24 January 2012

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

So, I LOVE Fullmetal Alchemist. Love, love, love it.. And yesterday I went to the Gateway Film Center in Columbus to see the newest addition to the franchise. Before I hop into my review of the film, please allow me to share this with you: I LOVE COSPLAY! I was so happy to see it at the movie theater--how awesome is that!

(cc)  KEB
From left to right: Amanda as Roy Mustang, Joni as Edward Elric, Kelly as Winry Rockbell, and Ashley as Jean Havoc.

I was nervous to ask to take their picture but they were happy to let me snap one before showtime, and to let me share it with the world.

So...Long live ZAG!  I hope to run into you again in June at Colossal Con.

FILM REVIEWFullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos  

The 2012 film poster.
Animated feature by Bones and Aniplex. Licensed and reversioned in English by FUNimation Entertainment. US distribution by ElevenArts. Film directed by Kazuya Murata and produced by Masahiko Minami. From the manga by Hiromu Arakawa.

Read the official film summary!  


I was lucky enough to see this in the movie theater when it premiered in the US! The theater was packed, and I loved being surrounded by fellow fans. Sometimes the audience members provided interesting commentary during the film (ahem, that would be the people who sat next to me), but overall, I liked that I wasn't alone in my love for the franchise. There were a lot of small details here and there in the film that only a fan would understand, and it was nice to be able to catch these little moments and have my reactions make sense--we all laughed and cringed at the right spots together.

The audience highlights (SPOILERS): everyone laughing when Major Armstrong winks at Winry, and the huge collective groan when Julia's "brother" removes the piece of flesh from his ribs inscribed with a transmutation circle. I think it hurt everyone who watched it...my row was definitely squirming. On top of all that...watching FMA on the big screen really is a sight to behold. It looked good. Very good.  

Here's my report card, AND THERE ARE MORE SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. I also recommend hopping over to Rotten Tomatoes and read what actual film critics have to say about the film--I find I agree with a lot of what they have to say, for both the Fresh and Rotten reviews.

PLOT: When it comes to storytelling, there are two types of tales that exist: a plot-based story and a character-based story. Usually it's one or the other, but some of the best creative works are able to provide a relatively balanced mixture of both. I myself hold a bias towards character-based stories--it's what I like to write and what I like to see/read. So...That being said, FMA: SSM is very, very heavy on the plot and at times I couldn't always follow it. This is also because the film is very, very heavy on the action.

I love action, don't get me wrong, but the pace of the film (after its initial scenes of exposition) shoots out at the speed of light and doesn't let up. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, there was never a dull moment in this film and it always had my full attention. On the other hand, I wasn't always sure of exactly what was going on...I feel like I'd have to view this film a second time in order for me to understand it.

There also seemed to be some continuity errors. This film is NOT a sequel to the series, but a sort of "midquel"...it supposed to take place somewhere around episode 20 in Brotherhood, and the film functions as an added bonus episode--extra fun, but also not necessary to the original story. There were a few moments where I scratched my head and thought, Was it like that in the series? I don't remember. The scenes whizzed by quickly but it did make me question the film's consistency with the pre-established anime series.
The 2012 DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack.

To the film's credit, though, it does provide some interesting parallels to the television series--it was hard not to consider the plight of the Ishvallans (from the first and second series) and compare it to the plight of the Milosians (from the film). And it also did a good job of reiterating the terrible price of the philosopher's stone--it was horrific to see in the series and just as horrific in this film (that freaky bloodbath tower of terror!!!!). The film's strong sense of morality, and its ability to show the dark side of things (as well as the gray, ambiguous side of things) is very consistent with the other works in the franchise. The film truly is representative of the series, there is no mistaking that. Overall Grade: B-

CHARACTERIZATION:  While this story is technically Julia and her brother's, I really, really wanted to see more Ed and Al! There were a couple moments where Al did get to have some time to shine, and his scenes with Julia were always poignant, but Ed's my favorite character and I was bummed that he didn't take center stage more often, instead providing some good action sequences and comic relief.

In terms of the rest of the characters in the film, it was nice to see some familiar faces again (Mustang, Hawkeye, Winry) but they still didn't seem to fit the story exactly--it seemed like they were thrown in just for the sake of appearances...again, a nice nod to fans, but sad for the story itself since they're rendered as throwaway characters. Poor Winry--she's come to the battlefield looking for Ed, and conveniently his automail got messed up so she can work on it (and therefore is relevant to the plot again). However, I don't remember seeing Ed mess up his automail and we don't see Winry working on it--if it happened, it was a blip on the radar and I totally missed it amid all the other things going on. Anyway, in graduate school we talk about showing versus telling in our writing, and this was a film scene in which telling was used instead of showing...so it didn't actually prove to me that Winry was a helpful or relevant character. We're just told she is.

