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OUT NOW: Otaku USA Summer 2024 Edition

 


It wasn't long ago at all that I alerted you to the latest Anime USA—the special anime-only edition of Otaku USA Magazine that comes out twice a year. But for those of you following the main mag, the summer issue is out!

To address the obvious: yes, it is quarterly now as opposed to bimonthly. So there's fewer issues coming out per year. That said, you'll also get to see more regular coverage of evergreen titles. For example, the excellent Joe Luster covers the also excellent Dragon Ball Z in this issue!

For my part, I'm back again with more reviews and features:



I'm enjoying talking about Pokémon Concierge pretty much anywhere I can, because it really is that worth it. This short, sweet stop-motion series has won over so many people, and rightly so. Check out the mag for my review of this delightful addition to the franchise.



Speaking of shows with healing vibes, I also review My New Boss Is Goofy. This is another installment of the anime genre's recent "Toxic Workplaces Are a Blight on Society" meta-commentary—now with a bonus kitten!



Tearmoon Empire is the subject of one of my two long-form features this time. It's a surprisingly fun series about time travel, second chances, and Sumire Uesaka playing a princess who's either a genius or an absolute idiot. (Spoiler: only the narrator and the audience know the truth.)



And, last but not least, I also cover the anime adaptation of Shangri-La Frontier. Besides it just being an entertaining entry in the full-dive VR subgenre of anime (no one's trapped, life and death aren't on the line, it's gaming all the way down), it's also just a fun case study in fandom. I got to dive into the history of kusoge: where it started, how it's evolved, and how it got us here. Any time I get to learn something new while writing an article, I'm happy.

Grab the latest issue at your local newsstand, or visit the website to subscribe or order individual copies. You can also read shorter web-only articles from me on the website every other day!

May 2024 Book Review



It's book review time! I was aiming to have a solid five here, but regrettably the busy season at work got away from me. Regardless, I've got three absolute bangers: a love-at-first-sight romance with a musical twist, a coming-of-age story by way of RuPaul's Drag Race and Ariana Grande, and an Appalachian murder mystery with a healthy dose of magic. Thanks to the authors and publishers who share their review copies with me!


THE BALLAD OF DARCY AND RUSSELL
by Morgan Matson
Now Available

Darcy Milligan has a fine, albeit messy, life. Raised by a single father and named for his favorite song by his (and now her) favorite band, she's about to leave her hometown of LA for a college she barely knows anything about in Connecticut. Before that, she's hit a Nevada music festival to see said favorite band perform. But when she gets stranded at a bus station with no phone charger, she meets Russell Henrion—a handsome, witty aspiring Broadway composer who knows the source of her name and happens to love the same obscure book she does. Suddenly, she's wrapped up in a whirlwind one-night romance like the ones in the movies. At first.

A few bad late-night decisions later, Darcy discovers that Russell Henrion is actually Russell Sanders—son of Wylie Sanders, lead singer of that aforementioned favorite band. Between the shock of being in her favorite celebrity's Nevada home and trying to figure out whether Russell is the love of her life or a big liar, she barely has time to cope with that other problem: the whole college thing. But as the long weekend goes on, both Darcy and Russell start coming to terms with college, family, and and whether love at first sight is a real thing.

The Ballad of Darcy and Russell employs my least favorite romance trope (miscommunication), but it's the exception that proves the rule. Rather than being a drama of errors where people willfully misunderstand each other or walk past the wrong door at the wrong time, it's an exercise in understanding each other and embracing difficult parts of ourselves and our lives. Both Darcy and Russell are figuring out who they are, both in the context of their families and themselves. Despite their very different lives, they have very similar fears. And the lack of communication that kicks the story off is the whole point: opening up, breaking down their own insecurities, and allowing themselves to communicate more freely.


HOT BOY SUMMER
by Joe Jiménez
Now Available

Besides Cammy, his one gay friend, Mac has come out to his sister and his dog. As he coasts into his final high school summer, he's looking for more chances to be himself. And thanks to two new friends—the fabulous Flor and Mac's crush Michelangelo (a.k.a. "Hot Mikey")—he might just have that chance. As summer kicks off, it looks like the new friend group will be spending a fierce summer marathoning Drag Race, choosing their pride lewks, and maybe even hitting up an Ariana Grande concert. Best of all, Mikey seems to reciprocate Mac's feelings.

