Voltron: Legendary Defender, Rebooted and Rewarding

voltronNetflix’s new animated series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, takes the much-beloved 80’s cartoon Voltron: Defender of the Universe and rebuilds the world of space battles, robotic lions, and strong friendships in a new take on the classic sci-fi adventure. With its second season having been recently released on Jan. 20th, fans have jumped at the chance to devour the new set of 13 episodes and now eagerly await more.

Our story centers around five humans from Earth – Shiro, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Keith – that discover a giant blue robotic lion that’s been sitting dormant in the desert. Once they’re inside, the lion activates and flies the five heroes into space – yes, a flying lion spaceship – where they meet two aliens named Coran and Allura. They are from the planet Altea, which was destroyed by the Galra Empire thousands of years ago. The Galra Empire has been continuing its tyrannical takeover ever since, and the universe needs Voltron to save it. What is Voltron, you ask? Coran and Allura explain to the five heroes that the blue lion they uncovered is one of five robotic lions that, when piloted, can combine into a massive, human-shaped robot of great power named Voltron. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Despite the absurdity of the idea, this show executes it so well. The action is intense, the alien civilizations wildly creative, and the animation a far leap ahead of its 80’s counterpart. The characters are developed and getting deeper as the show goes on, and the plot is fast-paced and entertaining. I saw the first season when it first released early in 2016, and the year long wait for Season 2 was worth it. The creators of the show, Joaquin Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, stay true enough to the original but have updated it in many, much-needed ways. They pay attention to their ever-growing fanbase and deliver quality episodes that continue to appease and surprise.

The characters are all individually enjoyable and have great dynamics together. Shiro leads the group as the paladin, or pilot, of the Black Lion and acts as the head of the group, as opposed to Keith doing so in the original series. Keith now pilots the Red Lion as its impulsive, ready-to-fight paladin. Lance is the flirtatious jokester and sharpshooter paladin of the Blue Lion. Hunk is the food-loving engineer and pilot of the Yellow Lion. Pidge, who is now a girl as opposed to her male 80’s counterpart, is a tech genius and the youngest of the group, piloting the Green Lion. Allura is the princess of Altea, and Coran is her advisor.

Not only have these characters been fully-fleshed out with backstories (although we’re still waiting on Lance’s and Hunk’s backstories) and motivations, but the new Voltron has made an effort to diversify its cast. Allura, Hunk, Shiro, and Lance are all people of color now, and Pidge’s gender change has brought a second female into the limelight. I for one am incredibly happy to see this push for diversity. The dialogue is conversational and natural, and the tone switches appropriately from light-hearted and goofy to serious and heartfelt when called for. In the newest season, the concept of prejudice is brought up and addressed exceptionally well. It’s progressive, and I love it.

Of course, the past 30 years have led to much better quality animation, leaving Netflix’s version with a style reminiscent of the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender. Voltron mixes CGI into the mainly 2D show in order to make the lions, Voltron, and fight scenes stand out. The character animation is exaggerated for comedy and detailed for intensity, switching it up depending on what the story calls for.

Voltron: Legendary Defender deserves a watch; go and see Season 1’s first episode, which is pretty plot-heavy, and you’ll have a good sense of the show’s dynamic. I applaud Netflix’s approach to this classic and anticipate next year’s season!

-Abby F., 12th grade

 

Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz

welcometothedarkhouse_lauriestolarz“In my hefty elf sack, your nightmares now keep. Better think twice before falling asleep.” -The Nightmare Elf

This chilling, nightmare-filled story takes place when seven fans of the famous horror film director, Justin Blake, enter an online contest. They are required to write about their worst nightmare, and the winners get the chance to stay at his legendary B and B, Dark House, featured in his movies. The fans also get to meet the famous man and sneak a look at his upcoming movie. Delighted to find they have won, the horror hopefuls Ivy, Parker, Shayla, Frankie, Garth, Natalie, and Taylor set out to have the scare of their life. Spending a weekend in the Dark House appeals to most of them like a vacation home, filled with effects that make the house really seem haunted and mysterious. However, their fun and games take a twisted turn when they are taken to an abandoned amusement park. Embodying the spirit of Blake’s movies, the park is like his own movie set with his wildly creepy characters running around. The seven lucky winners discover they must face their worst nightmares and survive them if they want to be set free.

This book grabbed my attention right from the start. It’s description of horror and thrill left me wondering about my own nightmares. I knew I sure wouldn’t last one night in that house, not with its scare tactics and lonely halls. Stolarz uses her characters’ different perspectives to create this nail-biting world. As a big fan of horror stories, I was really anxious to see how the ending wrapped everything up. I have to say I was a little disappointed that I was left with so many unanswered questions, but overall the plot line was very intriguing.