As for new characters, Julia proved to be a sympathetic heroine and I felt I got a nice snapshot of her humanity. The other characters--Miranda, Ashleigh, etc.--although they were interesting enough to forward the plot, I didn't know enough about them to care whether or not they lived or died. And there is a lot of death in this movie, just so you know. Overall Grade: B-

ACTING: Consistently top-notch, as always. I got a warm, fuzzy feeling hearing familiar voices once again, and the new actors performed just as well. I didn't always like hearing the villains burst into long and involved fits of maniacal laughter, but I fault the script for that, not the actors. Overall Grade: A+

ANIMATION: This was a new animation style to adjust to. I could easily tell who everyone was, but visually, there was a clear difference to how the characters are rendered in the film versus the first two series. I like the Brotherhood series' style better overall, but that's just me. I will say though, I kind of like Ed's eyes in this movie (there's like three different colors in them, making them more dynamic) and there were instances where character motion was very organic and fluid. But it still seemed like less emphasis was placed on the artwork of the characters themselves, and more on the "set design" of the movie. There are plenty of gorgeous renditions of the landscape in the film, and so much detail and painstaking care is evident in the scenery, backgrounds, and city design. On the whole the use of color was brilliant. But, as a member of the audience, I'm always more interested in watching characters than scenery, and if there is anything to fault the film's style for, it would be emphasizing background over foreground. 


 Edward Elric in action...*
Image (c) Protected 
Look at those eyes!!!!!!
Image (c) Protected


A composite of screenshots reveal intricate backgrounds and coloring.
Composite by Rei of Wanabrar. Images (c) Protected
See the difference? The background looks better than the characters. In my opinion, it should be the other way around. However, the film still looks good, so it gets an Overall Grade: A-.

MUSIC: I don't know too much about Japanese popular artists, so I'm not sure how valid my opinion will be in regards to the pop songs for the film.  L'arc~En~Ciel did the main theme "Good Luck My Way" (which I think played over the closing credits), and that was fine and suitable for the film. They've been tied to the franchise and are the perfect choice. The opening song, "Chasing Hearts" by Miwa was nice on the ears, but it didn't seem to fit only because it sounded very happy and optimistic while the Wolfman chimera is jumping along the trains.  Kind of conflicting imagery, there....In terms of the film score, Wow! The opening composition that plays during the Harvest Festival (I think that's the name...it was a Something Festival) scene that first shows us Ed and Al, sounded absolutely lovely. It reminded me of some of the music I heard when I lived overseas. The film score was very well done and was effective at heightening emotional tension throughout the movie. I am a fan of Taro Iwashiro now and will look for more of his orchestral compositions. Based on the film's score, I give the music an Overall Grade: A+

FINAL GRADE (Totaled and averaged from above): B-.

WOULD I RECOMMEND? To fans, yes. And pretty much fans only.I think someone unfamiliar with the series would be lost. Although the film does a good job providing exposition for Ed's automail limbs and Al's missing body (the basis for the whole series) I don't think that this would be a complete enough introduction the world that is Fullmetal Alchemist. The newbie audience member would leave with too many questions, in my opinion. Leaving with questions isn't always a bad thing--you want to promote critical, serious thought with the art you've created--but I think they would not only wonder about the plot, but wonder about the mechanics of the FMA universe...as in, plausibility. The series explains the "rules" of alchemy and the "rules" of Amestrian society ok enough, but this film is only a quick peek into a region that bears no importance to the main continuity of the Fullmetal Alchemist saga.

I've heard that this is the last time anything FMA-related will be produced, since the manga has been completed and Brotherhood has finished. I'll be upset if FMA: SSM is indeed the last thing fans have to look forward to, but on its own, fans will be happy with it.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. Dir. Kazuya Murata. By Yuichi Shinbo. Prod. Masahiko Minami. Perf. Vic Mignogna, Maxey Whitehead, Alexis Tipton (Eng. Dub). Funimation Entertainment, 2012. Film.

15 January 2012

Back from Residency!

We are the Troublemakers!!!!
 (Shirts in honor of Mike Arnzen. See here!
Hi everyone! Residency at Seton Hill University ended Wednesday night and as soon as I finished my five hour drive home, I collapsed and caught up on sleep for the next couple of days. My brain is only just now starting to turn back on.

