September 29, 2008 at 12:18 pm (Character Review) ()

Deep Wizardry (1985)
By: Diane Duane

Who he is: Ed is the Master Shark. His role since early in time is to sing the part of the Pale One, the one who is to devour the sacrificed, in the Song to defeat Death and the Lone Power who seeks the destruction of the world.

Strength: He is the leader of the sharks. He has lived for a very long time. And well, he’s a shark. Doesn’t get much stronger than that. Though he is a shark, and his role in the Song is to eat the sacrifice, he does so in the belief and knowledge that by doing so, he is slowing down the destruction of the world.

Weakness: For a being as old as he is, he has seen his comrades die. He has this inner pain, but he handles it quite well. As Duane put it, “The wound in his voice had healed without a scar.”

What I like about him: The twist in his story. When one hears that this shark’s role is to devour a sacrificial whale, one can’t help think he is the villain in the story. But he believes in something. Again, here’s the contrast. Have you ever heard of a villain with a Faith? Yes, I’m sure you have. And in many stories, the character, usually a vigilante, misinterprets his belief. For Ed, however, there is no misinterpretation. He believes his devouring the sacrifice will slow down the death of the universe, and everyone else involved in the sacrifice also thinks so. And because he believes in what he does, it doesn’t stop him from willingly taking the place of the sacrifice in the end to make sure the Song is completed.

An excerpt from the book:
He stared at her as he arrowed toward her – the old indecipherable look. “Sprat,” he said, “when did I ever leave distress uncured?” And to her complete amazement, before Nita could move, he rammed her again, close to the head – leaving her too stunned to sing, tumbling and helpless in pain.
Through the ache, she heard Ed lift his voice in song. Nita’s song – the lines that, with the offered sacrifice, bind Death anew and put the Lone Power in Its place.


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September 29, 2008 at 12:17 pm (Character Review) (, )

The Thief (1996), The Queen of Attolia (2000), The King of Attolia (2006)
By: Megan Whalen Turner

Who he is: Eugenides is the Thief of Eddis. It’s a royal title. He is loyal to his cousin, Helen, the Queen of Eddis. He had gone to prison in the land of Sounis, fooled the Magus, and stolen an artifact called The Gift of Hamiathes to protect his Queen. But the person he really loves is Irene, the Queen of Attolia, who had been hunting him for a very long time. And when she caught up with him, she had his right hand cut off. Eugenides entered a depression for a while. But once he recovered, he stole the Queen of Attolia, married her, and ended up King of Attolia.

Strength: He is a very good thief. He can steal things from earrings and artifacts, to kingdoms and hearts. He can endure prison and torture and sickness, and still end up getting the job done. It’s not a bad thing to be in his god’s favor, either. Keeps him from falling off rooftops. He is intelligent and very skilled. He can bring down a Baron’s house while seeming to do nothing.

Weakness: He is afraid of the Queen of Attolia. He has this fear of going blind.

What I like about him: Again, there’s the contrast. He is very much in love with the Queen of Attolia, but at the same time, he is very much afraid of her. It pulls at your heartstrings. Again, there’s the imperfect great one. This time, the character has a fear. He can get anything he sets his mind to. The problem is, what he wants so badly is also what he fears so much. When he was King of Attolia, he was homesick. He would be caught sitting before a window, staring towards the direction of Eddis with tears streaming down his face. He hates being King but he dares not express it openly for fear it would be taken from him, or rather the Queen be taken from him. And the last thing he wants to do would be to leave the Queen alone in a palace full of betrayal and distrust.

Also, in many stories, the characters overcome their obstacles quite easily. But for Eugenides, it wasn’t that easy. When the Queen had his hand cut off, he was depressed. He felt that he had become useless. He thought that his gods had betrayed him. His character is more human. Not all of us can withstand misfortunes without breaking down. And it’s nice to see this in fiction, too.

And you can’t help like a person who is so good at what he does. And Eugenides is very good, whether it’s at stealing things or running a kingdom.

And now one of my favorite parts of the King of Attolia:
“You were jealous… of Dite?”
The king, the master of the fates of men, before their eyes was reduced to a man, very young himself, and in love. Picking again at the coverlet, he answered, with his eyes cast down, “Wildly.”

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Wizard Howl

September 29, 2008 at 12:16 pm (Character Review) ()

Howl’s Moving Castle (1986), Castle in the Air (1990)
By: Diana Wynne Jones

Who he is: Howell Jenkins, or Wizard Howl as he is known in the land of Ingary, is a powerful and very vain man. He values his privacy, and so spreads rumors about himself to insure it. He is said to eat the hearts of beautiful young women. At first glance, you would think he cared for nothing but his appearance, but he is actually a kind and compassionate man, concerned about the people around him.

