

And I’m not a fan of the ten-year time jump in between the two volumes. Number one, because it feels like a cop out–not knowing how to deal with a giant sea dragon rampaging across Metro Manila. Number two, because of Alexandra. Don’t tell me she never aged in the ten years between volumes.

To end, there are better re-imaginings and re-tellings of Filipino folklore availalbe out there. There’s the Trese series, there’s Naermyth, or maybe you know of another novel/comic series that I don’t.

But, to be fair, here are links to what other people have written about the series:
Literateknolohitura
The Birth of Damnation
The Comics Cube