This residency (my fourth) counts as probably one of my more interesting ones to date. Lots of random things to keep it entertaining!

I made a more significant effort to socialize (believe it or not, I have difficulties with this), I was more assertive in my writing workshops (with both critiques and rebuttals), and I brought with me to res a nifty costume for the Wine Social, as well as my harp, so I could practice playing it in front of lots of people. All of this in addition to several three-hour course modules and special guest presentations from authors Sophie Littlefield, Rachael Herron, and Juliet Blackwell. Busy, busy, busy!

Anita Blake, The Mad Hatter, and Belle

There was so much going on at this residency that I'm struggling to remember most of it. Thankfully I take copious notes (I'm old school, so they're handwritten) that I can look over to jog my memory. I know that I got some great feedback on my novel, not only from the workshop, but from the modules themselves, where we got to share some of our work and ideas with our fellow students and authors.

I was the queen of miscommunication at this residency, and ended up standing up my mentor on two separate occasions just because I didn't pay attention or forgot things. That was pretty embarrassing. But I appeased with alcohol and impressed with harp playing.  I like the idea of impressing Scott Johnson (the man's a legend; check out author Carla Anderton's graduation speech), but I need to do it by turning in quality work to him each month and making this novel the best I can make it.

I got some validation that my hard work is paying off. My novel received several gasps, grins, and nods for some plot points I revealed in class, and even a highly coveted, "Stop! Don't tell me what happens next, I want to read it!" (Thank you, Monica Schryver! You have no idea, that made my month! You and Kirsty Smith both!)

And probably what's even more exciting...I'm beginning to find that my work (my writing) speaks for me. People remember what I've written...even if it's from two or three residencies ago. They ask me if I've gotten further along on the project, and they can't wait to see more from me. This is hard to do when you are a bit on the shy side (or socially awkward side), so the fact that people are able to place my name to my writing (without me shoving it in their face, overtly promoting it, or talking very much about it) is a huge deal. Really! I know I'm being bragadacious right now, but I can't contain my excitement about it!

The first night I arrived at residency I showing my new crit partner Ryan to some of the faces of Seton Hill, and when I introduced author Anne Harris I'd mentioned I had a few workshops with her and that she's top notch. Anne remembered my work! She was able to recall that this term's sub was a continuation of a previous term's sub, and I said something along the lines of "Wow! You remembered! That's a really good sign!" And she responded with something to the effect of, "Yes, that is a good sign." 

People can remember what I write. Which means...I am writing memorable fiction. Which is nothing short of awesome, and it means I have to keep up the good work and not only meet but surpass expectations. It's going to be hard work, but I'm going to do it!

And last but not least....I went to Seton Hill's chapel for the first time and was gobsmacked by how enormous and beautiful it is. It reminds me of some of the churches I visited in Europe. Here's a couple pictures:
Image (cc) KEB
Image (cc) KEB
That's about the most I can remember of this residency. That, and Dr. Wendland giving me a nice smooch on the cheek for playing my harp during the graduation reception. I may bring the harp in June and do the reception thing again, with or without the promise of kisses.

Now it's back to the grindstone...not just the novel, but with classes and academic reading. Friends and family, I now retreat to my desk in the corner. I'll resurface in a few months.

In the meantime, you can check my pulse by checking out my website. I still plan to post regularly during this jam-packed (and admittedly tough) semester.

Stay tuned!

03 January 2012

2012: The Year of My Novel

Big goals for 2012! This'll be a super year because...

2012 is the Year of the Con! 2012 is the Year of Good Health! 2012 is the Year I Learn to Draw!

And as for the best thing I've got to look forward to, the goal I'm most excited about meeting (drumroll and trumpets, please)...

2012 is the Year of My Novel!

Yes. This year the novel will be completed (with a new title: The Name and the Key); it'll be revised, triple-checked, submitted, and approved as my thesis manuscript for my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.

This year I'll cry tears of joy over my hard work and seeing the novel through to the end. And then I'll thank the multitudes of people who helped me along the way.

Then I'll query and pitch the novel to agents, and then hopefully it'll be on its way to being published. This part will potentially take a very long time, and if I'm burnt out on rejections, then I'll self-publish.

I don't mind getting rejected; as I understand it's part of the territory and will very likely happen more than just several times. But, if I get as many rejections as Joe Konrath did for his novel The List, I will follow his route and self-publish (and hopefully meet with even a fraction of his success). By the way, shout-out to Anita Laydon Miller for sharing his success story with me and The Troublemakers!