Strength: He’s great at what he does. He came from Wales. But after studying magic, he came to Ingary to become one of the greatest wizards of that land. He pretends that he doesn’t care, that he is more concerned with his looks than anything else. But he does care about those around him. He entered into a contract with his fire demon, Calcifer, to save the demon. He inquired about Sophie, his bespelled housekeeper, although it seemed he was just out courting someone. And even though it seemed that Howl was trying to shirk from responsibilities, he was actually out looking for his missing friend and the Prince. He just doesn’t like people to think he is.

Weakness: He is vain. Very vain. And he whines a lot. He wants attention and whines when he doesn’t get it. If that doesn’t work, he emits green slime to make sure you don’t ignore him ever again. Howl does tend to be self-centered at times.

What I like about him: He is vain. Very vain. And he whines a lot. While I probably will have no patience for a man like that in real life, in a book, it’s quite interesting to see. When we make characters, we usually make them so perfect. Or too flawed. I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies/series where characters have everything. They are the most good-looking, richest, luckiest, most intelligent, and most popular people alive. That’s good but it gets annoying. How come they have everything? Sometimes, it also goes to the other extreme. They are the unluckiest people alive. Their fathers beat them, their mothers die before their eyes, they get molested, they get framed, their only best friend dies, and basically they’re the most unfortunate people that ever walked the Earth.

It’s nice to see someone powerful have a character flaw. I’m not talking about a troubled past. I’m talking about a personality quirk. I’m talking about successful businessmen who bathe their pet pigs to de-stressify. Or the most popular football players whose guilty pleasure is reading Harlequin Romance pocketbooks.

Of course, I probably wouldn’t like Howl if he wasn’t compassionate. He can be self-centered as long as deep inside, he’ll still care. No one really wants a self-centered hero who is 100% self-centered.

One of my favorite lines in the book would be:
“Help me, someone! I’m dying from neglect up here!”

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Sir Percy Blakeney

September 29, 2008 at 11:02 am (Character Review) ()

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), El Dorado (1913), Sir Percy Leads the Band (1936)
By: Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Who he is: Sir Percival Blakeney is the most fashionable man in London. While he is a friend of the Prince, he is considered a bit dull-witted and the greatest fop of the time. But what people don’t know is that Sir Percy is none other than the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel, the leader of a band of Englishmen who risk their lives saving condemned aristocrats during the Reign of Terror from being led to the guillotine.

Strength: Aside from being physically strong, his will and endurance are also very strong. He can endure torture in the hands of the new Republic and still keep his keen wit. He is a master of disguise, his dandy facade being one of them. Deep inside, he cares greatly for human life, and puts great value on honor. His men are fiercely loyal to him, as he is to his men even at times when betrayal seems imminent.

Weakness: He may seem unaffected. And he may say his saving lives is just a sport, but we all know he’s just saying that. It is all a front to hide the true man underneath. The only one person who seems able to break this image of Percy is his wife, Marguerite. For a time, they were estranged due to certain issues linking Marguerite to the death of an aristocrat. But even then, Percy loved Marguerite very dearly.

What I like about him: Loyalty is a trait I value. And the loyalty of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s League to their Chief, and his loyalty to them, was something I loved very much. Trusting someone completely is hard, especially in this day and age when there’s always something in it for the other person. There’s always an ulterior motive. And loyalties tend to gravitate to the person who has more money to give. Then again, that type of loyalty isn’t loyalty, now is it?

As followers, we tend to want some control over our lives and actions. But in Percy’s case, his League follows him to the letter without knowing exactly what’s going to happen. And as leaders, we tend to junk followers at the first sign of disobedience. In Percy’s case, he will go through the plan expecting you to follow him despite your show of a tendency to disobey him. He will show you that he trusts you up to the last minute when you actually do betray him. And when that happens, he won’t scold you, saying that it is your life and it’s up to you how much worth you put in it. He’ll save you anyway. And your remorse for being disloyal to your Chief, who was loyal to you up to the end, will be the thing that brings you back to him.

You also can’t help liking a character with wit and skill. He had been stealing aristocrats from under the Republic’s noses for a long time, and he had been fooling the ton of London that he was nothing but a stupid fop. That’s skill and wit, and I like skill and wit.

Also, Percy’s contrast of being the sleepy-eyed unaffected dandy with the inane laugh, as well as the passionate man who was hopelessly in love with his wife, was a very good puller. There’s nothing like a good heart-wrencher to complete a hero’s profile. To illustrate what I mean, take this excerpt from The Scarlet Pimpernel:

Had she but turned back then, and looked out once more on to the rose-lit garden, she would have seen that which would have made her own sufferings seem but light and easy to bear–a strong man, overwhelmed with his own passion and his own despair. Pride had given way at last, obstinacy was gone: the will was powerless. He was but a man madly, blindly, passionately in love, and as soon as her light footsteps had died away within the house, he knelt down upon the terrace steps, and in the very madness of his love he kissed one by one the places where her small foot had trodden, and the stone balustrade there, where her tiny hand had rested last.

