Anime Movie Review: The Princess and the Pilot

The Princess and the Pilot is a sweet film about a noble girl betrothed to a prince and the pilot who has to ferry her through enemy territory to get her to safety. Taking place in an oceanic world inspired by the 1940s, the movie has an unusually modern setting for a star-crossed love story involving class systems and royalty.

It begins with Prince Carlo proposing to Lady Juana del Morel. He’s a good-looking young man who seems quite taken with her, and promises to end the war between the nation of Lavamme and the Amatsukami Empire within a year so he can safely marry her. However, a year passes and the war has not ended. Worse, the enemy has learned of the nuptials and targets her island home and bombs it intending to kill her.

Though she survives the bombing, her father does not, and it’s determined that it’s too dangerous for her to remain on the island. A fleet is dispatched from the mainland to bring her to Prince Carlo, but unknown to the public, the fleet is destroyed en route. The portion of the Lavamme Air Force stationed on the island hatches a plan to get her past the enemy blockade, where she can rendezvous with the sole remaining ship of the 8th Naval fleet. It will make for a good story, with the lone survivor returning victorious with the princess safely on board.

The problem is getting her there.

That job is given to Charles Karino, a biracial pilot ostracized for his mixed blood. He is half-Amatsukami. However, he is given the job because he’s clearly the best and the men in charge aren’t so blinded by racism that they are willing to risk Juana’s life. Charles is instructed how to behave himself in front of Juana, because under ordinary circumstances he’s not someone who would ever come in sight of her, and they will be traveling together in close proximity, in a two-seater reconnaissance plane called the Santa Cruz.

The Amatsukami have had technical superiority in the air with their Shinden fighter aircraft, but the newly designed Santa Cruz just might be fast enough to evade them if they can manage three days of travel relatively undetected. To aid their escape, the remainder of the island’s air force intends to serve as a decoy while they slip out.

The journey that follows slowly unravels the trappings of Juana’s life. Though her maids send her off trussed up with more padding than a kid in a car seat, she quickly loses most of that (and all her luggage to boot) on the first night when they have to unexpectedly hide from patrols out looking for them. But as Juana loses her material things, she also gains a sense of self she did not have before. Watching her grow from a caged bird into a partner capable of aiding in her own escape is one of the joys of the movie.

For his part, Charles is used to his lot in life. He likes flying because race and class doesn’t exist once he’s in the air, but on the ground he accepts the mistreatment that comes his way even when he has friends willing to stand up for him.

That doesn’t change much even when Juana is horrified that Charles is not the one who is going to be given a hero’s welcome and he will not be accompanying her to the capital after dropping her off with the navy. He’s not even going to be allowed to come on board the ship with her because of his status as a besado.

Though it’s clear there is a potential attraction between the leads, The Princess and the Pilot does not shoot for the typical Hollywood ending. It is a happy ending in its own way, but probably more of a realistic one.

Given this is a story involving fighter planes, I do have to mention that the dogfight scenes are easily among the best I’ve seen in anime. I’m not sure that some of what Charles pulls off is entirely realistic, but the animation does such a good job in making the audience buy into the fact Charles is the best in Lavamme.

The Blu-Ray also comes with a bonus art book detailing the character and mechanical designs for the movie, as well as comments from the director and the author of the original book Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku.

Anyone curious about the fates of Juana and Charles post-movie can find hints about them in the TV series The Pilot’s Love Song (previously reviewed here) which is set in the same world.


The Princess and the Pilot was reviewed on Blu-Ray in the original Japanese with subtitles. The movie is also streamining at Crunchyroll (free to non-members after June 21st).


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: The Pilot’s Love Song

written by Laurie Tom

The Pilot’s Love Song recently wrapped up its run as part of the winter 2014 anime season. Based on the novel series Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta by Koroku Inumura, The Pilot’s Love Song is an unlikely combination of high school romance and 1930s/40s style aircraft set in a made up world with floating islands and a girl who can command the wind.

Since the novel series is untranslated I’m not sure how far the anime went through, but I would guess The Pilot’s Love Song probably contains the first book or two. This means while there is the feeling of a season ending, it’s definitely not a series ending. This is not uncommon in anime adapted from manga and novels, since much like American TV shows, production teams try not to lock themselves into a series in case it doesn’t catch on. Unlike American TV shows, Japan generally waits to see what Blu-Ray/DVD sales look like before ordering the next season. If The Pilot’s Love Song performs well in Japan, we will probably see another season in a year, give or take. In the meantime it makes me wish more Japanese novels were translated into English because I really want to read them!

The titular pilot is the unfortunately named Kal-el Albus (thankfully he goes by Kal most of the time because his name is not a reference to Superman in anything other than spelling), the only son of an airplane mechanic who also has three daughters. Kal and Ari, the youngest daughter, join Cadoques High School on the floating island of Isla as pilot trainees. Isla plans to sail on a religious pilgrimage to the fabled End of the Sky, taking with it a city full of people, squadrons of aerial knights, a flying dreadnaught, and of course the school to train new fighter pilots along the way.

In the very first episode, Kal meets a girl called Claire, who turns out to be a fellow student, but unlike him, who resides in the commoners’ dorm, Claire lives among the nobles. Still, she takes a liking to him as well, and they get along fabulously.

