Friday, November 16, 2012

Animal Land vol. 6

After discovering 'Animal Land' and reading the first four volumes one after the other, it was a real test of my patience to wait for volume five and then again for volume 6. But that tough wait just shows me how much I love this series and how much I can't wait to see what happens next. Until volume seven comes out, at least volume 6 gave me a lot to think about.

In the previous volume of 'Animal Land', we ended things off with Taroza foiling Giller's plan to cause war between the hyenas and horses, and Ena the hyena has gained the ability to communicate with all animals just like Taroza. This development isn't really elaborated upon further, but I have a feeling it just means that Ena will become a great ally to Taroza in the future. Ena learning to communicate with other animal species and the conflict stopping because of that is certainly intriguing for the story, but I think it is also a good metaphor for the real world and why there is so much conflict. And not just because of language and cultural barriers, but humanities own stubbornness and refusal to listen. This is one of my favorite things about 'Animal Land'. There's something extra there if you want to see it.

When Taroza and his companions continue their journey to the sea, they find a massive, underground facility, seemingly built by humans long since gone. This is troubling and confusing to Taroza, but only serves to further intrigue him about the fate of his species, and they continue on to the sea. There they meet the great whale, Ector, who teaches Taroza of his former human friend, Quo, and tells Taroza of a food that both meat eaters and plant eaters can eat, called "eternal fruit". This is just what Taroza has been searching for his whole life, but Ector warns him that the "eternal fruit" didn't break down the food chain, and that carnivores still continued to eat meat despite being satisfied by the "eternal fruit". With the discovery of the underground facility and the conversation with Ector, we learn a whole lot about the world of 'Animal Land' and we can make some pretty heavy duty inferences with the information we gather here. Without spoiling things, I can only say that this manga continues to surprise me at the directions it takes and how it evolves.

Determined not to waver in his goal, Taroza climbs up to a secluded mountain valley that has fields upon fields of the "eternal fruit", but his way is blocked by a clan of gorillas. Told that outsiders aren't welcome and that he can't have any eternal fruit seeds, Taroza is beaten nearly to death when he refuses to retreat. Finally, a human girl named Riemu intervenes and cares for Taroza's wounds. Though kindly at first, Riemu seems to have not taken to the harsh world with the same strength as Taroza, and wants to lead a happy, yet sheltered life in the mountain valley, and she tries to force Taroza to stay with her. I think that through his talk with Arug, Taroza might have actually been considering it, but before he could think more on the subject, the evil Giller strikes once again. This time, he attacks with the help of some sort of alien looking creature with regeneration abilities. This part of the volume has to be my favorite. Riemu gets great characterization through a flashback and it is interesting to see the contrast between how she and Taroza developed. This part of the manga also brought some laughs. Mostly because the story took a sharp turn to the creepy and weird. Reimu's creepy faces are priceless. And I don't know what to make of those alien looking creatures, but I know it means the action is kicking up a few notches.

I really liked this volume and the series seems to be evolving to become more action oriented without losing it's thought provoking, philosophical side. Each volume has really upped the ante and this volume is no exception. My only complaint is that this volume felt too short. There were only three, main story chapters. There were two extra chapters(one Zatch Bell one shot and a Taroza side story), but the main plot is so compelling that it is kind of annoying to have like sixty pages left in the book, but they aren't what I want to see. And on top of that, volume seven doesn't come out until April 2013. This is going to be the longest and hardest wait yet....

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Valley of Horses

After absolutely loving 'The Clan of the Cave Bear', it was a given that I would move on to the next book in Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series, 'The Valley of Horses'. With this book, my short break from manga continues to reward me with another great reading experience.

Having been given the death curse by new Clan leader, Broud, Ayla is exiled from her son, Durc, and the only family she has ever known. Determined to not let Broud win and go on living, Ayla sets out on her own in search of The Others. Other Cro-Magnon people like her, who her adoptive mother, Iza, urged Ayla to seek out. At the very same time, far away, two Cro-Magnon brothers set out on a journey of their own. A journey of adventure and discovery, following the path of the Great Mother River. As the two parties go on their separate journeys, they encounter a life time of grief, as well as happiness, completely unaware that their destinies are intertwined.

