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Why I like: “Escape From The Happy Place.” Part 1: The Magicians, overview and characters

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Hello, readers!  I’m Soliyra and I like to talk about things I like.  Right now, I am really liking SyFy’s drama The Magicians, specifically the fifth episode of season four.  But my editors told me that before I start telling you all about that particular episode, I should probably write a short article introducing the show, so you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about.  That seemed reasonable enough, so here we are.

Inspired by the Lev Grossman novels of the same name, The Magicians follows eight young adults as they become adept at using magic, travel to other dimensions, and repeatedly save each other and the world(s).  It’s basically an R-rated “Harry Potter meets Narnia.” Most of the action early on takes place at Brakebills University, a graduate school in upstate New York where college grads can, in three short years, get pretentious degrees in being wizards -only they call themselves “magicians” because I guess ‘wizards’ wasn’t pretentious enough?  Other action takes place in New York City and the magical realm of Fillory, which is definitely not Narnia.

At the beginning, the series is mostly focused on a young man named Quentin, AKA ‘Q,’ though it evolves into an ensemble cast over time.  His favorite books are a fictional series called Fillory and Further, about a set of English siblings who, during World War II, travel through an enchanted piece of furniture to a magical realm populated with talking animals.  They do not resemble any real books at all. Nope. Quentin learns that magic is real when he gets accepted to Brakebills. This gets him thinking that maybe Fillory could be, too.  Surprisingly, he is right! (this is not surprising). Other things that are real include: monsters, witches, gods, bad fairies, DRAMA, and a shadowy organization known as The Library that reminds me of Welcome To Night Vale every time it’s mentioned.

So anyway, this dude goes to school, makes friends, learns magic, etc.  I had deeply mixed feelings about season one. I liked the characters (well, most of them), really liked the spell choreography, and thought the villain was genuinely frightening.  However there was a lot of Problematic content that made me deeply uncomfortable, to the point that I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue watching.  Furthermore, I was very over the ‘chosen one’ trope. I felt that the show had potential, in spite of revolving around what I’d deemed a nothing character, because everyone else was much more interesting.

Season two steered away from some of the problems, particularly season one’s treatment of mental health.  It introduced some new characters and a ton of absolutely fantastic costumes (speaking as someone who has devoted the past year to the study and practice of costume design).  Some of the charm of the first season was gone, though. The villain was not scary in the same way, and the storytelling wasn’t as tight. I didn’t find it particularly compelling, but loved getting to see more of the ensemble.

Season three, and what I’ve seen so far of four, have often consisted of damage control: they subvert, or even undo, much of the garbage from earlier seasons.  This is also, I understand, the point at which the show really begins to break with the books. The Magicians hits its stride in season three, and, in retrospect, I am very glad I decided to continue watching.  Problem tropes still pop up from time to time, but the writers are plainly making an effort to improve.

 

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Things have improved, on multiple fronts

The colorful characters are the reason The Magicians succeeds.  I have therefore created a bulleted list describing the core characters, along with their Brakebills year and major as of season one.  This will give you an idea of who is who and how they interact so, hopefully, you’ll be able to at least sort of follow me when I start analyzing things with a microscope.  Also, there is this scene in season three where a bird-man refers to almost everyone by cool code names and we had to figure out who is who. Fun!
Anyway, these characters are good.  I want to hug them all and bring them cookies.   Bonus! This list also doubles as a ‘tag yourself’ meme.  I’m Fen.    Peruse this list while listening to this playlist I came up with at 4am, entitled The Magicians Characters as Dessa Songs” while you read, for an even more complete picture.

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The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Review

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Many of us grew up with the beloved television series called Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. This year a new version was released. Based on the comics of the same name a darker, one could say a more chilling, show called The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was an early Halloween gift for us all.

Created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and staring Kiernan Shipka The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina aired on Netflix on October 26, 2018. Sabrina Spellman has a big secret. She is only half-mortal. Sabrina is also half-witch. Her whole life up to this point her family has been preparing her to make a choice that will change her life forever.