However, without spoiling things, neither of them are who they initially appear, and that the audience discovers who they are before they discover each other’s identities is a nice sort of tension because compared to them, Romeo and Juliet had it easy.

The story is a slow burn, choosing to build up the world and the school life before introducing any danger. Considering this is a series involving guns and aircraft, there is surprisingly little dogfighting until about halfway through, and the action scenes are more to serve the growth of the characters than being action for action’s sake.

When the fighting finally starts happening, it’s very clear that the students are ill-prepared and under-equipped. Despite being the equivalent of high school students in our world, they are soldiers on Isla, and the series does not forget that in combat, people die, and some familiar faces won’t make it through the series, even if they’re teenagers.

Though likely impractical, the airplane designs are fun to look at. The Isla planes don’t quite have the look of the fighters in WWII, though they’re metal and more advanced than WWI. Radio technology hasn’t been invented yet, preventing pilots from communicating save from occasionally screaming at each other (which probably shouldn’t work), hand signals, or having the gunner in their two-seater aircraft use the telegraph.

Oddly enough, considering that machine guns were mounted on airplanes midway through WWI in our world, the planes on Isla rely on gunners in a second seat behind the pilot, usually sporting a bolt action rifle, which makes them look hideously primitive when the enemies come out who are armed with single seater aircraft that have mounted machine guns.

Though it doesn’t make much sense, it does allow for better drama. All the pilots pair off for training in school, so by the time they get into any fighting, each of the named students has a partner to worry and care about, and when they’re in the sky they only have their partner to rely on. It gives characters someone to talk to and an immediacy that doesn’t happen between solo pilots of different craft.

The Pilot’s Love Song also gets bonus points from me for the combat uniforms. Though the boys and girls wear different school uniforms with clear analogs to the Japanese school system, when they suit up to fly the uniforms are identical for both genders. The only difference between uniforms is the scarf, which is not used to tell gender apart, but whether the pilot is a noble or a commoner.

Though I enjoyed this show, it’s such an odd combination of genres that I’m not sure I can easily recommend it. Probably the best thing for the curious is to watch one of the promo trailers and see both halves of the show. The one for the Japanese Blu-Ray/DVD release is a nice compilation of clips set to the opening theme. It showcases the four main characters and skipping to 0:52 brings up shots from the later combat scenes.

If you are entertained by both romance and early 20th century airplanes, you will probably dive right in and be perfectly comfortable, but at it’s heart, The Pilot’s Love Song is really about the love story.

Number of Episodes: 13

Pluses: old school aviation, nice mechanical detail, sweet love story

Minuses: pacing is uneven, dogfights don’t show up until halfway through, show ends on a season ending rather than a series ending

The Pilot’s Love Song is currently streaming at CrunchyRoll and is available subtitled. NIS America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.


Spring 2014 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

April means the start of the spring anime season, and this time around there looks to be an unusually large crop of shows I want to try out. I generally don’t end up watching everything I try out all the way through, but to give an idea of what’s out there, here’s a snapshot of which first episodes I watched, why I chose them, and what I thought of them.

By quirk of luck, everything I want to check out this season is streaming exclusively at Crunchyroll for American viewers, with the exception of M3: the dark metal, which is at Daisuki..

Black Bullet


Why I Watched It: I really liked the promo art. The premise is that ten years ago humanity came under attack of the Gastrea Virus, which mutates humans into giant insect monsters. Though humans were eventually able to find a sense of stability again, outbreaks can still happen and are held in check by teams of Promoters and Initiators. Initiators are Cursed Children who were born from infected mothers and Promoters are their handlers.

What I Thought: Rentaro, the Promoter main character doesn’t break any new ground, but he’s just belligerent enough, just competent enough, and just likeable enough to keep me engaged. Unfortunately due to the timeline of the show his Initiator sidekick Enju has to be an elementary school girl, but she’s not written like one and her constant attempts to be Rentaro’s intimate girlfriend might eventually turn me off the show. It’s only “funny” because she’s ten. If she was older it would be sexual harassment. (Rentaro is clearly not interested.) I’m not sure what the greater plot is from the first episode, which features the duo taking out a final stage infected before it can cause an outbreak, but I like Rentaro and his friend Kisara (who I think has a nice chemistry with him) enough that I’ll give Black Bullet another go.

Verdict: Black Bullet actually ended up better than I thought it would be (if I ignore Enju), and I think in another season this would have been a contender for my viewing time, but this spring there are just too many shows.


Brynhildr in the Darkness


Why I Watched It: I liked the premise, that a boy meets a girl that looks like his childhood friend who died years ago. That this was a science fiction show and the girl escaped a research lab was known to me before I watched it, but it could have been a slice-of-life series and I still would have given it a shot.

What I Thought: The opening credits make this look like a more pulse-pounding and sinister show than I expected. I’m a little put off by what looks to be a predominantly female cast with a single male lead. In anime intended for a primarily male audience, this frequently means there will be a certain amount of fanservice and all the girls will end up falling in love with the main character. And in the first episode there are definitely some fanservice shots, though they are not nearly as egregious as other shows. Fortunately Ryota is a sympathetic protagonist and the story between him and his childhood friend Kuroneko is engaging enough that I want to see what happens between him and her look-alike Kuroha Neko, who appears to be a scientifically created witch and part of a network of people who can predict when others will die.

