The Death of Captain America

The aftermath of Marvel’s Civil War is a story which holds no punches, but those punches are rather soft. Unlike its predecessor, “The Death of Captain America” doesn’t have the luxury of falling back on other heroes and villains in the Marvel universe, when things get a bit dull. This is primarily a Captain America tale, or rather, the repercussions of his death to everyone who both knew him and knew of him.

There are a plethora of characters in this story, not as grand as Marvel’s Civil War, but enough to keep it mildly interesting. The political undercurrent which kept the story afloat barely gets by with simple tropes. The main cast includes Agent 13, Bucky Barnes, the Falcon and many others on both sides of the compass of good and evil, including those in the morally grey area.

Within the first hour, the villain Crossbones has killed America’s hero and most famous World War Two veteran. As with most stories about assassination, the person carrying out the job is not the same as the person orchestrating it. There’s a lot of mystery, but nothing which felt like a good act three twist. The actors seem to downplay those moments of revelation in order to preserve the tone of the piece. Unfortunately for them, the tone isn’t that interesting and the foreshadowing is so abysmal that it might as well not be there at all.

One example of the poor, nonexistent, foreshadowing is the man pretending to be Captain America after Steve Rogers’ death. This comes much later in the story and, no, I’m not referring to Bucky Barnes AKA the Winter Soldier. Before the imposter gets in the costume, he is found by Agent 13 and we learn all about him as apparently he was an important character in the super soldier serum aftermath. For those not blessed with back issues of Marvel Comics, this feels like a bit of a stretch, considering this is the first time he’s appeared in the story or is even mentioned.

Like most Graphic Audio dramas. The casting is spot on and the music exhilarating and calm at just the right moments. Most of the complaints come from the adaptation or the source material, rather than the production value. The first Graphic Audio production I’ve ever disliked on some level. Hopefully it will be the last as I truly enjoy the work they do.

3.5/5 Stars

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Hare of Inaba.”

The second to last story in this collection of Japanese Fairy Tales, “The Hare of Inaba” is more of what you expect, given the previous six fairy tales. Again, the narrator does a great job of capturing the spirit of these children’s stories with the slightest inflection in his voice and once more the tone is consistent throughout all stories.

However, for this story in particular, the voice of the hare (and the raise in pitch) amplifies the lighthearted tone of the story to the point of distortion for the listener. Another way to look at it: It’s overly cute and the length of the rabbit’s monologue doesn’t help. In fact it hurts it, because he basically tells the listener what they already know–as it just happened in the first half of the tale. Yes, this is a problem with the source material, but it became all too apparent with the excess use of a pitch shifter.

This isn’t the first time a filter was applied to the actresses voice. All the small furry animals sound the same across this audio anthology, but they don’t last nearly as long. This is all personal taste, but I imagine a lot of people might get turned off by this effect, especially if you’re paying money for it.

That’s where I have the biggest problem and something I’ve held off on until this final review. This is not worth the price. Even if you have a compelling reason to want to experience Japanese culture through their stories, there are much better ways to do so without spending seven to eight dollars.

After doing some research, I discovered a lot of the tales are in the public domain or at the very least are available to read online without paying. The only reason to buy this is for the audio version of some the tales, emphasis on the word “some.” These are only a fraction of the stories available.

Going back to the story at hand, “The Hare of Inaba,” along with the rest of the fairy tales in this collection, suffer from overused audio cliches like disguising someone’s voice with pitch shifting technology, but thankfully the narrator does a great job at keeping the spirit of the tales alive in a way I haven’t heard done since listening to the “Harry Potter” audiobooks.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

4/5 Stars (for the entire collection)

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Enchanted Waterfall.”

The sixth story in this collection of Japanese fairy tales has a similar light-hearted tone found in the other stories, but with a more western structure. In some ways, this is the Japanese equivalent/retelling of the King Midas story. It’s not apparent when listening. In fact it doesn’t even follow the same beats. At least not in the order or way it’s presented in the classic western fairy tale.

The basic premise is about a young boy who wants to please his father by bringing something home to him. Each day, his father talks about the good old days, when he and his father would drink sake and be merry. This is all within the first minute or two of the story and told via expository narration.

Once the boy discovers the waterfall made of sake and returns to his father, who is thrilled to have a bottle of sake after so many years without it. News spreads through the village of the boy’s discovery.

