Some of you know this, but some of you may not: I am a huge nerd. I tend to be somewhat reserved about my nerdier inclinations (gaming, anime, etc) and until now have limited my recommendations to things like books and music, because if you don’t like books, you’ve probably subscribed to this newsletter by accident, and I can’t not talk about music.
But while I was at Phoenix Comic-Fest last month to speak on some book panels, I was encouraged by my friend Victoria (aka V.E. Schwab) to let my nerd flag fly a bit more in this newsletter, and that if I did, I might find people who appreciate my books also appreciate other things I like. So I’m going to dabble a bit more in those topics starting with this newsletter. If I see a sudden drop in subscribers, I suppose I’ll know why.
But before I get to that, here is the Dutch cover for Blood and Tempest!
I’ve loved the darker, moodier interpretations of all the Dutch covers, but this one really touches my heart. When Maarten, my editor, ask if I had any thoughts on what to include in the cover, I tentatively suggested they put a kraken on there, since it’s a fairly important aspect of the book. I say “tentatively” because every other publisher I’d suggested put a kraken on the cover politely declined or quickly changed the subject. Maarten made no promises, and I set my expectations to zero as I usually do regarding authorial input on covers. And then low and behold, a kraken on my very own book! Ain’t it a beauty?
I’d seen the movie adaptation of the novel Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko several times and enjoyed it immensely, mostly because the acting is superb (modern theater was born in Russia, after all!) and the visuals are stunning. But if I’m being honest, even after several viewings, I had only the vaguest notion of what the hell was actually happening with the plot. And now that I’ve read Andrew Bromfield’s translation of the original Russian novel, I can see why it would be challenging to adapt such a richly imagined world that, much like Russian, is so profoundly encumbered by its own past.
The premise is fairly common for what I suppose one would classify as “contemporary fantasy” or “dark urban fantasy” or whatever—magical people of various sorts who secretly live among us. There is a Night Watch comprised of Light magical people who police the Dark magical people at night (vampires, witches, etc), and a Day Watch comprised of followers of the Dark that keep track of the Light ones during the day. The story centers around Anton, a not particularly powerful or talented member of Night Watch who finds himself caught in the middle of a struggled to recruit a young magic user to one side or the other. But there can’t be an all out conflict between the two groups because of a truce the two signed centuries ago. And this is where it gets interesting because according to the terms of the true, if a Light follower does something good, a follower of the Dark can do something equally bad to maintain the balance, and often times this results in nobody doing anything. So how do you convince someone to join the good guys, if every act of good they do can be met with an equal act of evil? It’s just so very Russian, and I enjoyed the grimy, stoic bitterness both side express about it.
Summer is a time for mellow, fun music and so I thought I’d recommend this recent indie rock release, Kiss Yr Frenemies by Illuminati Hotties. It follows the same sort of jangly-yet-catchy fuzz guitars and snarky-yet-earnest lyrics as bands like Waxahatchee, Girlpool, and Diet Cig. Just a fun album to put on while you’re cruising along on a road trip this summer. Check out their Bandcamp page for a listen and a fun video of their single “(You’re Better) Than Ever”.
So my inaugural anime recommendation is an unappreciated gem called School Live!, based on the manga by Norimitsu Kaiho. The first episode begins with a seemingly normal school girl named Yuki Takeya going about her seemingly normal school day. Except for some reason, she lives at the school and she has a dog that follows her around, which no one else seems to notice except the fellow members of her afterschool school club called “School Living Club”, who also live at the school for some reason that is not explained. What’s more, those other members of the group often have odd reactions when Yuki tries to involve them in conversations with her other friends.
It isn’t until the very end of the first episode that you understand that everything until that point has been seen through Yuki’s delusional eyes. The school is not nice and clean, nor is it filled with happy students and teachers. A zombie plague has taken out most of the population of Japan, and School Living Club is a small group of survivors holed up in the otherwise abandoned school while zombies shamble around the playground and parking lot outside. All of the other students that Yuki has been talking to died horribly weeks ago. And so the story pivots hard from charming school comedy to horror survival in a single, breathtaking moment. I don’t mind spoiling that for you, because really it’s the hook for the show, and there are many more twists in later episodes that are even more upsetting.
Ultimately, unlike The Walking Dead, which is mostly a show about how awful situations make people awful, School-Live! tries to find the goodness that can be revealed in people during the worst that life can offer. It is not a show of unending horror. In fact, most of the time it remains sweet and charming. And that makes the horrific moments all the more impactful.
Well? How was that? It won't be anime every time. It might be comics, or video games, or something else entirely. But it felt good to get some of that down in cogent thought, and I hope it was at least a little intriguing. I'm pretty sure you can watch the show on most streaming platforms.