Verdict: I will be watching it. There are enough tantalizing bits regarding Kuroha’s past and her special abilities that I want to see more (and she has to be Ryota’s childhood friend somehow even though she’s missing the moles on her body that his friend had).


Chaika – The Coffin Princess


Why I Watched It: I wasn’t going to. I didn’t like the character designs and I didn’t like what I had heard of the main character, being a young teenage girl who only speaks in words and sentence fragments (presumably because it makes her adorably quirky). But I kept hearing about the carnivorous unicorn in the first episode so I figured it must be something awesome.

What I Thought: The unicorn wasn’t too shabby (actually a bit creepy right up until they fought it), but the setup where main character Chaika happens to meet super-powered siblings Toru and Akari and that they are willing to take a job from such a nutcase of a wizard as Chaika, is just a little too pat. I have trouble buying the fact the siblings are so broke as to be scrounging for food when they both possess a transformation ability that makes them superhumanly strong and immune to fear. Fortunately there are hints of a more complicated plot involving something that went down five years ago in a civil war, and mysterious faction that may or may not be on Chaika’s side.

Verdict: I might go back to this one if I have time or one of the series I intend to watch bombs out.


JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

jojosWhy I Watched It: When I was very new to anime, the original JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure OAV series was one of the few that really stuck in my mind due to the crazy combination of the extremely manly art style, the level of violence, and the Stands, which I can’t really describe as anything other than mystic inner selves named after tarot cards. They’re a lot like the Personas in the Persona series, but predate them by several years.

What I Thought: I mostly watched this out of curiousity, since the original OAV series did not cover the first half of the Stardust Crusaders story arc so I started in the middle. It’s funny watching it because the story takes place in 1989, which was current day when the manga ran, but makes this a historical piece now. It’s exactly what I expected, even with stylized sound effects just like you would see in a manga panel, except animated. JoJo’s is completely unapologetic about its age and makes no effort to update itself. The manga has been running for over twenty-five years and knows what it is to the tune of 110 volumes and counting.

Verdict: It’s JoJo’s, which means a lot of muscly guys screaming at each other while fighting and I already know where the story’s going. It’s worth a look for someone who wants an introduction to one of Japan’s longest continually running manga series and the story arc is self-contained, but doesn’t offer much more than updated animation for someone who saw the earlier version.


M3: the dark metal

m3Why I Watched It: I like shows with a bit of mystery around them. Near future Tokyo is slowly being swallowed by a blackness called the Lightless Realm that consumes anyone who tries to explore it, and there is a strange song that comes from its guardians where if someone hears it they will die in nine days.

What I Thought: This show feels like it should always be taking place at night, because that’s when its most effective scenes are. The scenes in full daylight lose the feeling of menace that should be coming from the Lightless Realm and the mysterious Admonitions and Corpses that emerge from it. The show has a gender-balanced ensemble cast consisting of a special class of students who are being trained to eventually explore the zone and emerge alive thanks to new technology. However most of the first episode focuses around Akashi, who so far looks be talented, but relatively unsympathetic. By the end of the first episode we get a little bit of insight into what the Admonitions are, which is appropriately disturbing, and most of the cast hears a Corpse’s song.

Verdict: I will be watching it. No one in the cast has particularly won me over, but the atmosphere certainly did. I’d like to see what happens when they finally start exploration and what it is that they’ll find inside.


One Week Friends

oneweekfriendsWhy I Watched It: I liked the premise. It sounded very sweet. Kaori Fujimiya is a high school girl who loses memories of people who she wants to spend time with, who are important to her (barring family members), with the start of every Monday. This makes it impossible for her to make friends, but one boy, Yuuki Hase, picks up on her loneliness and resolves to become her friend every week.

What I Thought: OMG the feels. Kaori and Yuuki are absolutely adorable together. The first episode covers the course of a week as they gradually and believably begin to become friends, and the animation easily picks up every bit of their awkward conversations as she tries to dance around her peculiar condition and Yuuki tries not to feel rejected. It’s an easy tug on the heartstrings, but the end of that first episode when Yuuki resolves to tell her “I want to be your friend” at the start of every week was so sweet. I’m not sure how the show will progress if Kaori is constantly resetting, but it’s definitely earned a place on my list.

Verdict: Must watch! End of story.


The World is Still Beautiful

worldisstillbeautifulWhy I Watched It: Shoujo (girls) comics are infrequently adapted into anime, and even though the character designs don’t quite do anything for me, I wanted to give this one a shot. The premise is that the Sun King conquered most of the world, but agreed to leave the Duchy of Rain alone in exchange for one of the duke’s daughters in marriage. Princess Nike loses a game of rock-paper-scissors against her sisters and is prompted shipped off to marry a king she has never met, but the king turns out to be a boy younger than she is and she’s no shrinking violet.

What I Thought: It turned out to be a sillier show than I thought it would be, even breaking the fourth wall at one point. Nike gets into what I would consider horrible situations if it had been anyone else, but they get played for laughs and she never takes anything too badly. It helps that she can command the weather and she’s not afraid to use it. I like that she has a lot of confidence and isn’t overly girly, which is atypical of shoujo heroines. The boy king is only introduced at the very end of the episode, so it’s not possible to see what their relationship is going to be like, but he looks just young enough for it to feel a little squicky. According to Wikipedia he’s supposed to be 15 but he looks like he’s 12.