As it stands, I still have a lot of writing to do (like 50,000 words needed, MINIMUM!!). I am still waaaay behind on my page counts and am really under the gun to complete the draft with enough time to do major revisions. The level on which I'm behind is high, and it's my fault, but I'm not worried because I know it'll be completed and I know it'll be of quality...because failure is not an option and I won't settle for anything less than my best.

As of right now, the novel is 100% plotted in terms of major events, themes, symbols, and mythology...a huge step above what it was before, where the story was written based on whatever mood I was in at the time, and with almost zero planning.

There's still room for me to be a pantser, but I've got more of a guide of what to do so I don't get too far off-topic. The only thing that's difficult for me is getting little scenes together to form a plump and compelling chapter that propels the story (and the reader) forward.  I know everything that needs to happen, it's just the stuff in between the major events that needs work. In other words, it's all killing time between plot points.

But oh, I'm excited for this book. It's the best thing I've written so far in my life (yes, I actually think it knocks the socks off of my theater work) and I can't wait to share it with the world and to make my family and friends proud.

2012: The Year I Learn to Draw

Hi all! So glad it's a new year. And that means new goals! I've got some big ones, and they're so big they've been spread among a few posts.

Did you know...

2012 is the Year of the Con!  Conventions are a big deal for writers, and I've neglected them for too long. I'm making it up by going to four conventions this year.

2012 is the Year of Good Health! 2005-2010 were rough years for me health-wise. 2011 kinda sucked all around. But 2012 is the year I make changes.

And now for the next theme for this year..

2012 is the Year I Learn to Draw!

My brain went into overdrive around August 2011. It hasn't stopped humming since then. I want to continue to develop in other areas in addition to writing, 'cause I kind of want to be like Neil Gaiman and stick my hand in everything...fiction, film, music, theater, graphic novels, manga...

So, the graphic novels part.... if I want to hop into that I have to learn to draw.

I've always scribbled stuff out for fun over the years in a fit of goofiness (ask my friends--they've been turned into fun characters over the years with my weird Disney/Barbie/Cartoon aesthetic) but I wanted to kick things up a few notches. This is going to be very, very hard work because most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing. But I've got the tools to start my journey (hooray for Christmas presents):

1) I got a drawing tablet!  Wacom Bamboo Create.

I've never used one of these before and it's been fun training myself to. I picked this particular brand based on reviews I've read all over the internet, including customer reviews on sites like Amazon. And I did a ton of research on pricing and got a really good deal on it. It's been exciting (and a bit tricky) to learn but once I've figured this out I'll be ready to start pumping out some images for you.

2) I got software! Manga Studio Debut.

Again, I've never done anything like this before--no graphics design, no art programs, no Photoshop, nothing. I picked this software based on reviews and research, and I again took advantage of crazy last-minute Christmas deals for a great price. And I picked the Debut software precisely because it's for beginners (Manga Studio EX is the professional version and apparently the holy grail for comic and manga artists).  So far my learning is time-consuming...like a few hours a day trying to figure out how to use the program through experimentation.

Working with layers has been interesting (totally new to the concept) and I don't even understand the terms that pop up (like vector, for example, or raster layer) while I'm using the program. Working with tones has also been a bit difficult for me, and when I do an ink layer, I'm not quite sure how to get my lines as clean as some of the artwork posted in the tutorials and on the Smith Macro gallery site.

My goal is to have original artwork (featuring characters from my novel!!!) up soon on this website. In the future, if my book doesn't make good with an agent or publisher, I may self-publish with artwork included as ebook bonus content.

And at the very least I'd like to be able to do a webseries at some point. Gotta keep practicing...but I'm going to have to back down on how much time I devote to this because this week, I'm back to school. And that means back to the novel, full-throttle!

02 January 2012

2012: The Year of Good Health

Hi everyone! Today is the first day of 2012! Huzzah!

I've got big plans for 2012. These plans are so big that I'm spreading them out over several posts as I wax euphoric optimism for the new year!

My last post officially announced that  2012 is The Year of the Con. Yes, I'm attending four conventions this year, and a newbie to all of them. Should be exciting! But 2012 is not only the Year of the Con, it's

The Year of Good Health.

I know that when you're making goals, the more specific you are, the better chances you have of obtaining them. "The Year of Good Health" is waaaay too vague of a goal, but really, I don't care. How I accomplish good health is vast and varied, and if I just make one behavior change, no matter what it is,  I'll be on the path to my goal. This, in my opinion, is my most important and most difficult goal to achieve...Because I have years of damage to undo, and I know it'll take longer than a year to "fix" everything. So the goal isn't exactly to be 100% healthy by the end of the year, but to practice living healthfully.