But things start to fall apart as Cam doesn't share in Mac's feeling of freedom. Cam and Flor can't stand each other, and Mac's first gay bestie seems convinced that his first gay relationship won't work out. What started as the perfect summer becomes a series of ups and downs: some of Mac's best days ever interspersed with potentially friendship-destroying fights. And in the midst of it all, Mac's sister is going away to college, leaving him alone with his less-than-understanding father.

Hot Boy Summer is everything it purports to be on the back cover, but it's so much more than that, too. It's a story of someone trying to find his place in the world—and the fact that finding Your People is not always as cut-and-dried as one might hope. It's also an important reminder that toxicity can come from unexpected fronts—as can kindness.


ROOT AND BONE
by Jessica Raney
Available May 14

As anyone from the Appalachians knows, magic is still very much alive there. The Spencer sisters—Jewel Spencer and Leona Monroe—know this better than just about anyone in their little town of Ames. Both are trained in healing and witchcraft, and Leona has a special aptitude for seeing and speaking to ghosts. And all of those skills will come in handy when a gruesome murder plagues the tiny town.

The ritualistic killing isn't just gory to look at: it's affected the ghost of its victims and other ghosts in the vicinity. This could potentially extend to Cale, Leona's long-time ghostly confidant and (according to many) ill-advised crush. But things grow more complex as more players enter the field: a charismatic preacher and his ghoulish brother, a band of werewolves to whom Leona's abusive husband is indebted, and a second murder victim. And Halloween is just around the corner, meaning magic and danger will both be in the air.

This intro to the world of the Spencer Sisters is equal parts delightful and terrifying. Folk magic blends with small-town police procedural, and the rules of this supernatural world are laid out in full (with a few variants from the norm). Most intriguing, though, is the lurking threat of magic use, as Leona balances her desire to do good with her understandably turbulent emotions. The ending leaves the door open for more adventures for the sisters... but not everyone makes it out of the first book alive.

TTRPG REVIEW: Düngeonmeister: The Deck of Many Drinks

 


Great news—Jef Aldritch and Jon Taylor are back at it, making more TTRPG-adjacent goodies to liven up your game. Though in this case, adult beverage enjoyers may already be somewhat familiar with the subject matter. But now, it's presented in a way that's even more integrated with the happenings at the table.

One of my local gaming groups has been using the original Düngeonmeister book for quite a while now. This bartending guide includes 75 D&D-themed drinks that, across the board, are freaking delicious. We've yet to have one we don't like, and even the oddest blend of liqueurs ends up tasty. That said, the drinks tend to be their own thing as we play. Sometimes our DM will choose something somewhat adjacent to what we'll be fighting, but usually it's just what looks good and what we can gather ingredients for.

For The Deck of Many Drinks, 50 of those 75 recipes get illustrated cards in a lovely deck. Rather than recipes, though, each card has an effect. The conceit is that, much like the Deck of Many Things, players can pull a random card and get a random effect. But in this case, for the character (and the player, if they like), it's a cocktail. The recipes are in the accompanying book, and each card describes the effects and gives the actual mechanics.

The book even gives ideas on how to integrate the deck into the game. There's a full write-up for the Düngeonmeister Tavern, complete with flavor text, a score of NPCs, and potential story beats that could take place there. There are even thoughts on how to give certain cocktails out as rewards, or how to allow players to craft these cocktails themselves like potions.

I'm a huge fan of the sheer amount of fun tools the Düngeonmeister line offers to spice up a campaign, and The Deck of Many Drinks makes one of its best installments more accessible than ever. I, for one, look forward to a magic-fueled tavern fight using this deck one day. Even if you never make a single recipe in the book, it's a useful addition to your DM bag. (Though if you're a fan of cocktails, I highly encourage you to at least try the Slippery Grippli.)

OUT NOW: Anime USA Spring 2024 Special Edition

 


If you're a fan of Otaku USA Magazine, you should absolutely be picking up Anime USA: a semi-regular special edition. While OUSA covers anime, games, manga, merch, and adjacent topics, the special editions are 100% anime coverage. And for this issue, I got to cover some of my absolute favorite titles of recent seasons!


I cover two very different titles in the reviews section. Migi & Dali is a show that absolutely won me over from the first episode. I've talked about it at length on the OUSA website, but check out my review for a taste of everything that makes it special. (It's a lot of things.)