Verdict: I’m going to keep watching this one to see if it gets better. It’s hard to judge a romantic comedy when half the couple has barely been on screen by the end of the first episode.

Conspicuously missing

Knights of Sidonia – The most serious science fiction offering of the season, featuring massive colony ships, genetically engineered humans to better survive in a harsh environment, and giant robots (okay, maybe that part isn’t so serious) is a Netflix exclusive and will not be appearing in the US until Summer 2014. In an era of simulcasting that seems a terrible business decision. By the time it makes its way over here fans will be talking about the next season of shows.



laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Anime Review: Samurai Flamenco

written by Laurie Tom

Samurai Flamenco is a send-up/meta-commentary of the Japanese superhero genre, particularly the various Super Sentai series, which Americans have mostly been exposed to in the form of Power Rangers.

Twenty-year-old Masayoshi Hazama grew up idolizing the televised superheroes of his childhood, so much so that even into adulthood he never gave up his dream of becoming a hero. He lives in a world much like ours, where criminals are handled by the police; a world that doesn’t have or need superheroes. But Masayoshi isn’t like normal people.

He has an uncompromising sense of morality and in his homemade costume as Samurai Flamenco, he decides to make the world a better place, even if it’s just as simple as getting someone to stop littering.

His first attempt at being a hero is downright miserable (Batman he is not), but fortunately he soon meets Hidenori Goto, a jaded policeman a few years older than him. At first all they have in common is a fondness for childhood superhero shows, but as time passes, Goto starts to help out Masayoshi as he gets in over his head. As a vigilante, it helps to have a friend on the police force, and for the audience Goto serves as the straight man to antics that only Masayoshi could possibly take seriously.

Eventually Masayoshi makes allies, rivals, and even enemies. During episode 7 the show takes a huge right turn that is completely crazy and runs against everything that had been set up about how the world works, but it’s just so damn good and completely in the spirit of the show that it’s hard not to just roll with it. Episode 7 is really what sets the tone of the rest to follow.

Once the real spirit of the show reveals itself Samurai Flamenco runs fast and furious, barely stopping to take a breath. Like in a TV series, the hero defeats one enemy only for another to appear, but it does what would be 5-6 seasons in another show in just two (and it works!). There was one point where I wondered just how the hell the series could possibly wrap up in the wake of ever escalating adversaries, but wrap up it does, and it does it in the unexpected and completely off-beat manner that the show has been displaying its entire run.

Samurai Flamenco manages a neat balancing act between the laughs and the drama, sometimes even juggling both in the exact same scene, with a couple teary-eyed moments I just wasn’t expecting.

That said though, this is a series I find difficult to recommend, since so much of the humor hinges around Japanese superheroes. If you watched Power Rangers as a kid and know a little bit about its Super Sentai origins, or if you happen to be a fan of the American comic Kick-Ass, I’d say this is worth giving a shot, but it’s probably too bizarre to be someone’s intro to anime.

Otherwise, if you’re an anime fan looking for something new, there really isn’t anything else like Samurai Flamenco.

Lasting 22 episodes, Samurai Flamenco recently finished its run with the end of the winter 2014 anime season.

Pluses: commentary on the staples of Japanese superheroes is hilarious, story never loses sight of itself, clear that the creative staff loved what they were doing

Minuses: takes a few episodes to get to the real plot, most of the villains don’t last long enough to make an impact, very niche appeal

Samurai Flamenco is currently streaming at CrunchyRoll and is available subtitled. Aniplex of America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.



Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.


Anime Catch-Up Review: Guilty Crown

written by Laurie Tom

Guilty Crown debuted as part of the fall 2011 anime season, but at the time it was up against Persona 4 for my viewing time, and being a Persona fan, that pretty much meant everything else, unfairly or not, was getting shut out.

But over the coming years, I’d occasionally see something that reminded me of it. I liked what I had seen of the character designs, there was that odd yet memorable title, and I liked the song “My Dearest” which plays over the first set of opening credits (which, by the way, gives a pretty accurate snapshot of who and what appears in the show).

Otherwise I didn’t know much about it except that somewhere I had read that the middle arc of the story reminded the viewer of the first Devil Survivor game, which I had enjoyed.

So when I found myself completely caught up on my simulcasts and still in the mood to watch more anime, I fired up Guilty Crown.

Guilty Crown is not an anime series that plays all its cards up front. For a near future science fiction series heavily centered around action, it brings up a lot of questions, and, I’m happy to say, answers nearly all of them.

The premise is that ten years ago, there was an outbreak in Japan of what became known as the Apocalypse Virus. It was so bad that foreign forces had to come in and take control of the country in order to keep the virus contained, and they’ve remained there ever since.

Shu Ouma, is the sort of nice-guy high school student protagonist that appears in many anime series, and in the first episode he is unfortunately the weakest element of the show. He accidentally gets tangled up in a resistance group called Funeral Parlor that is trying to overthrow the GHQ, the health organization that now rules Japan. Due to circumstances, he unintentionally absorbs an experimental fluid called the Void Genome that gives him “the power of kings” and allows him to pull objects out of other people that represent their hearts. These manifestations are called Voids.

Fortunately the first Void he pulls turns out to be a gigantic sword, which comes in handy in the action piece that closes out the first episode. Having him take out opposing mecha on foot is an amazing bit of shorthand to show just how powerful his new ability is, and if the story of Guilty Crown occasionally disappoints, the battles do not.