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September 29, 2008 at 11:00 am (Animation Review) (, , )

When my sister asked me to go and watch the movie Urduja with her this morning, I wasn’t too hot on going. But as this was the first Filipino animated movie to come out since Ibong Adarna, and I wanted to know how we were doing now, I decided to go. I do tend to be biased at times, especially when it comes to comics and animation. But before the movie, I told myself I would give Urduja a try. I would not pre-judge the movie (as I was already starting to do when I watched the trailer).

My impression: Not bad. It’s a good try. First of all, I take my hats off to them for actually finishing to make it. It’s more than what many animation groups can say (myself and my group included). There are, of course, areas that could still be improved.

The movie has nothing to do with the story of Urduja as we’ve known her. In the folklore version of the tale, Urduja was ugly. She fell in love with a foreign scholar but, because of how she looked, she had to ask the aid of a witch to make her beautiful. There are several versions to the folklore (not surprising since it’s oral tradition) but basically that’s the story. If we take in the historical account of Urduja, she was the datumbini of their tribe. She was tough. She was “one of the boys.” Then one day, an explorer by the name of Ibn Batute came upon what we now know as Pangasinan and was fascinated with this tough woman leader who was so interested in the spices and stories he brought, and who vowed she would invade India (I think it was India). Talking about personality, Urduja was supposed to be strong. That’s what makes her Urduja! She wasn’t like that in the movie. They may as well have called her Duri and it wouldn’t have mattered.

I can say it’s certainly better than Dragonlance the Animation (look it up. It was outsourced in India). You can still see which are 3D and which ones are not but their compositing is acceptable. Certainly better than many Filipino films I’ve seen. And there are scenes that really do look nice (particularly those with junks on the sea with the moon up). But their movements are still quite stiff, which really makes one wonder. They’re supposed to have done outsourcing work for the likes of Disney. I don’t know if they’re really not that good yet or they lowered the frame rate to save on frames.

And they keep cutting the point of impact! Someone throws an object, cut, next scene, the thing is already resting on the character’s head. It leaves people (well, me anyway) dissatisfied. There’s no umph! (not talking about “special something.” Talking about the expression you utter when you hit the ground) The point of impact makes that umph. It makes the viewers feel what is going on better. My sister thinks they didn’t know if they would put stars or bring up dust or what when the object makes an impact so, they probably decided not to show it na lang. I don’t know the true reason. But I think this is an important thing they should improve on in their future animated movies.

In the beginning, I kind of liked Limhang. Mahangin, a little naughty, a little witty… then he got a little too cheesy. But I guess he’s still ok. Mayumi and the animals tend to have more of a personality as compared to Urduja and Simakwel. And Urduja is supposed to be the main character. I could be wrong but they seem to have this concept that the main character has to be “safe.” Where are the quirks? They’re too predictable. Ok, so Urduja finds out Limhang is a pirate. What does she do? What every other heroine in the past does. She looks betrayed and runs away weeping. And Simakwel, he sees a competitor. What does he do? He cheats then sides with the enemy. Isn’t that so convenient?

Aside from what I talked about in “Story” above, I think the plot is too predictable. It’s very formula. Girl is to wed guy. Girl falls in love with another guy. First guy gets jealous and teams up with the bad guys. Second guy is about to confess his true self but first guy beats him to it. Girl is devastated. Bad guy double crosses first guy. Eto lang e: What something new did the movie Urduja bring? Sometimes, we get so caught up into just being able to beat everyone else into making an animated movie that we forget to think about what sets our movie apart.

Don’t stop me from saying this. It really does look like Disney. When the movie started and I saw the waterfall, it looked so much like Pocahontas. Besides, do our waterfalls look like that? Our waterfalls are more narrow. One side is usually covered with a rock face, quite close to the fall. Do we even have waterfalls that big in Pangasinan? And what’s with the blue necklace? And of all colors, they decided to stick to blue, which made the similarity more obvious! Limhang’s facial structure is like Shang’s. Wang reminds me of Ratcliffe. They got the talking animals from Disney, too, didn’t they? Well, I can let the square jaw and the animals pass, but the scene with the bird was soooo Tarzan! I mean, I could understand if they liked a certain aspect of Disney that they wanted to use as model. But to copy an actual scene and just change the characters in it! Come on! We can do better than that.

Use effects sparingly. If you used a type of visual direction once (Urduja looking at her reflection and feeling sorry for herself, which is so “who is this girl I see…” by the way), I think it would be better not to use it again in the same movie (Limhang looking at his reflection and feeling sorry for himself). The text of the title could use a little work. It’s not powerful enough. Bevel and drop shadow are not the only effects you can use on a text.

And more research would be good. Both on the story of Urduja and the geography of Pangasinan.

All in all, though, I think it’s not too bad. Even if it seems like our animation industry still has so far to go, I think we’re going somewhere. Amidst the Disney of the movie, one could still see the Filipino-ness of it in characters like Mayumi and the animals. Slapstick and a bit crass but it’s there. And it’s always good to hear “Perlas ng Silangan” and to see the map of the Philippines in an animation. Wonder how Dayo would fare…

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