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On her sixteenth birthday Sabrina can choose either side but she must choose. She can continue to go to her mortal school and live as a mortal teenager. There are her best friends. Her boyfriend. The movies and the books that she loves. Or she can choose the path that her family has been grooming her for. She can go to an elite school for witches and live as a witch.

Sabrina is torn between both. She loves being a witch. Sabrina has grown up casting spells and being surrounded by magic in her home. She is also very protective of her mortal friends and is unsure if she can leave her life with them. Sabrina is being pulled between these two worlds that she loves. With her birthday drawing closer the pressure is mounting for Sabrina to make her choice.

The assorted cast of characters in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are fantastically written. Witch or mortal these characters bring the viewers into the world that Sabrina dwells in. The characters fleshed out creation help us to believe that we are really their with Sabrina as she fights for the life she wants. The costuming is also an important tool for the show. Every costume tells us about the town and the people who populate it.

Speaking of the town the sets are wonderfully constructed. The Spellman house is actually magical to look at. Every room helps tell a story. Sabrina’s high school serves as neutral ground for Sabrina and her friends. The soundtrack is also well picked to further the story. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into creating the world of Sabrina Spellman.

I would highly recommend watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It is a fantastic show full of well written characters and plenty of twists.  

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Cowboy Bebop: An Anime Review

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From 1998 to 1999 Cowboy Bebop aired in Japan. Cowboy Bebop is a beautiful and funny anime with a great soundtrack. It would debut in America in 2001 and would become one of the most popular animes to come from the Bandai Visual Company. 

3…2…1 let’s go. In the future Earth has basically become uninhabitable. In such a future humans have spread to the furthest parts of the galaxy. Because of this, crime is on the rise. With people so spread out there are too few faces of the law. Therefore special bounty hunters called “cowboys” help fill the void.

One such bounty hunter is Spike Spiegel. Spike is funny relatable character with some awesome martial arts skills. He travels around taking different jobs with his crew, just trying to get by. His mostly easy going demeanor is probably one of his best traits as he meets countless obstacles along the way. His crew is a lovely group of misfits that become a family to the viewers of the show. They have a lot of personality and spirit to help them through different jobs that the crew take on.

Cowboy Bebop is a really lovely anime to watch. The space sequences are really interesting. It is also fascinating to watch the fight sequences. Spike is a character who is really fun to watch in a fight. The character designs are an integral tool for telling the story. These designs really aid in transporting the audience into the world that is Cowboy Bebop. Overall, the show is aesthetically pleasing.

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The real star of this anime, however, is the soundtrack. The main song has a great jazz feel to it which is interesting for a futuristic cowboy space anime. To be honest the first thing that I think of when I hear Cowboy Bebop is the the theme song. It successfully sets elevates the energy of the anime right from the start.

Cowboy Bebop is a favorite of many anime fans for a reason, or maybe four reasons…and a cute dog. The characters have interesting backstories. They are fleshed out as the plot moves forward. The viewers really care about these characters. We care about their motives. We want them to succeed.

This is an anime that I would very much recommend. Cowboy Bebop has something for everyone. It is a great place to start for new anime fans and always enjoyable for those who have been watching for a while.

I hope that if you haven’t seen Cowboy Bebop then you will give it a shot! If you have seen it then it is probably time for a rewatch.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Top 10 Gifts Under $20! (For Your Nerdy, Fandom loving, DIY-er)

Growing up I had a plethora of hobbies and I know my family had a hard time figuring out what to get me. It was often daunting for them to figure out what exactly I’d like. It’s hard not knowing what to get your super nerdy cos-player friend, or your hardcore gamer, or that cousin that sits around a table with his friends and talks about dragons while tossing strange looking dice all over the place. Now try to make it happen on a small budget… That’s what this list is for! We’re here to help you figure it out, and maybe (just maybe) you’ll surprise them with something wonderful.

Firstly, a bit of advice: Identify their hobbies and the things they love. If you don’t know, ask them or their friends. Find someone that knows. This is important. Taking this tiny little step can go a long way to figuring out what you should be looking for in the first place. Do it.

