spindizzy: Alice in chibi mode looking really confused, with the text "curiouser and curiouser" above her. (Curiouser and curiouser)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
I feel like it says a lot about me as a person that I go "Okay, I will read lots of prose books by new authors" and promptly start on three massive manga re-read projects. And also that I swap between Important Seminal Manga That Is Critically Beloved and the Sparkly Shipbait Idfic. START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON, I GUESS.

I have also spotted the slight flaw in my #getouttamydamnhouse goal, which that I hadn't accounted for what I was going to do when I... Happened to the library? Having a target that keeps going up incrementally is a good way to discourage yourself, so I am keeping my goal fixed at ninety (oh god past!me what were you doing) and when I get to June I'm gonna count up how many library books I have left in my house and adjust my goal accordingly.


  1. Pluto Volume 1 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka [Jump]

  2. Pluto Volume 2 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka [Jump]

  3. Pandora Hearts Volume 1 by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  4. Pandora Hearts Volume 2 by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  5. Pluto Volume 3 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka [Jump]

  6. Pandora Hearts Volume 3 by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  7. Pandora Hearts Volume 4 by Jun Mochizuki [Jump]

  8. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman [Jump]




Cover of Pluto Volume 1 Cover of Pluto Volume 2


1. Pluto Volume 1 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka [Top]

Pluto is a retelling of a story arc from Astroboy by Osamu Tezuka. Naoki Urasawa took the original The Greatest Robot On Earth story arc, and as near as I can work out made a pretty great murder-mystery AU .

You can read this story without any knowledge of Astroboy (Source: yes, I did that). The main thing you need to know is that this is set on an Earth where humans and robots live together, albeit with robot rights problems. Our POV character is Gesicht, one of the seven greatest robots in the world and a detective for Interpol, who is investigating the murder of both Mont Blanc (one of the other greatest robots in the world) and an anti-robot-rights activist.

First off: the art is really good. It's atmospheric in the best ways (the AI Correction Facility is a building full of nightmares even before you get to Brau 1589, which is impressive considering he is a nightmare on his own.), the robots are detailed and different enough that you can see differences in models depending on age and purpose. I am torn between my favourite part for the art though! On the one hand, it is really nice to see the amount of variety in the (male) faces! Osamu Tezuka did a lot of different styles of faces, and they were pretty distinctive, so it's nice to see that both carried through to Pluto and rendered in a different style. On the other hand, the way Pluto handles rendering emotions on robots with no facial features works really well. Robbie's wife (whose name temporarily escapes both me and google) is clearly shown processing grief, which is handled solely through the layout of the panels, which is really clever.

Speaking of clever, I enjoyed the groundwork being layered here for robots and their humanity. Robots are encouraged to do things like build nuclear families together because "By living like humans, they say that we can refine out behaviour and become more human-like," which certainly has an affect on Brando by instilling concern about his own mortality into him. North No. 2 (who deserved so much better than Paul Duncan taking his issues out on him)1 was built as a war robot, and all he wants is to learn to play the piano and not hurt anyone because he did too much of that in the war. Robots are considered people enough that they are imprisoned rather than reprogrammed or killed, but not enough that Brau 1589 can't be pinned to a wall in pieces behind nightmare barricades.

Plus, I feel like there's a compare and contrast to be had between how Mont Blanc was treated after his death (a hero's wake, his body disposed of according to his wishes.) and how Robbie was treated. Robbie had a wife and a home, and his body was thrown away to be picked over by anyone who wanted it with no consideration of her feelings! And only the fact that Gesicht showed basic decency got him clues for his case and respect for Robbie's family!

(DO NOT GET ME STARTED on Paul Duncan and his insistence that music produced through machines or by robots is artificial and not worth listening to, DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON THAT HORSESHIT. Especially as the image of North No. 2 fighting for their life while singing is just a little heartbreaking.)

I didn't enjoy this volume as much as I did the first time around (no, I dunno why either), but I'm still looking forward to reading the rest, even though I know this is going to go so badly for me.

1: Duncan's backstory sounds like a story from Black Jack, which it entirely could be. What you did there: I see it!