I encourage readers who like to be scared to give this book a try. I know some horror stories are a gamble because it doesn’t end the way the readers hope. But Welcome to the Dark House is definitely one of my favorites and I would love to read it again.

-Sabrina C, 11th Grade

Writing Prompts

One of my resolutions this year was to start writing more stories, so I’ve decided to use the blog to help me do that in a fun way. I’ll pick two or three prompts and write a short story instead of a book or movie review. If you like the story I’ve started, feel free to comment your thoughts or any of your own prompt suggestions. I also hope to get blog readers more involved with the site, so we’ll see how this experiment goes. Hope you enjoy!

Prompt: Write for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. Start with “I remember”.

     I remember the sound of the wind as we soared through the air. I felt light as a feather, flying next to you. So calm. So free. I let out a scream to release the breath from my lungs. It was so relaxing. More so than I’d ever felt before. I could no longer see you as you zoomed ahead through the clouds, but I heard the pulse of your heartbeat in my head. Steady and full. We were connected. Two beings made into one. You were mine and I was yours. There was no other way to move than with you.

     The tree branches brushed by my ears as I flew by. Then, I froze. There was an unusual sound. A buzzing in my ear. It persisted, getting louder and louder, until it was all I could hear. The noise battled against the wind, fighting for my attention. I called ahead, but there was no answer. You were gone. Suddenly, I couldn’t hold myself up any longer and I fell. Thrashing through the trees, I called out to you. I wanted you to save me, but you weren’t there to catch my fall. With a crash I landed, crushing my wings beneath me. The last sound I heard was of your breath, racing with mine, until it slowed to a stop.

I really like this prompt because it allows the reader to let out their thoughts without stopping, and it’s just a flow of continuous writing that comes from absolutely no planning. You simply write, freehanded. I’m not sure why bird-like creatures came to mind, but I was very interested to know that this story was the first that I thought of.

Prompt: The eye color of humans changes with an individual’s current emotions. One person is born without this trait and is mistrusted by many people.

    My eyes have always been blue. The color of sadness, most seem to think. But I liked to believe I have a shred of hope in them, even though I’ve only noticed one day when they happened to pulse a bright gold. Other than that, it’s always been a blue tinted world for me.

     I bet I would be the biggest freak in school if it wasn’t for him. No one knew his name. Everyone just called him “Gray”. His eyes never changed from the black and white light that was colorless, emotionless. As the outcast of the school, people often joked why they weren’t just blue and miserable or even black. But nonetheless, his gray eyes made him somewhat of a haunting figure in our sea of pinks and yellows and reds. Even the teachers whispered behind his back, afraid they’d have the very pleasure of him in their class. To be around the ghost was to associate yourself with the unfeeling, uncaring portion of society.

      At least I had feelings. At least I could walk around all day knowing that I had a soul. Sure, everyday was sulky, but at least there was color. I wondered what it was like to see with no shades of anything, no pigment, no idea of what the world really looked like. Everyone said he’d been born a freak, but no one really knew for sure. One thing I did know, not to get in the way of the boy who felt nothing.

This prompt just seemed like an interesting topic. I didn’t have a plan for this story either, so I chose to interpret it this way.

-Sabrina C., 11th Grade

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

schoolofgoodandevil_somanchainaniIn the school for Good and Evil, there are two friends: Sophie, a vain young woman who believes she is good, and loner Agatha who does not like others. They live in what appears to be a perfectly normal town. Except, two kids always go missing once a year, taken to the School of Good and Evil by the school master.

That night rolls along again, with Agatha and Sophie being taken away. But something seems wrong: Sophie, the “good” girl is taken to the School of Evil. Agatha, the “evil” girl, is sent to the School of Good. The girls go through their classes, trying everything in their power to get switched to their rightful schools until they break into the Headmaster’s office who gives them a task that, if completed, will send them home. For example, what is Sophie’s task? Sophie must do something no evil student has done before: Find love.

Soman Chainani weaves a terrific story of love and fantasy and adventure. With plot twists at every turn you never know what is going to happen next. This book is perfect for one of those lazy days when you feel like picking up a long book. It takes you though many adventures and even has you thinking about your own personality. All in all, this is a very well written book.

-Ava G.