In my review of 'The Clan of the Cave Bear', I mentioned how much I loved the aspect of Ayla making new discoveries on her own. Well, the circumstances take that aspect that I enjoyed so much, and crank it up to 11. Ayla is cast out of her Clan and forced to live on her own. She can no longer depend on anyone but herself. Thankfully, she rises to the occasion, and no longer held back by the strict clan traditions, she experiences an explosion of creativity that is fascinating to watch unfold. From new hunting techniques, to better ways to make fire, it was such a joy seeing her figure out all these innovations on her own. Almost like a proud parent watching their child learn and grow. Auel described Ayla's thought process in great detail. So much so that as she pushed the limits of her mind to solve a new problem, I felt like I was right there with Ayla, and though she couldn't hear me, I was cheering her on. I can only hope that as I continue to read this series, that I will get to see Ayla impress me more with her great capacity to learn and grow.

We've got few new characters introduced in this book. Most noticeable is the young, handsome, Cro-Magnon ladies man, Jondalar. Jondalar, along with his brother Thonolan make a great addition to the series and bring a lot to the table. Their quality of dialogue was almost shocking in contrast to the interactions of the Clan in the previous book, who stifle emotions and don't talk about unnecessary things. Jondalar and Thonolan laugh and cry give us the whole range of human emotion and interaction that we can relate to. For that, they become very likeable and I found myself enjoying their journey as much as I enjoyed Ayla's. Not only that, but their part in the story brought a great sense of adventure that wasn't present in the previous book. The Clan did everything just to live with hardly any aspect of life you could call "fun". But Jondalar and Thonolan purposely set out with adventure in mind. And though their life was no less dangerous, we know it is their choice, so even in the ups in downs they face, there was a sense of entertainment for me as a reader.

Another new experience for this book was the strange relationship forged between Ayla and two animals she encountered in her isolation in the valley. One of which was with a wild horse that Ayla raised from an orphaned foal. Ayla's isolation was interesting to watch in itself, but the introduction of some unorthodox companions really kept things fresh and exciting. Obviously she couldn't talk to the animals, but she could communicate with them. And not in the same way she communicated with her clan, or The Others she had yet to meet. So it is a unique experience for the reader and their presence influenced and evolved Ayla as a character as much as any human character.

Speaking of relationships, this book brings us relationships of the romantic sort. It really read like a romance novel in places and felt so different from the almost unloving vibe of the first book. And that's not a bad thing. I'm a sucker for romance, and this book delivered in just the right dose. And we're not talking the tender, innocent, reserved, romance. We get full on, realistic, steamy romance, complete with extremely detailed and graphically described sex scenes. I can kind of see why this series made #20 on the ALA's Most Frequently Challenged Books list. But I don't think it is gratuitous smut. I think it's realistic, called for, and works within the context of these highly detailed books that describe even the most minor aspects of daily life. It's only natural that the sex scenes be covered in as much detail as the colorful landscapes Auel paints with her words. And as I said, it has the added benefit of being steamy and fun if you like that in your literature.

At first, the change in writing structure from the first book was jarring. Bouncing back from Jondalar's perspective to Ayla's. But as their travels brought them closer and closer together, and both yearned to find that special companionship, I realized the brilliance of the structure. When they finally met for the first time, I knew I loved this book. It was the perfect build up. I don't want to say that I liked this book less than the first. I find them hard to compare because this book isn't merely a continuation of the story. With this book, it evolved into something different. It offered a different reading experience that I can't really compare to the first. I'm glad for that change and I hope the next book can offer me another new experience. As things stand, there's no question that I want to continue following Ayla on her journey, and I will be reading the next book, 'The Mammoth Hunters'. And I'm happy to say that I recommend 'The Valley of Horses' just as strongly as I did 'The Clan of the Cave Bear'. Not that I have to. If you read and liked 'The Clan of the Cave Bear', you'd be quite the masochist to abstain from this great read.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Clan of the Cave Bear

If I had any dedicated readers, by now they have probably noticed that I haven't made a blog post in a month. To be honest, I just haven't felt like reading manga or writing reviews. I still don't feel like reading manga, but I did pick up a novel. At first, I had no intention of writing about my reading experience, but I'm finding that I do have some thoughts I'd like to share about it. Please bear with me as I attempt my first novel review of the first installment in Jean M. Auel's 'Earth's Children' series, 'The Clan of the Cave Bear'.

A young Cro-Magnon girl wakes up one morning to wander by the river. Out of nowhere, a terrible earthquake strikes, sending her camp along with her family to their death into a chasm. Alone, confused and frightened, the girl roams aimlessly until starvation and an encounter with a cave lion brings her near death. As luck would have it, a group on Neanderthal people come across her and take her in to their clan. Nursed back to health by her adoptive mother, Iza, the young Cro-Magnon girl, Ayla, finds love in her strange, new family, but suffers much in her struggle to conform to the foreign traditions of the Neanderthal Clan. 