2. Pluto Volume 2 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka [Top]
In this volume: Gesicht meets Atom, the world's mightiest robot; Atom investigates a murder; Gesicht discovers a mystery for himself; we meet Brando's Noble Rival Hercules; everything is terrible; Uran makes kitty friends!

My favourite thing about this volume is that Atom is this really weird and great combo of acting like a kid and acting like something else. The way he teases Gesicht about his wife and is excited about toys is an odd contrast to the way that he talks about emotions – he pretends to have them to the point where he kinda understands them. (Which makes his reacting to Gesicht's past so strongly even worse, because he doesn't seem to be pretending at all.) But when you contrast the scenes where he is acting like a kid to the scenes where he is, say, investigating a murder? It's really incongruous, especially for how the police officers react to him! One of them sees him primarily as a child and is hesitant to show him the gorier elements of the scene, and the other is... Honestly? A bigot who treats robots like tools. (I have Concerns about the case for the murderer being human hinges on "No human would waste good tea on a robot and watch flowers with them" and these concerns do tie into the bigotry people display in Pluto. Especially as both Hercules and Mont Blanc make points that the monuments humans want to build of them would ruin the views, so!)

On the topic of investigations, I forgot how quickly Gesicht's storyline was brought in! It's so many little things adding up here; it's not just his higher ups being shady and refusing to answer questions, or Atom's reactions; it's Gesicht and Helena slowly starting to realise that something's wrong and their memories are out of character for them. It's the weird combo of having absolute faith that your memories are correct (because you're not a human, you can't FORGET things), and knowing that your memories are infinitely more fragile than a human's (because they can be removed and manipulated!) at the same time and it creates a really unsettling atmosphere, even before you get to the nightmare hellscape of Brau 1589.

(I do wonder: Atom and Uran are technically more advanced robots than Gesicht, but he gets to have a job and independence and they don't. I don't know if that's because he's presented as an adult or a difference in how they're programmed; it's not really gone into. Much like why the robot maids and waitresses are given traditionally feminine shapes and uniforms. ... Also I cannot get over the dog cars, to be honest. In a Tezuka manga, I wouldn't even blink twice, but in Urasawa's style and tone it's really bizarre.)

I'm not sure I can go into Brando's storyline here without spoilers, but suffice to say: augh.

Finally: he points this volume raises about "Why are we here? We wanted to free robots from oppression and tyranny, and look at this," and the lack of concern the military has for civilian populations? Relevant when Osamu Tezuka created the original Astro Boy, relevant with Naoki Urasawa created his remix, relevant now, still. Like, I want to give them credit for creating something that stands the test of time emotionally and thematically, but it makes me heartsick to do it.

Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 1 Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 2


3. Pandora Hearts Volume 1 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
Continuing my fine trend of reading manga where everything is terrible: <em>Pandora Hearts</em>, the ridiculous, terrible, id-manga of my heart!

Our premise is this: Oz, our hero, is the heir to the Vessalius family. On the day that he is to be formally recognised as heir and representative of the family, the ceremony is attacked by mysterious figures in red, who promptly drop Oz into a nightmare hell dimension and/or mythical prison known as the Abyss! He is attacked and rescued and rescued and attacked by a mysterious girl called Abyss, who may or may not be human and either way needs Oz to help <em>her</em> to escape the Abyss.

I'll be honest, it's been so long since I read this for the first time (I think it was... 2010? Maybe?) that I've forgotten what it was like to read the first volume without knowing what was going on, so I can't say whether or not it makes any more sense than that summary if you've not read further. (I... Honestly suspect not, sorry everyone. It definitely didn't explain why everyone connected to the Abyss was named for Alice in Wonderland as far as I read last time.) I can say for certain that the art is quite pretty – I really like the costuming for this series, even Break's <em>awful coat</em>. And I think the mood setting it does (the bright, happy bookend scenes compared to the broken toy box of nightmares that is the Abyss) is really good. It has the thing where everyone is either beautiful, absolutely grotesque, or in the process of shifting from one to the other. There is very little middle ground. Which works for me, and for the tone of the manga itself, I think? The tone swings wildly between humour and <em>melodrama</em> and I am here for it. (Mind control! Cats! Betrayals! Accidentally stabbing the person who means the most to you! Break alternating between creepy and making a joke of himself without stopping to pass go or collect two hundred pounds! Oz's emotions when he talks about his shitty neglectful dad! Oz being a fucking <em>bratty fifteen year old boy</em> who believes in tormenting his friends!) Plus, the art does a lot of the emotional lifting for Raven, who can barely bring himself to talk to Oz but can do things like cover him with Raven's own coat or putting his hat on him for comfort.