Shu initially tries to continue living a normal life after having gained the Void Genome, but circumstances conspire again and again to show him there’s really no going back; whether it’s the Funeral Parlor member who transfers to his school or a classmate who could sell him out after witnessing Shu fighting alongside the resistance.

In the early episodes Shu is largely pulled along by the will of other people and the shows works in its appreciably large cast, moving between the people in Funeral Parlor, the students at school, and the members of GHQ. After the bulk of the major players have been revealed, Shu starts to mature. The stakes rise and he begins to take ownership of his situation.

The first season in particular has light-hearted moments, such as Shu trying to figure out the identity of the student who was spying on him by pulling out the student’s Void. All he has to go on is the Void’s appearance, so he ends up running around campus randomly pulling things out of other kids (while profusely apologizing) to the entertainment of the viewer.

But the second season takes a much darker turn and nearly all of the levity is gone. At this point, it’s clear that there’s no such thing as normal.

The rest of the large cast varies in depth, though all are fairly distinctive. Aside from a couple of the senior GHQ members early on, I never had trouble telling anyone apart, though there isn’t the time in a 22-episode series for everyone to be drawn out as fully realized people. Still, with a large cast, there’s likely to be someone to root for even when the main characters aren’t pulling their best.

A few of my favorites:

Ayase is unusual in that she is a disabled character, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, but what is really remarkable is that she’s not the brainy hacker character. No, Ayase is Funeral Parlor’s kickass Endlave (mecha) pilot. Who cares if she’s in a wheelchair? She doesn’t need to walk to pilot a giant robot! I love that everyone in Funeral Parlor simply treats her as part of the team and no one comments on her disability until Shu joins the group and opens his mouth (and then she gives him a good tongue-lashing).

I have a tendency to like characters who do the wrong things for the right reasons, and Shu’s classmate Yahiro is that kind of character. His Void is a freakish pair of shears with the ability to sever life, but when we learn why his Void takes that form, the reason isn’t sadistic at all. Being a pragmatist, Yahiro is also the guy willing to make hard choices and present uncomfortable suggestions, and he does it without ever going off the deep end and becoming a monster like many of his counterparts in other anime series.

The last character I’ll mention is Daryl Yan, who is a part of the GHQ. He’s initially presented as a misanthropic villain who gets off on killing, but partway through the series the audience gets to see another side of him that makes him a more sympathetic character. Personally I wish Daryl had more chance to develop, because I liked where his arc was going, but I can understand why for plot reasons the writers ended up cutting that off. It just makes for a weird about-face near the end.

Unfortunately, with a large cast, that also means there are some characters that just never click. Inori, though the main heroine, is one of many emotionless girls popular in anime and her character arc is not anything that hasn’t been done before. I found I cared about her fate more because of Shu than because I cared about her.

Though Shu is clearly the main character with a tremendous special ability, Guilty Crown is pretty good at giving everyone a piece of the action. It never comes to a point where everyone sits back and lets Shu do his thing. The job is too big for a single person.

Overall, this series was a fun ride that only accelerated as it progressed. Though there were still a few “Huh?” moments that prevent the story from being completely coherent, they weren’t enough to ruin the ending. I’d recommend it.

Pluses: Nicely fleshed out world, excellent action set pieces, large cast makes it easy to find someone to like, large number of memorable vocal tracks

Minuses: Occasional bits of fanservice, plot sometimes take a backseat, some of the characters are archetypes we’ve seen before and don’t rise above their predecessors

Guilty Crown is currently streaming at Hulu and Funimation and is available both subtitled and dubbed. The subtitled version was watched for this review.


laurietomLaurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.

Review: Writers of the Future XXVI

Reviewed by Frank Dutkiewicz

Time for my yearly review, Yippee! Last year I wrote a very long analysis on the winning story and another that I really, and of the authors that wrote them. A few took my comments as needlessly personal. I regret that. I was only attempting to illustrate the first impressions I had of Jordan Lapp and Emery Huang, which were swept aside when I read their stories. I by no means meant that either of them acted or did anything wrong. In fact, I think every author is entitled to a little self-promotion and should take full advantage of their fifteen minutes of fame in hopes of stretching it out into a life-long center stage. So that I won’t be misunderstood this time, I will only make this statement about this years award ceremonies; Laurie Tom’s red dress was hot!

“Living Rooms” by Laurie Tom First place fourth quarter and Gold Award winner

Rill’s expected warm homecoming is cut short when she discovers her father has passed away and a distant uncle has moved into her childhood home in hopes of gaining control. The rooms have rejected him and are heartened by Rill’s return. However, for Rill to maintain control she must believe the house is hers or her uncle will be able to regain a foothold into the enchanted house. Rill has been away for eight years and hasn’t fully considered her father’s house hers, and all the rooms have not accepted her as their new master.

“Living Rooms” is a fresh fantasy concept. The rooms have personalities of their own and can manifest into people. The holographic like beings are anchored to their ‘room’ and can only leave their area when granted permission by their master. Rill’s father was an accomplished magician and she has only remembered a few of the basic spells of her youth. Her evil uncle, Morrin, is after something in the home. Rill must find out what he is after but not all the rooms in the house are cooperative. Morrin is eager to drive Rill away. If she can believe the house is hers his power will be nullified, but believing a house she felt like a prisoner in when she was a child is hers proves to be difficult.