The story ends well for the boy, but not without a bumpy middle. As far as subverting thematic tropes like greed vs. gratitude, this story follows a typical fairy tale arc. Overall this 5-6 minute tale is a fun listen, but don’t expect it to turn tropes on their heads.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

The Once and Future Nerd: Princes of Iorden

From the very beginning, the audio production of Princes of Iorden, Book I of The Once and Future Nerd, is an ideal blend of both familiar tropes and interesting characters that turn those tropes on their heads, adding complexity to otherwise meek and overdone clichés. One great example is the nerd who gets easily consumed by a fantasy world. But in the end, the writers manage to make the story enjoyable, despite the tropes, with a mentally and physically diverse cast.

The greatest example of how they evaded a cliché trap is with Jenny, the smart cheerleader. She’s more complex than that pithy one-line description, as her character arc in the first book goes from worried high
school girl to kick-ass fighter. Although her journey there isn’t as good as
the end result, it’s still entertaining.

The overall plot is pretty basic, but uses a full
complement of fantasy tropes to its advantage. Honestly, the story peaks around
chapters six and seven. The shift to a more humorous tone at this point is
certainly out of place compared to the previous chapters. However, the
execution of humorous bits is done so effectively, you eventually forgive such
a sudden, inexplicable shift.

My one real complaint is the subplot with Gwen and the
lady whom she serves. For the majority of the tale, there is no genuine
connection with either of them, at least when compared to the main cast of
Bill, Jen, Nelson, and their protectors.

If there was ever a story in which the individual
characters made the plot actually interesting, Princes of Iorden is it.
Although the plot does follow the typical tropes; the characters add life to
it, delivering everything you expect from an age-old fantasy plot, but in a way
that’s enjoyable and not always predictable.

4.5/5 stars

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab” and “Goblin Spider.”

The fifth track of Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated album is the story of a kerfuffle between a monkey and a crab. Seems pretty straight forward, but the ending is not what you’d expect from a fairy tale. At least not a western one. Even still, the outcome of the battle is brief, grim, and slightly gruesome. It’s essentially: “He was so ugly that everyone died. The end.” Brief climax and a even shorter denouement will make you go “what?” Not even a sentence passes between the two phases of a story.

The rest of the tale is more or less what you’d expect, if you’ve listened to the tracks before. The combination of narrative summary and dialogue make for a more engaging tale. Interesting is something else entirely.

Skipping to the last track, “Goblin Spider” is a tale of lone warrior on a quest to defeat a goblin. Like Game of Thrones, you think he’s the main character, but when he dies from a goblin spider masquerading as a religious man, you realize there’s more to the story. And then the tale ends with the warrior’s men taking the creature out the next morning, giving a surprising yet inevitable plot twist that feels rushed. This is the fault of the storyteller and not the narrator. At the same time, it’s a difference in cultures and what we expect from stories.

Both tales have similar themes of battle and war. Some are more obvious than others, but both are short, to the point, and perhaps a little too brief.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

John Falls into Another Dimension

A lovecraftian tale from Pocket Radio Theater, this horror story of a man’s slow descent into madnes is nothing new to the Lovecraftian subgenre. “The Rats in the Walls” was my first introduction to Lovecraft. This is certainly reminiscent of that, and based on a little light research a common trope of both Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction.

“John Falls into Another DImension” is a full cast production because of the inclusion of different actors/actresses for the various roles. More often than not, stories with narration and character-spoken dialogue have a tendency to halt the soundscape or the narration, as if you can’t have both at the same time. The problem then lies with the mixer and his ability to properly convey what is going on.

This production sides more on the side of an audiobook and therefore dodges that particular problem. The writer and narrator of the story, Karl Sparks, does a good enough job of setting the scene with the words and the infliction of his voice that sounds layered on top of it would’ve only distracted from the tale.

That’s not to say the actors didn’t play an important role, but since most of the story takes place inside John’s head, it’s hard to rate their perfomances because their lines were so few and far between. At least when compared to the amount of narration.

There’s not much else to say, other than the ending may be an obvious twist and seen in a lot of stories in general, but it still left an impact on me. The bulk of the horror comes in the form of a series of increasingly strange events which test John’s sanity.