WARNING: Diving into some personal stuff here which may encourage my tendency to overshare. Read on if thou art brave and without judgement.

I've always been a weak person health-wise, ever since I can remember. Even when I was top-notch physical form (from ten years of ballet, and from outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, caving, canoeing/kayaking) I was still weak because there was always something wrong with me underneath the surface. Even though I've done amazing things, they were also extremely difficult for me to do, and I barely made it through some of these activities because they'd wipe me out so badly.

On top of this initial physical weakness, in 2005 I got the bombshell diagnosis: I was one of the 2.6% Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder, one of the most disruptive mental illnesses out there. So not only was I physically ill, I was also mentally ill. And the two definitely are related--if you are weak physically, it can wear down on you mentally, and if you are dealing with mental illness, it can take a toll on you physically. 

So...life certainly sucked from 2005-2010. I had some bright spots and some successes, (my shows at OSU, for example) but for the most part, this was an unstable period in which I teetered and tottered between mania and depression ("rapid cycling"), with an occasional panic attack thrown in the mix. When my mind broke down, my body broke down, too (caught diseases easily due to poor immune system, and one year I got mononucleosis and shingles within a month of each other!). At the same time all this was going on, I destroyed relationships; ruined and ended friendships; was an incredible burden on my loved ones; obliterated my finances; missed a lot of work (almost fired many times); went on disability; impulsively quit jobs; was hospitalized three times; attempted suicide or hurt myself; and was completely an unreliable, and many times selfish, human being overall.

And I'm so grateful that people still love me and care for me after all of that.

During this time period, I was put on the following medications just for treating my mental illness: Abilify, Ativan, Depakote, Effexor, Geodon, Klonopin, Lamictal, Lithium, Lumnesta, Paxil, Tegretol, Topamax, Trihexphenidyl, Trileptal, Wellbutrin, and Xanax.

Whew! Why on earth would someone need to go through all of those meds?

1) Every human brain is different. Every medication works to regulate the release of chemicals in the brain, but you have to find the right combination that works the best way for your individual biology. So, in essence...it took a long time to find the right combination (for me, Seroquel, Wellbutrin, and Lamictal has been the magic cocktail and I've been on it since 2009 at varying doses. I will probably be on these for the rest of my life and they're the best thing that's worked for me.).

2) If you quit your medication for any reason or fail to take it EXACTLY as you've been told, essentially you fuck up your brain and can render your medications useless. So you have to start the entire process over again until you find the solution that stabilizes the chemical process in the brain. So yeah....I stopped taking my medications a couple times, and I definitely paid the price for it.

3) Side effects. They're different for every person and for every drug, but here are some of the worst I've been through: Tardive dyskenesia (uncontrolled facial movements), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight gain (um...like 100 lbs), insatiable appetite, vivid dreams, hallucinations/delusions. Yummy!

That was a huge crap list, and I'm sorry you had to slog through all that. I like to tell myself that I was establishing context, but really I was venting (and maybe unconsciously hoping for someone out there to be like, "Yeah, I went through all that, too! You're not alone!".) Anyhow, here's some optimism for you:


The key to living with bipolar disorder is to know thyself. I've been stable with only a few hiccups (seasonally I go through a little mood swing fest, and it happens like clockwork) and I've weathered the tough times because I know myself well enough to understand the patterns and behaviors that lead to cycling. I also have a support system who can tell me when I'm acting funny if I am unable to tell on my own. And I also take my meds consistently as directed. This sounds easy to do but it isn't (trust me).

So...as long as I keep up the good work mentally (being in graduate school is a HUGE DEAL for someone who hasn't been mentally up to par for a while), I can devote more energy to bringing my body back to how it was pre-diagnosis. That's a tall order, and I know it won't be exactly how it used to be, ever (and going through all those meds definitely took its toll on my body!) but if it could anywhere near resemble its former self I will be happy.

And I've already had success! Which is why I know I CAN DO THIS!

From JUNE 2011 up til now, I brought my Cholesterol down from 242 to 191! My triglycerides went from 243 to 120! And I've lost twenty pounds.

By JUNE 2012....

My specific goals are to lose forty to sixty lbs in that time frame, and to have eliminated at least two major sources of sugar in my diet. This requires a major kick-up in effort, but I'm ready for it.

Wish me luck! I'm looking forward to sharing my progress and success with you!