It is easy to fall in love with this premise. Rill comes home expecting to reconnect with her father. The rooms of the house are servants to the owners and have appropriate personalities for their purposes. The story is set as a fantasy mystery. Finding out what Morrin is after is one of the driving forces of the plot. The premise is solid as was Ms Tom’s telling of the story. However, I found the plot a little too straightforward. The outcome was obvious to me early on, even if the details of what happened in between weren’t. The story lacked a sense of urgency I prefer of a thriller/mystery. What I found particularly disappointing was the villain. It may have helped if he was more active in the story. Instead he was the man lurking in the shadows, a distant danger instead of a more imposing one I would have preferred.

Grade B

“The Black Side of Memory” by Lael Salaets third place fourth quarter

Lt Det Kiv has been discharged from the army. Like others, his mind has been wiped of crucial details of the war. A former colleague greets him and convinces him to seek out the empty gaps in their memory. The government will stop at nothing to keep the facts of the war secret but a nagging feeling motivates Kiv to find the truth. But all he has to go on is a picture of a small girl drawn by a soldier in the psych ward at a VA hospital.

The premise to “The Black Side of Memory” hinges on a pair of soldiers eager to right a nagging wrong. Erased memory is something every soldier endures before discharge. Surprisingly, the radical procedure is flawed. Everyone knows (soldiers, public, the enemy) that the Colonial forces perform this routine procedure. Kiv and his companion have left a disk that will revive their lost memory, all they have to do is travel halfway around the world into enemy territory and evade government agents to find one small child on a big continent. Piece of cake.

The story itself showed promise at its start but became increasingly disappointing the further I read. The author’s storytelling I would best describe as wooden. The characters were stiff, the prose simplistic, and the plot unoriginal. It came across like a bad version of a Rambo knock off idea. I couldn’t help but to wonder why the government agents just didn’t shoot the pair to keep them quiet. If not an execution than a simple arrest on trumped up charges usually works well enough for any minor tyrannical government in today’s societies.

Grade C-

“Lisa with Child” by Alex Black second place first quarter

Karin is suffering from post-traumatic stress. She has been turning to alcohol to cope with the haunting visions of the war in her head. She hopes readmission into the Clandestine Services will help her deal with the flashbacks, then Lisa, her AI combat companion, puts everything in jeopardy with news Karin never dreamed would be possible; she’s pregnant with their child.

“Lisa with Child” is excellent Science Fiction. It introduces a possible future problem using mistakes made in the past. Lisa is a cyborg, created to assist her assigned air force officer, Karin, in the war to unify Korea. The Agency made her to be emotionally dependent to her assigned officer and physiologically indistinguishable from other people. Years after the war, she is still with Karin, serving as her bodyguard and servant. Her social development has been shaped by her programming and years of bonding with Karin. Karin feels as if Lisa has ruined her chances with the agency. Lisa however is a product of her creation, everything she does is for Karin’s own good.

Following Lisa’s logic through Karin’s perspective is the crux of this story. Like so many weapons introduce for a war effort (agent orange, rockets, nuclear power) the effects on society aren’t fully revealed until years after. “Lisa with Child” examines what could happen when human-like machines, built to protect and assist the people they are bonded to, are left with their assigned humans while their programs continue to evolve. The author’s ability to lead us along lends to this brilliant piece. Although it was perhaps the shortest story I read in the WotF anthologies in a long time, I found it full of content. The three characters are drawn well, all distinct and all believable. If I could find something to complain about it would be the length of the piece. I would have liked more but in all honesty the authors brevity of telling this tale may be the reason why it worked so well.

Grade A

“Not in the Flesh” by Adam Colston second place third quarter

Technical Officer Aaron Tanaka is assigned to determine if a battle android is flawed. The human faced android has demonstrated characteristics that are too human and discovering it gave itself a name does not bode well for it. Before Aaron’s order for destruction is completed disaster strikes. Aaron’s life is now in Peter the android’s hands, and his future depends on its emerging humanity.

“Not in the Flesh” is a story cut from the cloth of Isaac Asimov’s genius. Peter the android has become aware that he is a slave of humanity while Aaron’s role is much like a taskmaster in the pre-civil war south. Androids are tools, and a tool that is unpredictable is of no use. A sudden change in fortune flips the positions of the two characters. Thanks to Peter’s quick thinking, the two escape disaster but find themselves in predicament that is just as dire. Aaron faces death; an irreversible, no chance of resurrection, death. Lying to the android won’t make any difference and telling him the truth may save him from some needless suffering.

I am admittedly biased when it comes to this story. I am one of Adam’s first readers and have read several incarnations of “Not in the Flesh,” from his first inklings of an idea to his last draft. Reading it in print gave it a unique feel. It also showed me the reason why I believed Adam would hit the big time years ago.

Like other stories of Adam’s I have read, “Not in the Flesh” has a protagonist that is flawed. Mr Colston integrates Aaron’s flaws and makes them central to the plot. It is unlikely the story would have done as well if Aaron’s own prejudices weren’t a part of his characters make up. However, Mr Colston wisely didn’t cast him as an over-the-top futuristic bigot, instead Aaron’s distrust of Peter is deeper inside his psyche. As a result, Aaron is like a nice neighbor who occasionally grumbles about the ‘immigrant problem.’ Peter is the idealist; the altruistic visionary who would rather be considered an equal than a weapon in a desperate war. Lending to this delightful metaphoric tale is Mr Colston’s unique and subtle touches of humor. I particularly enjoyed the ending of the scene in the escape pod.