4/5 stars

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Wonderful Tea Kettle.”

Like Shippeitaro, this tale is confusing because of its non-western roots. Unlike the classic Japanese Fairy tale reviewed two weeks ago, the story “The Wonderful Tea Kettle” jumps around a lot. At first it sounds like a genie, trapped in a magical lamp trope. Before that you get a hint of no one but a certain man can see the creature and everyone thinks he’s crazy.

Continue reading

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “Shippeitaro.”

Shippeitaro is a confusing tale, not because of the plot, but because the promises it makes to the listener aren’t what western audiences expect. It’s not that it’s bad, but the cultural norms are different in Japan than they are in the the states, even back when the story was first told/written.

By the end I was left wanting more, but not in a good way, feeling like I missed a good chunk of the story. There was a lot of information in a little over eight minutes in length, and only the surface was scratched. The complexity of the story, however, did not merit a second listen-through. Shows like Edict Zero FIS which have layers upon layers of intrigue warrant a second play through, because you know you missed a lot. Shippeitaro is just plain confusing. Perhaps that says more about me and western culture than the story itself.

I will give the narrator credit for keeping my interest at least mildly engaged and the howling cats scene creeped me out due to the sound effects, audio filters applied to the cats, and narration.

Shippeitaro is supposedly a classic in Japanese fairy tales, with many renditions out there, but in terms of the listener’s ability follow–it will vary greatly. For me, it was meh.

The full collection is available on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Old Man and The Devils” and “The Cub’s Triumph.”

The first two stories in a collection of Japanese fairy tales, this audio adaption is a great introduction to non-western folklore. It’s not too foreign that the western world won’t understand the plot, but the meaning may be lost on some.

In terms of the adaptation, the audio for the first tale: “The Old Man and the Devils” isn’t as fluid as the second one: “The Cub’s Triumph.” There are millisecond lingerings or strange artifacts which throw you out of the story. That being said, it’ more of a nitpick than anything. After hearing such great pieces over the years, it’s hard to not compare.

The first story started off alright, got interesting by the middle, and made me scratch my head in the end over a small continuity issue. Story number two had the same reaction structure as the first, though the beginning was a little better.

There will not be a star rating until I reach the final episode. You can find this production on iTunes, AmazonMp3, and CDbaby.com.

The Diamond of Jeru

The Diamond Jeru is a wonderful story—full of suspense, intrigue and mystery around every corner of the wilderness with which the story is set. That being said, it wasn’t until the thirty minute mark where you can hang your hat on something. In this case its jealousy. The particular scene was a bit one-sided, in that the jealous character was being thick-headed, but it was understandable given what we know of the characters.

There’s also a tug-of-war between the conventions of audio drama and full-cast productions, which adds to the long, drawn out beginning which is only there to set everything up. In simpler terms, this audio story doesn’t know what it wants to be. For example, one time the narrator mentions the color of something as well as detail not necessary for an audio drama. However, in other parts, the sound effects and ambiance are so good that you wonder why the narrator is describing the same thing you’re hearing. Basically, it gets too specific when it doesn’t need to, and that could turn some people off.

It is however a nice transition ground between old time radio conventions (the ones which use narration) and the more modern era of audio dramas. The creators strike a fine balance and sometimes miss their mark, but aside from the one nitpicky example above, they’re easily forgettable and don’t impact the enjoyment of the story.

Fun fact: this story is based on the author’s travels in Borneo and the audio adaption was headed by his son Beau–who, for over ten years–recorded sound effects and music. Both of which are original. I’m usually not one for the biography of an artist, but that’s too amazing a fact not to include. How much of the story is based on truth, is anyone’s guess, but seeing as there aren’t supernatural elements in the story it’s possible that the entire story might be truthful to an extent.

The ending has the emotional weight of a modern contemporary story, but at the same time the tone of a 30s era pulp fiction. It’s an odd combination and the narration helps meld the two together. When a certain character dies, the music is beautifully composed and had me misty-eyed, despite not knowing the character too well (aside from his role in the story).

In the end, the biggest hump to get over is the beginning and the narration. Compared to other productions that use the same audio storytelling techniques, however, this one feels rich with life and different from a more contemporary standpoint. And that is its biggest strength: blending the old and the new conventions into a cohesive whole.

4/5 stars