I also cover Toei's classic film of The Little Mermaid, which recently got a lot of attention from two fronts. Between its Blu-ray re-release from Discotek and its Rifftrax treatment, this buried treasure has been getting a lot more attention in recent months. Rewatching it for the purposes of review was wild, since I haven't seen it since I was a kid myself. And boy, did it shake out some buried memories.




Any chance to talk about Undead Unluck is a win for me. I'm a massive fan of both the manga and the anime, as well as the manga creator's backstory and technique for bringing this strange epic to life. My first of two features covers the recent anime adaptation. In particular, I delve into the original author's own goals for the story—both in terms of pacing and in terms of recognizing people who feel unseen and out of place in the world.



And last but not least, I cover Frieren: Beyond Journey's End. If you've heard this show being hyped up, it's for excellent reason. This show is phenomenal, and it deserves every bit of positive recognition it's getting. Whether or not you pick up this mag, I highly encourage you to give it a watch.

There are lots of other awesome reviews and features from fellow writers, so be sure to pick up your copy at your local magazine seller! And as always, check out features from me every other day on the OUSA website.

Catch Me on Very British Futures!

 


If you're following my work, there is a very good chance that you're a fan of British sci-fi. If you're not following for that, it's probably because of all the anime. Whichever it is, I think you'd get a kick out of my latest podcast appearance.

Very British Futures is a podcast run by Gareth Preston, a long-time friend of mine and maker of very many fun things. In each episode, he has guests on to discuss British science fiction serious—usually on the more obscure side. This time around, though, he's picked something more well known: Space: 1999. Though in my case, it was a relatively new discovery.



I join Gareth and fellow guest Ian Taylor to talk about three episodes of the series, one chosen by each of us. I chose Earthbound, which we discuss alongside Dragon's Domain and The Beta Cloud.

Even if you're on the anime side of my Venn diagram, I highly recommend giving this a listen. As I mention in my introduction, this show was instrumental in the work of many anime creators, including and especially Hideaki Anno. It might give you some interesting perspective into the shows you love half a world away.

Very British Futures can be found on your podcatcher of choice, or you can check it out right here courtesy Gareth's YouTube channel. Thanks for listening!



There's a Lot of Doctor Who-Ish Stuff Happening

 


For various and sundry reasons, I know a lot of people follow me for my Doctor Who-adjacent work. Which is rad. Apparently aggressively injecting anime references into the expanded universe of a beloved sci-fi series has not yet been enough to get me run out of town on a rail, so I suppose I'll keep at it.

Also for various and sundry reasons, I've been writing significantly less in the past two or three years. Happy to say that has changed, and with that change comes a lot of cool developments. Games Books are back... starting with Celestial Toyroom.

Thanks to the lovely James Ashworth, I am now a contributor to the world's longest-running Doctor Who fanzine. I'm in CT548 with two articles, one being a review of the new Magic: The Gathering Universes Beyond expansion. Specifically—how will these news decks play for a Who fan with limited M:TG experience? My second is a thinkpiece that's been on my mind for years now: the need to regularly "upgrade the firmware" of Doctor Who with regards to how we as a culture watch television. In other words... we're late to the game adapting the series to the streaming era, so what needs doing?


While Celestial Toyroom will regularly review the latest Black Archive releases, I will not be part of that review process. For one big reason: I have joined the Black Archive editing team!


These are a series of book-length critical works on Doctor Who stories. (I wrote one a while back on Heaven Sent, and work has resumed on my long-delayed entry for Mawdryn Undead.) I'll be joining Stuart Douglas, Philip Purser-Hallard, and Paul Driscoll on the editing team to help bring more of these to life. It's a huge honor, and I'll admit I'm a little scared, but mostly I'm excited. This is such a fantastic project that's doing a lot to preserve the deeper stories of this show we all love.


And speaking of Obverse...




It's been announced on Facebook, so here we go. I am also the editor for ICE HOT, the second Paradise Towers anthology. This was a project I took on late last year, and it was a joy to work on. While I've edited anthologies for Altrix before (and will continue to because Books Are Back), this was my first time working so on something in the expanded universe to this degree. There are so many amazing stories in this—some are legitimately unhinged in the best way, some made me cry, and some forever recontextualized tiny moments from the original episodes. I can't wait for everyone to see this.

That's a lot... but it's still not everything. There are a couple more things in the cooker, and you'll know as soon as I've got the all-clear to talk about them. In the meantime, thanks as always for your support in all my weirdness.