I think this story is very strong, but as a close associate of Adam I am unsure how clouded my judgment is. However, two other independent reviews have singled out his story as a standout. I would like to give him a high mark but because of our relationship and Adam’s tendency to suck upâ€

Grade withheld for being the teacher’s pet.

“Seeing Double” by Tom Crosshill first place first quarter

John and Sasha share lives. The New York soldier and Riga native were part of a cultural exchange long ago. Each person experiences the others actions while they sleep, in effect , live two lives. Sasha has become ill and John has come to Riga to seek him out. A burrowing unit has infected Sasha, threatening to sever the link between the two. Dima, Sasha’s brother, wishes John to be out of their lives, and isn’t above murder to do it.

“Seeing Double” is a dual perspective done through a single character. Jack-streaming is a way for two people to connect, share a mind. Sasha and John are opposites, relying on the others strength to compensate for their own weakness. Dima believes Sasha’s link with John has made him into something he isn’t. John travels to Riga for the first time yet is familiar with the place seeing it though Sasha’s eyes. Violence of a shared past catches up to the duo, and it is up to John to save them both.

“Seeing Double” is a fitting title because I had a hard time staying focused while reading it. Switching perspectives, sudden flashbacks, a conversation with a dead person inside a coffin†all made it difficult to follow. Just when I thought I got a grip of what was going on the scene would switch into something closer to a hallucination. I found the characters unlikable and the protagonist exceedingly violent. Although I had to read it twice to understand what I read, I did find the premise promising and understand why it would be so difficult to write.

Grade C

“Exanastasis” by Brad R. Torgersen third place third quarter

Arteus was the last person in the solar system left alive at his death. Ten centuries later, his ‘children’ have revived him and his long dead wife. An escaping ship of the war is returning to reclaim the Earth. The children have held true to Arteus’s plan of purging the Earth of humanity so it can recover before reintroducing cloned men to its surface. The strange ship is coming to reclaim the prize for itself, and demands the children and the moonbase to surrender.

“Exanastasis” is a story about a conflicted man. Arteus died devastated; the Earth destroyed in a war and vaporizing wife in the process. Hypatia is eager to see her husband, too eager for Arteus. He knows his wife isn’t the same person he knew and thinks of her as nothing but a copy, a product of his memory rather than the woman he fell in love with. The children are motivated by the plan, a plan Arteus no longer believes in or in the caretakers he created to implement it.

I found the first quarter of this story difficult to comprehend. It took me to the end to get a firm idea of what the children were. At first I thought they were corporeal creatures, floating aberrations like the ‘Dementors’ of the Harry Potter series. Too much of the story had to do with Arteus coming to grips with his resurrection and reuniting with his wife when a larger and more interesting story of the children caretakers, and a long ago foe returning, was there ignored. If I was reading this book for pleasure alone I may have dumped out of this story early, but it picked up and captured my interest enough for me to care about its ending.

Grade B-

“Poison Inside the Walls” by Scott W. Baker second place fourth quarter

Ashia is an experienced soldier, a caring mother, and proud woman. All she has become was built on a foundation of lies. While on patrol, she extracts the boils of a fungus, ingredients to an addictive drug, for her breeding-age son. Her youngest son is beautiful, the pride of the nursery, and Hector (the father) wants the credit of producing such a rare and healthy boy. Ashia wants no part of Hector and is willing to build on her foundation of lies to deny him the honor.

“Poison Inside the Walls,” like the lies Ashia lives, is a multi-layered tale. She is embarrassed and guilty for her eldest son. Ashamed and resentful of Hector. Distrusted and irritated of her superior officer. Then there is the Kree. The colony of Tora lost 90% of the men in an earlier invasion. Now the males are treated like studding stallions and the women are left to defend their world. Status means everything to the men and women of Tora and even more to Ashia. Her addicted son, Krusta, could care less about status and uses Ashia’s guilt to manipulate her. The result is a cast full of intriguing yet unlikable characters.

I have mixed feelings about this story. I found it ridiculous the circumstances Ashia put herself into. Risking your career for your son’s addiction is stupid. Denying a father’s paternity because he’s a jerk is foolishly vindictive, especially when the child’s welfare is at stake. Balancing against a frustrating premise is the writer’s raw talent. The story was quick paced and engaging. Ashia’s complicated life and evolving state of affairs was easy for me to accept because of the author’s ability to frame such an intricate plot. What I really loved was his description of the Kree. I wished the artist chose to draw one of them for this tale. The biggest sore spot for me was the ending, which I won’t explain so I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t read it.

Don’t be surprised if you are turned off by this premise. However, it speaks volumes of Mr Baker’s skill that he pulled it off. For that reason alone he deserves praise.

Grade A-

“Confliction” by Simon Cooper second place second quarter

Flynn Mason’s heart is about to fail. His black-marketed nanodocs in his blood are malfunctioning. Only an unlikely heart transplant can save him. Then the unlikely happens. The gift that saved his life has an unexpected price, a price too high for even a dying man to want to pay.