'The Clan of the Cave Bear' has a great group of characters, both likeable and unlikeable. I think I had the most complex feelings about the Clan. Ayla, the main character, is pretty much a given to be likeable. But with the Neanderthals, my feelings for most of them were dynamic and situational, which makes things a lot more interesting. There were extremes, like Broud, future clan leader and main antagonist. He was a jerk through and through. And then you have Creb and Iza, Ayla's adoptive parents, who were for the most part easy to like. The rest of the cast shifted a bit more, with Clan leader, Brun, being the most interesting and dynamic for me. He was stuck between being stubborn and keeping with strict, clan traditions, and being surprisingly flexible and reasonable. He had to make some hard choices. Choices that made me as a reader resent him. But that just made the situations where he was able to accept change all the more grand. When we would get a glimpse of his inner thoughts and he had an epiphany, you almost feel proud of him. I found the Neanderthals quite fascinating to watch, and though their reluctance to change was frustrating, they had their moments that would shame some of the stubborn politicians of today. 

I can't talk about 'The Clan of the Cave Bear' without talking about Ayla. Everything centers around her and she was both the means of great progress and calamity for her adoptive clan. Compared to the conservative Neanderthals, Ayla was a rebel. And that's what's so interesting about her. Within the backdrop of strict traditions of the cave, her natural curiosity stood out greatly. Because of how strict Clan rules are, she often had to act on her own in secret to satiate her urge to learn, grow and change. That meant teaching herself and figuring things out in isolation. Adapting and inventing without outside influence. Creating new hunting techniques and applying a certain common sense approach to problems that the Neanderthals couldn't grasp. Her situation kind of reminded me of why I like the manga, 'Animal Land', where Taroza had to figure things out through trial and error, much in the same way Ayla did(Look! I made this novel review relevant to my manga blog!). Ayla is smart and strong and she really earns her stripes and the respect of the reader in this book. She goes through so much earned triumph, but even a greater amount of suffering, all before the age of 14. I really can't go into specifics at all, but the strength she shows through all these challenges she faces makes me feel like a coddled wimp, and her difficulties make my life problems seem like minor annoyances at best. I truly admire her as a character, a lot like I admire some of the inspirational determinators of the Shonen, fighting manga I often read(I did it again! Manga talk!).

My other favorite aspect to this book also has to do with the characters, but more specifically, the relationships between the characters. And even more specifically, the relationship between Ayla and her adoptive parents, Iza and Creb. Iza is the Clan's respected medicine woman and the one who saved Ayla's life. Creb is Iza's older brother and the Clan's Mog-ur or magic man. They both have undoubtedly the strongest relationship with Ayla and the most interaction. Iza's relationship is slightly typical of what you would think a mother and daughter relationship would be, but it is still interesting because of the constraints of the Neanderthals way of life. Iza knows Ayla best and knows she is different, but is still very torn when Ayla acts on her differences. Creb too, often overlooks Ayla's breaking of tradition(read "law" in the context of the book) because of his love for her. Their love for each other is what is so great about the family unit. Ayla has shown them love like they have never known before. I don't want to say the Neanderthals were unfeeling before Ayla showed up, but because of Ayla, they were able to begin to understand a new kind of happiness and love that they never experienced before. Especially Creb, who is deformed and feared as a magician. Ayla showed no fear of his deformities, and respected and loved him for who he is, and not because of his appearance or power. Creb never mated or had a child of his own and had learned to accept that he never would, so Ayla was a godsend(very literally to him) that drastically changed the way he went about life. The contrast between Ayla, Iza and Creb's relationship with the family life of the rest of the clan and what we the readers know as a family relationship only serve to make their relationship all the more interesting to follow and watch evolve from scratch.

I really haven't read a novel in a long time('A Feast for Crows' over a year ago). Manga is my first love, but recently I've been frustrated with the medium. Now that I've found 'The Clan of the Cave Bear', I'm actually glad that I decided to put manga aside for the moment. Jean M. Auel was able to paint an amazingly detailed picture of prehistoric, human life that I was able to get lost in like I haven't been lost in a story for a while now. It's a great feeling to be completely immersed in this world of our ancestors, and get to see how they may have lived and feel how they may have felt. I absolutely loved this book from cover to cover, and you can be sure that I will be reading the next in the series, 'The Valley of Horses'. I know this is suppose to be a manga blog, but I am going to have to change things up a little and highly recommend 'The Clan of the Cave Bear'.