I do love Alice in this volume, from her knowing <em>exactly</em> how to handle Oz, to her going on a literal tear as she attempts to murder and manipulate everyone. I always forget how much this volume sets her up as a mystery, hazard, and protagonist all at the same time, and I can't remember how that carries through. I enjoy it though, and I've not read the series the whole way through before, so WE SHALL SEE.

4. Pandora Hearts Volume 2 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
IN THIS BOOK: Oz and friends investigate a series of murders and learn about incuses! Oz visits the scene of the crime where he was dropped into the Abyss! Raven's secrets are revealed! The Intention of the Abyss makes a move! EVERYTHING CONTINUES TO BE TERRIBLE AND I LOVE IT!

In this world setting, there are being called Chains, which are the monsters from the previous volume; they need human contractors to manifest in the real world, and to eat people to remain there. Incuses are the timers counting down to when the Chain and their contractors are dragged back into the Abyss. And all of this is fine, but I am sad that the first case Oz went to was "Adorable little girl must be sacrificed so that everyone understands that there are stakes and they are high." (Also omg Oz you are like fifteen stop flirting with people.) ... Honestly, I'm just glad that it didn't go the route the anime did of explicitly saying "This girl has been abused and has been dragged into a nightmare toy box because she wanted to make that never happen." That was – not okay.

But apart from that... You know when something is so ridiculously your id that you just have to sit and feel for a while? That is me with the Raven-focused part of this volume (even the parts where it turns out literally no one else takes Raven as seriously as he does.). Like, I try to feel no shame about the tropes I love, but the scene in the Vessalius mansion is EMBARRASSINGLY my tropes. There is mindcontrol, and Raven turning on everyone with varying degrees of remorse, and MELODRAMATIC REVEALS, and Oz's responses – *kisses fingers* It's all ridiculously dramatic and I need it.

As for what else I need: ALICE, THOUGH. She doesn't understand friends or feelings, this volume is supremely clear on this, but the way that she protects Oz anyway and reasons out the feelings that she doesn't understand is really delightful to me?

Also I think that this is the first volume where we start to see that something is rotten in the state of Oz's fucking brain, which I think is handled really well, both in terms of Oz's actions and reactions being just off, and in the way other people react to him.

... God, this series is a trash fire and I am enjoying it so much.

Cover of Pandora Hearts Volume 3 Cover of Pluto Volume 3


5. Pandora Hearts Volume 3 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
In this volume: Alice, Oz, and Raven go looking for a contractor/serial killer who has escaped from prison; Raven and Oz's terrible abusive pasts are somewhat revealed; Vincent Nightray is introduced and I flail backwards across the furniture in an effort to escape him.

The thing I probably like most about this volume is that at least part of it is a Rip Van Winkle story from the perspective of the people on the outside. This is weird to me, because usually I hate Rip Van Winkle stories (there is too much of my embarrassment squick in the idea of wandering back into a world that's moved on without you, and they're usually emotionally awful?), but it turns out that if the story is about everyone that got left behind, I'm much more interested? This is useful knowledge.

Apart from that... The plot beats are mostly fairly obvious from the start, I think? Again, somewhat hard to tell what is predictable and what is "Oh, I remember this!" but I think the reveals here aren't surprises. (Some of the character reactions are though. And I have to admit, this is the – apparently Oz is physically incapable of saying the word "friend", who knew.) However, this is the volume where my feminist principles start pricking at me. "You know that for a storyline theoretically motivated by Alice wanting to find her memories, Alice doesn't get to do much, yeah?" and "Wow, three dudes casually turning Alice's powers off whenever they please, because that's apparently their right?" And my feminist principles aren't WRONG, those are problems that are valid and visible? I am just apparently willing to keep reading anyway.