The School for Good and Evil is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

hunger_games_coverThe Hunger Games contains very important characters by the names of Katniss, Peeta, Gale and Prim. Katniss in my opinion, was the most dynamic character in this novel. She transforms from a very obscure girl whose sole job is to simply take care of her mother and younger sister Prim to being a “hero” and a victor, alongside with fellow competitor Peeta. Katniss volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in her sister Prim’s place.

The Hunger Games is focused primarily on action, but partially romance as well. The plot was very well thought out and written as it maintained suspense throughout the entire novel. There were many instances where Katniss and Peeta were almost murdered by other rivals during the games and whether or not they would survive long enough to win this horrific competition.

I really admired the fact that Collins put a ton of emotion into these characters for their willingness to survive and take care of their loved ones which would make the readers actually care about them. The ending was redemptive as Katniss and Peeta were both able to win the Hunger Games.

The style of this novel was rather easy to read. Adjectives I would use to describe Collins’ style would be distinct and understandable as this book didn’t use much complex, long words and did not use much of short, simple words as well. Overall, I would without a doubt, recommend The Hunger Games because it puts readers on the edge of their seat as the story becomes more intense and suspenseful and even makes the readers actually care about the characters.

-Matt J.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive and Hoopla.

The Unfortunate Decline of Anna Seghers

annaseghersFame. Money. Glory.

For most prominent celebrities, authors, or personalities, the former nouns are essential to their ways of life. However, what happens after a renowned author loses all of their fame and glory?

Anna Seghers, one of the most important German woman writers of the 1900s, definitely knew the answer to that. Before her untimely death, Seghers wrote many outstanding novels during World War II. Her most popular novels included The Excursion of the Dead Girls, Transit, and The Seventh Cross.

Laden with beautifully-developed symbols and leitmotifs, each of her novels condemned Fascism, especially German Fascism under the influence of Adolf Hitler. Although Seghers herself lived in Fascist Germany for a while, she despised any form of Fascist totalitarianism. Her novels are a clear indicator of her anti-Nazi sentiment. Her novels were loved by many people all around the world. Citizens of Allied countries (during and after World War II) read her works fervently as they also fought against Fascism in Europe.

It was near the end of Seghers’ literary career that she started to lose both fame and glory. Although she fought against totalitarianism in Germany, she soon became a part of the Soviet Communist party while in exile. Simultaneously, Seghers condemned Nazism and preached the tenets of Communism.

After Hitler’s death and the end of the war, Seghers resided in the Soviet-controlled part of Germany. She tenaciously stuck to Communist beliefs, even after Stalin’s infamous show trials, where more people were killed than during the Holocaust. Almost immediately, all of her avid readers in the West were lost. Her American and liberal German readers lost interest in any of her other works. Anna Seghers went from a literary “hero” who fought against Fascism to a “traitor” who only carried on totalitarianism.

Seghers became a “spiritual” follower of Communism, taking part in Soviet politics and condoning the deaths of millions of people. Never again were her books ranked as national best-sellers. After her literary decline, Seghers only published two more novels; however, they did not receive any recognition at all. It was not a matter of how well her works were written; rather, it was a matter of what her novels stood for.

Anna Seghers was a phenomenal author; there was no doubt about that. However, it was what her novels preached that led to her gradual decline. Seghers’ unfortunate tale leads us to a very important conclusion: Individuals must always fight against tenets of evil and fight for tenets of good.

-Elaha N.

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

johngrisham_runawayjuryThe Runaway Jury, by John Grisham, is a legal thriller. The book centers on a big tobacco trial, decided by a jury. The verdict the jury passes could have disastrous consequences on tobacco companies or potentially protect them from lawsuits in the future. There is one potential juror that both sides – the plaintiff and the defendant  – are concerned about, because they have no record of him whatsoever. He is, to them, an enigma. This juror, as it turns out, is extremely important in the jury’s decision although I realized it would be hard to see what was going on if I had put myself in one of the other juror’s shoes. As the main driving point of the book, this quote sufficiently encapsulates it: “Every jury has a leader, and that’s where you find your verdict.” With both the plaintiff and the defendant realizing the high stakes, both sides try to influence the jury, although this is illegal and can cause there to be a mistrial. In the end, most efforts do not affect the end decision, although there are some humorous events regarding the eventual effect of some of the attempts at trying to sway a juror.

I thought this book was well-written, and although I had not initially planned to read it, I’m glad I did. Grisham kept me guessing the whole time which way the jury was going to vote, and what the motives of the main juror, Nicholas Easter, were. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes reading thrillers, although there is less of a scary side to it than other thrillers I’ve read.

The Runaway Jury is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library