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

 

Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

endgame_jamesfreyAs a prominent novel of thriller and fiction, Endgame: The Calling brings a simple treasure hunt to a whole new and different level. With teens fighting teens, the entire world has no chance but to rely on the victor.

In a modern day setting, twelve teenagers carry on with their normal lives until each of them are by a meteor, a warning sign to these twelve “players” for the beginning of what may be the world’s end. Representing the twelve so-called original lines of humanity, these teenagers must play in Endgame, a hunt for three significant artifacts (this book is on the first one) that will save their lines from chaos and disaster while condemning the other eleven.

Through the eyes of each of the twelve players, authors James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton incorporate adventure, action, romance, and much more all into just a three book series. Characters like Sarah Alopay, Jago Tlaloc, and Christopher Vanderkamp share their perspectives on their journeys throughout the continents and how they must survive when problems and troubles arise. As clues are hidden inside the novel itself, readers are recommended to try and solve the mystery themselves, being part as one of the players on a mission to save all of humanity.

Endgame: The Calling is a suitable read for young adults ages 13-16, and with my rating of 8.5 out of 10, this may be one of the very best plot lines that I have read.

“Will exuberance beat strength? Stupidity top kindness? Laziness thwart beauty? Will the winner be good or evil?”

…I guess you will have to read and find out.

-Riley W.

Endgame: The Calling is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Manga Introduction: Bleach by Tite Kubo

bleach_titekuboIchigo Kurosaki is a high school student who can see ghosts. Because of this ability, he encounters Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper who guides souls from the World of the Living to Soul Society (the afterlife and Rukia’s home). Their meeting is not the most fortunate. Rukia is severely wounded saving Ichigo from a fallen soul called a Hollow. Left with no choice, Rukia gives her power to Ichigo to change into a Soul Reaper so he may fight in her stead. Now without power, Rukia is trapped in a human body and must train Ichigo to keep the balance of souls a Soul Reaper. Their partnership is far from easy as it reveals dark secrets that could tip the balance of the world just enough to destroy it all.

 

Here are a few facts about Bleach:

  • It was published in August of 2001 and ended 15 years later in August of 2016
  • There are 74 tankobon volumes (manga books) .
  • It was published weekly by Shueisha in the magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump
  • Bleach has sold a total of 84 million copies in Japan, ranking as the sixth best-selling series from Weekly Shōnen Jump as of 2013.
  • An anime series aired from October of  2004  to March of 2012 ending with a total of 366 episodes
  • Four animated films have been released, all featuring an original plot and character created by Tite Kubo: Memories of Nobody, The DiamondDust Rebellion, Fade to Black, and Hell Verse
  • Two collectible card games based on the Bleach series have been produced, one in Japan and one in North America.
  • There has been 9 musical productions since 2005. Five of which have been based on the original manga. The rest have been original stories or specials performances.
  • Recently, a live action film adaptations has been confirmed and it is to produced by Warner Brothers and directed by Shinsuke Sato, who has filmed other live action movies like Gantz and Library Wars

This is not one of my top favorites, but I still consider it a good manga. Compared to most manga, Bleach has one of the most structured settings I have seen. This could be seen as a necessity, due to the large cast of characters, but it helps with understanding how each society functions. This one of my favorite multi-dimensional worlds stories as it goes beyond just the two parallel worlds concept. Rather there are several worlds that balance the each other out. Characters, especially, are well developed with backstories that explain their choices and actions. I will have to say the beginning of the series I enjoyed more than the chapters currently, because the manga now is just trying to end and it has been dragged out far too long. As far as I understand, it has “officially” ended but there are still “extra” chapters to be released.

I do recommend this to an older audience as it contains a large quantity of violence and cursing. This manga I would give a 6/10. It could have been better if it had ended earlier but overall, I enjoyed it. Read it for yourself to find out!

-Sarah J., 11th Grade

Bleach is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

magnificent7Today, western cowboy films with their gun slinging and horse riding are largely regarded a past era. Magnificent Seven may just prove otherwise.

I recently had the opportunity to watch this movie in the famed Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (If you have a chance I recommending visiting the theater as it is truly “magnificent”) This movie is actually a remake of a 1960 of the same name, which in turn was based off of 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai. 

It is 1879, the mining town of Rose Creek has been taken over by the corrupt Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). He slaughters anyone in his way including Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) husband, who tries to stand up to him. Emma, in part for revenge and in part for justice, sets out with her friend, Teddy Q (Luke Grimes), to find someone to help their town. They meet, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter, who agrees to help after knowing Bogue was involved. With Sam’s help, they assemble a crew of men from all parts of life: gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knife-wielding assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), skilled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) and notorious Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). With this rag-tag crew, they will attempt to drive out Bogue and defend Rose Creek.

Overall the can be considered to be average. The storyline does not stick after very long and the main focus of the film seem to be on the fight scenes. I personally felt that Magnificent Seven was underdeveloped in terms of character, but developed the characters enough not to harm the film. There is a large group of main actors and it become very difficult to catch each of their names, but it was help with the characters being very unique in personality. Emma Cullen is a  relatively strong female character, which was refreshing. The main cast was obviously an effort to represent diversity of the film but it lead to some parts of the movie seeming to farfetched.  Cinematography wise, it does feature the classical sweeping landscapes of western films.

This was a one time movie for me. It is great for those who want to see a western film but not so much for me. Note that it has a lot of fighting, and it can go on for a while. This is not recommended for a younger audience. Of course this is only by opinion of the movie, see it for yourself to truly decide.