(This volume also brought me the certain knowledge that if Alice was a male character, I would hate her so much because she obnoxious and aggressive and careless of people, but on her I am endeared? Especially in the scenes where she continues to reason out emotions like they're a completely foreign concept to her.)

This volume does seem well designed for games of compare and contrast, though. For example:
  • The different ways and degrees of creepy that Break and Vincent are written to. Like, Break is very overtly creepy? Looming out from under the furniture, being deliberately unnerving and very upfront that this is him manipulating everyone and he expects/encourages everyone else to manipulate him in turn? Whereas Vincent's is very charming and pleasant on the surface, but he's also gutted all of his toys and killed a man for no reason and his worst actions have just enough plausible deniability that I am going "Nope, nope, you are trying to be shady and I dislike this." (EVERYTHING ABOUT VINCENT AND HIS RELATIONSHIPS ARE AWFUL AND I GUESS THAT MEANS GOOD JOB FOR MAKING SURE WE KNOW THEY'RE NOT OKAY, BUT ALSO AUGH. (I didn't remember that Break's suspicions of him was brought in so early! But I like how that shook out.)

  • Grim's excuse for his murders, which is visibly a load of cobblers, you can see him coming up with it and how he's fitting that excuse to his self-serving motivations, compared to Raven's explanation for his murders. Grim seems to feel no regret, and deflects the responsibility, where Raven's seems to actually acknowledge that it wasn't what he'd wanted? I don't know.

  • Sub-note: how much Break HATES Raven's... Devotion, as Raven characterises it? Obsession, as Break does? Everything about it makes a lot more sense now that I've read the later volumes of the series, but I like the difference in attitudes and views on this, especially when it feels like the narrative is going "This is still not actually healthy."

  • Gilbert and Oz's reactions to Oz's father's abuse. It... Illuminates a lot about their characters! But also augh. Also this is the point where it explains why Xai Vessalius never has a face (Oz doesn't remember it!), which makes the rest of his scenes make so much more sense.


Overall... It was fine? The emotional beats are good even when the plot is predictable, the humour and the melodrama are still in balance, and look! My least favourite character has shown up! ... Yay.

6. Pluto Volume 3 by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka [Top]

This volume is just a little bit harrowing! Especially in the current political climate! Like, this volume introduces the literal anti-robot KKK so please consider this a caution warning for KKK imagery and allegories! Everything about the scenes with them is... A bit nauseating, to be honest, especially the shots of them hoisting up a crucified robot corpse, or where they're planning to discredit and destroy Gesicht for political points. It's a little nauseating to go from twitter, where activists are explaining media strategies of the evil and manipulative, to this, where those exact strategies are played out. It's worse to go from rhetoric about how, for example, undereducated and underpaid workers blame [demographic] for their problems to a story where you see a character becoming radicalised and blaming robots for all of his problems. ... Yeah, it's topical. I wish it wasn't.

On the plus side, this volume brought me three things that I hadn't considered before.
  1. In this world setting, it is possible for a robot to be a conscientious objector to a war. The degree of reasoning and judgement available to Epsilon that he's able to make that judgement is awesome. (Also: he now runs an orphanage for children orphaned in the conflict.)

  2. The exact page number where I realised exactly how much destruction a robot army could wreck in minutes. (122, if you're wondering.)

  3. Me: DUDE IS A PERSON SUIT FULL OF COCKROACHES, NOPE NOPE NOPE.
    Friends: ????
    Me: NO, I AM BEING VERY LITERAL HERE. THE DUDE IS LITERALLY 3000 COCKROACHES IN A TRENCHCOAT.
    1


Volume three of Pluto features, as mentioned, an anti-robot movement stirring, a man who blames robots for everything wrong in his life specifically targeting Gesicht, and Uran makes another new friend! Her friend is a robot with amnesia who paints and gardens, and their scenes together are delightful.

