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.

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Eclipse: An Original Audio Drama

What happens when the sun is nowhere to be seen and the entire planet is shrouded in darkness?

With this premise, it may sound like your typical “save the sun from exploding” mission, but that’s not the problem the character’s face. In fact the sun is fine. It’s merely being blocked out by a large banner.

The most noticable thing of this thirty-four minute audio drama is its humor and drama are so conflicted with each other, you don’t know when character’s are being serious or if they’re joking. Add in the problems that means for the overall tone and you have a coherent plot, but one that’s also a mess.

The plot was easy to follow and as long as you don’t ask how a banner could be large enough to block out the sun for the entire planet, you shouldn’t have any problems with it. Even if that particular pill is extremely hard to swallow.

It’s hard to tell whether the actors or the writer are to blame for a cast of dozens, where none of them feel like real people. The dialogue isn’t cringe-worthy, but could be better, and the acting certainly doesn’t help with believability that these character’s have lives.

The solution to the problem comes soon after they figure out the problem is, which brings in a problem of pacing. Right from the beginning, there’s no investment in anything. Character or plot. It’s like they didn’t care one way or the other what happened.

Despite all the complaints, it’s not so bad you shouldn’t not give it a listen.

3.5/5 stars

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 Sherlock Holmes Society of London: The Gloria Scott

A Sherlock Holmes tale from The Sherlock Holmes Society in London. Released in 2009, this audio drama is reminiscent of a Grimms Fairy Tale. What makes this story interesting is that it plays in Sherlock Holmes’ childhood–where, even back then, his keen powers of observation were well above average.

To clarify the Grimm brother’s reference above, it’s not that this is a fairy tale. Rather there’s a certain story in that collection of stories which shares a lot of dark elements with this Sherlock Holmes tale. I’m referring to Rumpelstiltskin.

What does Rumpelstiltskin have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Not much, but there’s a certain character in this story who is essentially the devil. The father of one of Sherlock Holmes friends has, unwillingly, struck a deal with a mysterious man, and the scenes that man appears in are quite creepy and dark.

The mystery itself isn’t as memorable as the tone of the piece, but the perforamances are top notch and despite it being discontinued, this podcast–and in particular this episode is worth checking out. It’s one of the best ones out of this company

4/5 Stars

Edict Zero FIS: Season One

Part sci-fi, part cop drama–Edict Zero FIS excels in both engaging storytelling and tremendous acting. The one downside is that the medium level details are lost in translation. There were many times where you don’t know what’s going on, but on a micro and macro level, you understand everything you need to know. Perhaps a better word would be the specifics of the information.

The plot revolves around a team of federal operatives who are tasked with solving the mystery of who the illustrious Mr. Cook is and the reason behind him blowing up a building on New Years Eve. From there things get complicated.

The sci-fi may be prevalent in the technology and SFX of the show, but at its heart this is a cop drama. Albeit with less of an episodic-feel, where one episode equals one crime. There’s an overarching plot, which seems simple, but the more that’s uncovered, the more intriguing it gets.

The characters are great. Each one had a distinct voice, both on paper and the microphone. By far the most interesting reoccurring one is Agent Garrett, who has all the trappings of a sociopathic character, but is a federal agent. My favorite character in the first season, who disappears after his usefulness to the agents is fulfilled, is Socrates. Creator of the show, Jack Kincaid gives a performance that is mind blowing. The best I’ve heard in a long time when it comes to audio drama podcasts.

Around episode five of the nine episode first season is where the season reaches it’s peak. There’s so much going on, it demands a second listen as you’re bound to miss something minor. However, you can follow the story just fine without going through it again. Needless to say, this on my re-listen list and that’s an honor not many audio dramas have received.

4.5/5 stars

The Buyer in the Library

An adaptation of an award winning one-act play, written by Karl Sparks of Pocket Radio Theater. The mind behind 10 cent stories and the Bootleggers series is lacking in good sound effects, but makes up for it with a single character who is charmingly twisted and evil and who ultimately steals the show.

The story is set in Rochester, NY, specifically in the basement level of a University. The only way to get there is via an elevator with a button that appears to select number of people. The first three minutes or so explain the workings of the elevator and for the purposes of the story doesn’t matter a whole lot. In fact the narration which explains it, could’ve been cut and no one would be confused.

This entire play is a series of events, tied together with a delightful performance by Leah Mould who plays a character along the lines of genie. It relies a little heavily on the genie story arc, where each wish you make comes back to bite you. It doesn’t follow it specifically and there’s enough there with the performances and the nuances of how “The Buyer” goes about fulfilling wishes to make it somewhat entertaining.

Unlike the first episode of The Bootleggers, the sound effects here are a bit much and don’t create a consistent soundscape this time around. Every time the elevator arrived was like nails on a chalk board. It might’ve been intentional, but I could’ve done without it lasting as long as it did each time it came.

All in all this a fun tale which relies heavily on the performances and the tropes of the “magic comes at a price” trope. If you’re looking for a subversion of tropes, then look elsewhere. The story follows the convention closely, but it’s still enjoyable.

4/5 stars

The Bootleggers: Episode One

Produced by Pocket Radio Theater and set in my hometown of Rochester, NY–this period piece about life in the upstate New York city during prohibition mixes the old time radio aspect of the time with modern audio drama sensibilities. Complete with music which reflects the period is only icing on the cake.

The writing is good and the sound effects even better. The immersion factor is seemless and you’re never thrown out of the story even for a little bit. A problem a lot of newer shows have with their production values.

The plot of this episode deals with two bootleggers who run into trouble with the feds. After a scene which explains a change in management for the two men, the bootleggers go about their daily lives, complete with name-dropping actual places inside Rochester, NY. As a native of the city, it made me smile. After the stage is set and we get to know the main characters a bit more, the episode ends.

There’s not much to say about this other than there are new episodes released on the 15th of each month and it’s a serial. The first episode is not self-contained, but there many things about it which hook you. I started listening to the next episode immediately after. If you’re a fan of the 20s and 30s, this audio drama is for you.

You can listen to the first eight or nine episodes on iTunes or by visiting their site at PocketRadioTheater.org.

4.5/5 Stars