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10. Elegy for a Dead World. ($14.99)

You find yourself in a peculiar situation. You’re friend is both a writer AND a gamer. What to do? Elegy of a Dead World solves that problem with one fell swoop, in which you take the role of a writer filling in prompts given to you through the imagery of various worlds you explore. The game is short and really only sits well with this particular geek.

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9. Google Cardboard. ($15)

VR is expensive. Plain and simple. This is an inexpensive alternative that can turn any phone (with the proper applications installed) into a portable VR experience. Plus, cardboard is in right now, just look at Nintendo Labo.

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8. Gift Cards. ($NA)

Gamers are often creatures of impulse. Having a little extra green in their steam wallet for that game that just went on sale or in their blizzard account for some packs of Hearthstone cards, can go a long way.

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7. Dice. ($5 – $20)

For those D&D (And other Tabletop RPG) aficionados. Their collection of brilliantly colored polyhedral gems are an extension of themselves and often considered sacred ground. Don’t you dare touch their collection, however, take a peak and look for their favorite color. From there take a look online or at your friendly neighborhood gaming store and see what you can find!

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6. Supplies. ($NA)

You’ve identified their hobbies right? Then ask yourself: “What do they need?” If you have an painter, do they have enough paint? Maybe a few canvases. Do you have a Dungeons and Dragons player? Maybe they could use some #2 pencils or index cards. A cosplayer could use more makeup or fabric. What’s your kids favorite gamer fuel? Mountain Dew? Water? Make it happen.

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5. D&D starter Set. ($19.99)

Do you have a buddy interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons but has no idea where to start? You’re looking at all the books and seeing $50 price tags and your not really sure which ones they need? Get them this. The D&D Starter Set includes everything they’ll need to get going, including some dice, a starter adventure, and a basic copy of the rules.

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4. Smart Cooler Mugs. ($19.99)

“A mug, really?” Yes dammit! These mugs are cool… errr warm… hot? They keep things cold or hot, depending on what you’re looking for. They are made from stainless steel; including the straw, have a no sweat exterior, and a vacuum sealed lid. You can choose from many colors and hold up to 30 oz of liquid! Awesome…

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3. Board Games. ($5- $20)

There are a plethora of board games available that are not only high quality, but inexpensive as well. They cater to a large range of gamers and nerds and very few will be disappointed by a quality card game. You’ve got titles like Chrononauts for those interested in time travel and history, or Bang! For your Red Dead Redemption fan. Codenames, Forbidden Island, Guillotine… The list goes on.

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2. Skrewdriver Pen Pocket Multi-Tool. ($12)

Multi Tools are super useful. From someone that likes to build their own computers to cos-players and artists. This handy pen comes with a level, screwdriver, ruler, and stylus! Super convinient. 

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1. Show interest in their hobbies. ($Free, usually…)

Far too many gamers are out there feeling all alone. I know I was. I would have been ecstatic had my grandparents come over and asked me about those cardboard cards I’m playing with or that game I play in the basement with my friends once a month. Offer to learn about it or have them show it to you. Take an interest in their hobbies. You have no idea how much it could mean to them.

Ronin Warriors: An Anime Review

220px-Ronninwarriorsdvd1 Ronin Warriors, known as Yoroiden Samurai Troopers in Japan, is one of those amazing older anime that simply does not get enough love.

In 1988 Japan premiered a new anime. Yoroiden Samurai Troopers would run for thirty-nine episodes. It would premiere in America in 1995 under the name of Ronin Warriors. The show would then continue to run on syndication thanks to networks like Cartoon Network.

The story centers around four armored warriors who each have special weapons in connection to the elements. They are the only thing standing in between a terrifying warlord known as Talpa and his minions. Talpa has set in motion events in modern Japan for himself to rule the mortal world. Each of his minions has power to fight one of the Ronin. Therefore the Ronin must find each other in the chaos and join forces to defeat Talpa. They are also aided by a student named Mia, a young boy named Yuli and a masked man known as “The Ancient.”