The best part of Uran making another friend (and of the volume, I think?) though is the art and its use of colour. Pluto is on the whole a black and white affair, with some volumes having coloured pages at the start? But here, you turn a page in the middle of the volume and it's there. It really gets across the impact of the painting. Especially because it remains in colour, even when Uran and her friend are black and white figures standing in front of it! Plus, the scene where the robot demonstrates his actual purpose gives me a lot of emotions, even if I can't work out how he was using those powers with that body. Apparently robots who've been used to kill who whose original function and/or current desire is to help people/preserve life/make things grow (a recurring theme!) give me feelings.

Fusanosuke Natsume makes an interesting point in the postscript that I hadn't considered before – that there are different levels of manga literacy. And I guess I knew it intuitively – hello trying to make recommendations for people who don't read a lot of manga! – but I'd never seen it framed like that, and now I'm kind of going "Oh! Oh I get that now! I can explain it!"

1: The refrain of "After all, you're the one that gave me this body of mine," is REALLY FUCKING CREEPY, okay.

Cover of Pandora Hearts 4 Cover of The Invisible Library


7. Pandora Hearts Volume 4 by Jun Mochizuki [Top]
... I was going to give this a better summary, but the one from my notes is just "In this volume: Raven goes looking for a missing hat and everyone gets kidnapped by the Cheshire Cat" and that is literally what happens so I'm just going to have to roll with it.

(The tone shifts in this manga though. Two chapters of light-hearted comedy about retrieving Raven's hat and Uncle Oscar being the only uncomplicated adult in this manga! And then straight into the hunt for Alice's memories and everything being terrible again. This is the first volume that asks "Why doesn't Alice have any memories?" ... And also I think the first one where the main plot – what the various factions are actually looking for comes up.)

I know I have spoken a lot this post about things being NIGHTMARE HELLSCAPES and NIGHTMARE TOY BOXES, but I am going to put it to the jury that any book with loving depiction of a) full-on Alice in Wonderland levels of warped architecture with b) plants sprouting disembodied doll parts, and c) a pool of disjointed, broken Alices? Pretty fucking nightmarish. Like, full props to Jun Mochizuka for those being as awful as they are, but also aaaaah. But on the topic of the art: I really like the fight scenes, because Break and Cheshire both have a great sense of motion when they're fighting. (I think that the first time around, this was the volume where I started to actually kinda like Break despite the creep factor, and the fight scenes might have been why.)

The tension in volume four is really well done, I think, even with the interspersed humour. Whether it's Sharon wrangling the aftermath of the kidnapping with a smile, everyone trying to deal with the Cheshire Cat, or Uncle Oscar having a "Nice" "Harmless" "Friendly" game of chess with Vincent (AUGH), it is fraught.

... Also I am REALLY FUCKING UNCOMFORTABLE with how Vincent treats Echo in this volume. She looks about twelve. Nothing about the scenes with her in is okay.

I don't have a lot else to say about this volume without digging further into spoilers than I want to; I like how specific it is about Oz's feelings about Alice (look, a long history of reading Saiyuki has conditioned me that wibble as soon as someone starts comparing a character to the sun), Break comes down cooler more than he comes down creepy (he's still both), Oz continues to be a disaster, and Raven alternates wildly between "my favourite precious ball of fail" and "badass who is distressingly comfortable throwing down with Alice," and I enjoyed the fights a lot. On to the next volume!


8. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman [Top]
In theory, The Invisible Library is so thoroughly my thing that I'm amazed it took me this long to get to it. Hear me out: there is a library outside of time and space that sends out infiltration-specialist librarians to track out rare or obscure titles from all across the multiverse... Or just go and pick up common titles to see how coming from an alternative universe would affect the stories that an author told! Heists! Espionage! Magical libraries! Sufficient research done before anyone goes out to a new world that there's nothing to set off my embarrassment squick! This is where I live!