-Sarah J., 11th Grade

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan

apollo1_riordanApollo Haikus
Uncle Rick can do no wrong
Camp Half-Blood Part 3

After the battle with Gaea, Zeus put all the blame on Apollo. Why, you might ask? Because Gaea duped Octavian, a half-blood son of Apollo, and Zeus’ logic dictates Apollo should be punished by casting him out of Olympus and turning him into a teenage boy with acne. For the sun god, there is no worse punishment.

One of the primary characteristics of Apollo is his constant need to complain. Which, in the first few chapters in understandable. He has lost everything that defined him. His godly powers are pretty nonexistent. He is entirely mortal, even weaker than his demigod descendants. Eating ambrosia or drinking nectar won’t help him ease his pain. It’s rough for the sun god to no longer be the center of attention. It does get annoying at times, but I think it will work in showcasing Apollo’s growth over the series.

Just like Magnus Chase had cameos from his cousin Annabeth Chase, the Apollo Trials has cameos from Percy Jackson. Plus, learn about what all the rest of the half-blood gang through dialogue! Most of them are in college or preparing to do so. Even the storyline with a certain boy-who-lights-himself-on-fire’s storyline gets continued. It lets other characters like Will and Nico and other new friends get a chance to shine.

The best new face brought to this story is Meg. Don’t even think about calling her Margaret. She lives off the streets of New York and is one of the first demigods Apollo encounters. She’s a tough twelve-year-old but still is pretty naive. She’s unaware of what happened in the previous books, as would readers who haven’t finished The Blood of Olympus. There are some pretty major spoilers in this book about that one. As for her godly parent … I always find it fun to try to figure that part. But as a hint, it’s a god or goddess we haven’t heard much about. Meg has claimed Apollo to her service, the person he has to serve to prove to Zeus he’s learned his lesson. But Zeus has turned Apollo mortal twice before. Hopefully, his third strike doesn’t mean Apollo has struck out.

Filled with the great humor we have come to expect from Rick Riordan as well as hilarious haikus to open each chapter. Back at camp, everything isn’t going great. The oracle isn’t giving prophecies which makes it impossible to go on a quest to figure out why the oracle isn’t giving out prophecies. Communication isn’t working, campers are going missing, and no one knows what to do. It’s up to Apollo, Meg, and their friends to uncover and stop a conspiracy to rid the world of Olympians once and for all.

-Nicole G., 12th Grade

The Hidden Oracle, the first book in the new Trials of Apollo series, is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

lifeofpi_yannmartelLife of Pi, by Yann Martel, is perhaps one of the greatest books on philosophy ever written, delving heavily into themes of faith and hope, all while telling the exciting story of a boy and a tiger.

The story goes like this: Piscine Patel is a young Indian boy who lives on a zoo. There, surrounded by animals and the beauty of nature, Pi develops a fascination with religion, exploring and questioning every aspect of it. When his family is shipping the zoo across the ocean, a storm sinks the ship. As the sole survivor, Pi is cast to sea on a lifeboat, with only a Bengal Tiger as his companion. While drifting on the Pacific Ocean, Pi survives and slowly creates his own perception of faith and hope.

From the surface, Life of Pi seems like another tale of adventure and survival, much like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. However, I personally think that Yann Martel was more writing about the concept of religion. Even the themes of hope and survival are all linked back to Pi’s faith in God, or Gods.

Right from the beginning of the book, Pi establishes himself as an extremely religious person, becoming a devout Christian, Muslim, and Hindu all at once. When the truth comes out, all of his religious leaders and parents push him to settle on one religion. Pi replies, “‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God” (Martel 69). Whether he is correct in saying this is unimportant, because the purpose is to show the frivolous nature of rivalry between religions. At the same time, he felt that atheists were his “brothers and sisters of a different faith” (28). Of course, when his situation spirals into survival on the ocean, Pi’s faith is shaken, but he finds his own peace with his God.

Life of Pi surpasses an average philosophy textbook because Martel doesn’t monotonously write about philosophical concepts. Instead, he weaves a beautiful story with elements of philosophy introduced alongside Pi’s experiences on the ocean and in his zoo. In this way, the story’s excitement and thoughtfulness work in tandem, each making the other more meaningful.

In conclusion, Life of Pi is a beautifully written book that will leave you questioning your existence without having to endure the boredom of a typical book of philosophy. Perfect!

-Philip X.

Life of Pi is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available digitally from Overdrive.

Soundless by Richelle Mead

soundless_richellemeadHave you ever read a book where none of the characters speak to one another? In Soundless, no one speaks in a little village atop of a mountain because everyone has gone deaf from mining operations.

There are only three social classes on the mountain: artists, servants, and miners. If you don’t do your job, you won’t get meals. The only way the village survives is from food provided by zipline. There used to be a path that went down the side of the mountain, but that is impassable because of falling rocks no one can hear. To make things worse, the villagers are going blind as well, which can be dangerous in the mines.

Then one day, an artist girl named Fei suddenly develops the ability to hear. With the zipline providing less and less food, the village is desperate for a miracle. The artist girl and a miner boy take a trip down to the bottom of the mountain, but what they find will change life in their little village forever.

This book begins with a slight dystopian feel presented by its social class hierarchy. People are not allowed to marry out of their career choice, but this isn’t the main conflict of the story. As Fei and her friend climb down the mountain, there is a sense of adventure seen in fantasy novels with some romance mixed in.

The ending felt a little out of place, but on the whole, it was just felt like a different book, incorporating Chinese folklore as well as how everyone communicated using sign language. A very interesting read.

-Nicole G.