Ronin Warriors has a fantastic plot. It blends the history of Japan with the supernatural. It takes an interesting “what if” question and spins a story of friendship and overcoming the odds. One more interesting thing about Ronin Warriors is that it is an anime with a transformation sequence for male characters. Yes that is correct. A “magic boy” sequence where our male heroes are transformed into their armor.

While the animation is dated it does still hold a real beauty. The sequence for the transformations is one of my favorites. It is cleverly done featuring Japanese cherry blossoms with drums. The character designs are actually very minimalist, which serves the story as we are worried about the end of the free world here and not what the boys are wearing. That being said everyone has their own style and color. The hairstyles alone are worth watching for.    

The music is also a little dated but it fits the show. It adds to the fight scenes and the transformation scenes.

Ronin Warriors, thankfully, came back to syndication when I was in High School. My friends and I loved it. We still quote parts of it. Ronin Warriors did seem to be a favorite of a lot of American anime fans at that time. It also spawned some wonderful fanfictions, one of which is very sadly no longer anywhere to be found. In short, it is a fun show which had a great fandom.

Would I recommend Ronin Warriors? Most assuredly. Please give it a shot if you haven’t already.

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Always keep sparkling!

 

Review: The Man in the High Castle

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What would have happened if the Nazis would have bombed the White House before the United States could bombed Japan during World War Two? That is the base question for The Man in the High Castle.

The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon Prime television series based on the book by Philip K Dick. In the year 1962 the United States as we know it no longer exists. The pacific states are under the control of the Japanese Empire. The eastern states are under control of the Nazis. There is a strip of states in between that are called “The Neutral Zone” where no one has control and it is more like the lawless Wild West of old.

There are many players in this show and they all contribute to the direction that the story takes. The Man in the High Castle, is at its heart, a story about stories. Different people reacting to the situations they are put in and how those actions affect those around them. There are also alternate versions of the stories, but we are just beginning to find out about those on the show.

Julia Crain has accepted the Japanese influence in her life. She practices aikido, looks after her mother and lives with her boyfriend. She has a fairly normal life for someone who is considered a second class citizen in her own country. There are other forces at play around her though. There are plots within the Nazi party itself and Hitler’s health is failing. The relationship between the Nazis and the Japanese are on shaky ground with the threat of war. The Resistance has something that they are trying to keep safely hidden. These are films. Films which show a different world. The question is whether these films a solution or are they something that should be destroyed?

The storylines in The Man in the High Castle are amazing. They take us from multiple people in the Pacific States, to the idyllic looking states under control of the Reich to Germany itself. All of the people from different countries and vocations are spun around each other seamlessly. The show keeps you guessing as it is filled with switches and turns. The characters are masterfully written.

The settings are also key to The Man in the High Castle. As the viewer travels from set to set we get an inside look at the lives which we are to be so invested in. Costumes let us know the show takes place in the past but also the status of the characters. Music is also a reminder that the sometimes familiar surroundings of our characters that what we are seeing is not what it seems. Everything in The Man in the High Castle is very delerate.

I would highly recommend The Man in the High Castle. It is a great story about alternative history with a rich cast of characters.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING.      

 

10 Self-Care Tips for Streamers

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I started my streaming journey three years ago on the RealWomenOfGaming Twitch channel. I didn’t know much about streaming, but it seemed like fun being able to hang out with people while playing games in the privacy of my own bedroom. I remember the day well – which is saying something, considering I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.

I lived in Los Angeles at the time. It was a Tuesday afternoon. I played Funcom’s The Park for the first episode of a horror series called “Wanna Don’t Wanna.” I finished the game in about an hour, then I ended my stream.

Three years later, I still stream horror games for Real Women of Gaming. I’m on the Mixer channel now, with occasional appearances on Twitch. I also stream on my own 3-4 days a week under VanriTheRogue.

In my time streaming, I’ve come up with some self-care tips that help me. I’m really hoping they can help you too:

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