As for how it lives up to that... Well, the story rattles on at a great pace – and I do mean rattles, because periodically it clunks like its about to fall apart. Our Heroine, Irene, is sent to a magical gaslights/steampunk version of London to track down a book that has minimum three factions after it, with a new and Totally Legitimate And Trustworthy Trainee at her side. Cue betrayal! Fae! Airships! An interdimensional serial killer! The obligatory Sherlock Holmes analogue that I did not see coming and I should have and I am so cross that I didn't! The plot leaps about through co-incidences and reveals that come out of absolutely nowhere, which I would have been more angry about if the author hadn't stated in the first few chapters that "Oh, this world is afflicted with High Chaos! That means that the universe itself is pushing events to happen in a more storylike manner!" It's absolute cobblers, but I found that reminding myself of this was great for resetting my expectations whenever the story pushed the bounds of my credulity too far. It told me what it was going to do! I should not be surprised when it does it!

(Instead, I saved my crossness for Irene holding the idiot ball for TWO HUNDRED FUCKING PAGES about a macguffin she found. Irene, there is only one possible reason for someone to have [redacted] in a jar given what you know and the fact that this is a setting with literal magic. Irene, why are you suprised that [redacted] didn't tell you anything, IT WAS BLATANTLY FUCKING [REDACTED], OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU TREATING THIS LIKE A REVEAL I AM SO CROSS ABOUT EVERYTHING.)

The other thing The Invisible Library did that bothered me was that I don't feel like it stands on its own emotionally. There is so much feels and high drama (yessss), but the resolution of those feelings either happens offscreen (Kai and Vale) or not at all (Kai and Irene). I assume it will be done in the sequel! I just wanted it here.

BUT.

For all my kvetching, I really enjoyed The Invisible Library. There is such genuine love for libraries and books here (and not just traditional libraries – there's a conversation about a film archive that warmed my heart)! And I can absolutely believe in characters raising hell through time and space for a chance at a rare title. I enjoyed the worldbuilding a lot, especially what we get of the Library and the Librarians themselves! The emotions and drama we do get make me supremely happy. It was just... Fun. Ridiculous fun that annoyed and entertained me in equal measure, and will hopefully give me some goddamn closure in the sequel.

(Also, people who have read further than me: is Irene actually queer? Because I read her as queer based on her tragic backstory with a female master cat burglar and the fact that she is open to sleeping with dudes as well, but also it's not confirmed and the backstory is not clarified enough. I might just be projecting though, because a friend sold me on this book on the promise of it having quality queerbait, which I forgot about and thought he'd said it had actual queer rep. Whoops.)

Currently Reading


My inability to concentrate has struck again, sorry guys. Here are the books that I've made progress on!
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik: I got so mad at the romance in this that I had to put it down. Not because the romance isn't with the person Our Heroine loves and respects and trusts, because I have done this rodeo before. Just because everyone kissed about half a book before I was ready (and before, y'know, we'd got to the stage when the love interest seemed to realise she's a human being!) and I was SO MAD. Apart from that... It reminds me a lot of other books. It's got a similar premise to The Ancient Magus' Bride (but without the... Awareness? That this relationship needs a responsible adult and that sure is no one IN the relationship.), the tone of Robin McKinley's Beauty, and the magic style of Tamora Pierce's Emelan books. ... I don't know if "Yeah, it reminds me of these three other books that don't piss me off!" is a point in its favour, really. (... I also have Strong Opinions on what I hope is the identity of timetravelling witches btw.).

  • The Scorpion by Gerri Hill: Okay, so far this one is average at best, but it is serving as a good popcorn read while everything is on fire.

  • The Angel Wore Fangs by Sandra Hill: You may have seen the blurb for this one knocking about (Vampire angels fighting vampire demons and also ISIS?), and it turned out on of my libraries had a copy! So, I am reading and livetweeting my reactions to this one so you don't have to.

  • The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones: "Man, I really liked [these two characters] in Daughter of Mystery!" I said. "I sure hope the next two books are them finding nice girls to settle down with and no one's life getting ruined!" And the book comes back with "Well what about if they're each other's love interest but also everything looks like it's gonna be tragic?" *CONFLICTED*

  • First Class Murder by Robin Stevens: I really quite like Hazel's dad, I just want the girls to NOT be followed by Obvious Impending Murder for like five minutes.


Reading Goals


Reading goal: 8/150 (8 new this post)
New-to-me female authors: 1/75 (1 new this post: Genevieve Cogman)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 5/90 (5 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerasfuckbookclub: 0/8 (0 new this post)
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