“Confliction”‘s premise relies on a futuristic technology called nanodocs, small machines that repair the body from within. The heart Flynn receives is from a scientist named Bernardo who was experimenting with the nanodocs. The nanodocs in Bernado’s heart has the capability of rewriting Flynn’s brain, supplanting his conscience with Bernado’s mind. Maxi, Bernardo’s lover, wishes to correct her mistake of donating his heart but the authorities are set to stop her. Flynn must decide who he must trust while fighting to retain his mind.

“Confliction” has three stages, all distinctively different but loosely tied together. The first couple of pages is of Flynn contemplating a failing heart, then there is a sequence of Maxi and government agents fighting over Flynn, and a third act with Flynn facing Brenado in the battleground of a shared mind. The failing heart opening had a nice hook but was a slow reel in. The second act I found slower and the characters cartoon-ish. I really wanted Flynn to just shoot them all at one point. The surreal third act came off like a fantasy battle with Bernado as a wizard who informs the hero that he must destroy him, but has no hard feelings about it. The story had flashes of brilliance but the mish-mashed stages had a way of turning me away. The result for me was mixed feelings for the entire piece.

Grade B-

“Digital Rights” by Brent Knowles first place third quarter

Izzy Mosh is the newest member of a solar collecting space station. Her job is the rein in the Assistants, AI cyber-space workers, who keep the station running and in one piece. The job is supposed to be temporary, and puts a strain on her marriage with her politically ambitious husband, but it grants her the chance to work with the leading AI psychologist in the system, Dr Rutgers. A ‘ghost’ has been spooking the Assistants, and someone has been leaving Izzy strange messages in her inbox. The odd doctor is surprised when he hears of them, but all fingers point back to his way. Izzy isn’t sure who is sending those verbal messages in her inbox but one thing is clear; the voice in those pleas for help is hers.

“Digital Rights” is a mystery whose mystery is lost 5 pages in. It becomes very obvious to the reader what is going on, and the crew isn’t all that clueless who is responsible as well. Dr Rutgers is a creep. The type of loner you’d imagine that hides behind a computer all day while surfing for depravity to titillate himself. Advancing technology in virtual reality grants the creep to advance into monster status. He disturbs the crew of women but Izzy wants to make excuses for him because of his accomplishments.

If I were to describe “Digital Rights” in one word it would be “long”. A mixture of exhausting inner monologues and overdone background bogged down a well-thought out premise. Much was made of Izzy’s marriage. We are shown a supporting and proud husband in one scene and a selfish, unsympathetic jerk the next. The story could have axed the governor-to-be spouse and not have missed a thing. Stuck in the middle of an equivalent of literary weeds is a lush story. There is a great premise that is choked by the author’s tendency to write down to his reader. I believe cultivated and trimmed, and rearranging the information to support a real mystery, this story could have been the standout piece of the anthology. Such as it isâ€

Grade B

“Coward’s Steel” by K C Ball , third place first quarter

Tate is a lonely girl. Her mentor and savior, Jolene, died weeks ago. Jolene taught Tate how to survive the Collapse by being suspicious of everyone. Tate sees something familiar in an old woman tending a fire. The chance meeting sets in motion a series of events that will influence her life, a struggling village, and a future’s past.

“Coward’s Steel” is a fantasy set in a dystopia. Tate lived most of her life following Jolene’s law. Her dead companion had so much influence on her Tate can still hear Jolene’s skeptical voice in her head. The voice drives a wedge between Tate and a caring community who have welcomed her with open arms. Tate carries a magical flask the old woman by the fire gave her, a flask that never empties of its whiskey.

The author wove a subtle puzzle within this finely crafted tale. The mystery of the old woman fades then returns later into the story. Tate is successfully cast as a loner who is destined to live in misery, even when opportunities for a comfortable and content life are presented to her. The villagers of Providence have done as well as a community weathering a global collapse can do. Outsiders are trouble and are dealt with harshly but those asking for help are never turned away. Tate finds friendship and love in the village but Jolene’s voice from the past warns Tate to not get used to it. The story is well done but a downer. I liked it but it left me bummed out in the end.

Grade B+

“Written in Light” by Jeff Young , third place third quarter

Zoi’ahmets is a wickurn gathering evidence to support her species in the Diversifrom Dispute. The tree-like alien is shocked and suspicious when a human stumbles into her. Kiona is a young girl who has crashed a rover transport in the jungle while on a photography expedition. Complications on what Zoi’ahmets should do about the human adolescent arise when Kiona develops a severe allergic reaction. Zoi’ahmets overrides her own suspicions to carry Kiona to safety, but the trek is long and Zoi’ahmets inability to call for help makes her wonder if seemingly unrelated events are connected to the Dispute.

“Written in Light” is a brave endeavor. The story is told from the viewpoint of a very alien species. Kiona is a mystery to Zoi’ahmets. First as she contemplates the biology and social order of humanity through a lost but proud pre-teen, then from Kiona growing serious condition of her injuries and unknown allergic reaction. Further complicating things for the wickurn is the fact that Kiona parents are part of an arbitrating body deciding the dispute.

Writing from the perspective of an alien species is always difficult. The author couldn’t have made it more so with such a novel idea like the wickurn. Mr Young developed not only one freakishly alien species but two, a butterfly like hive mentality called the chenditi. The author created a galaxy with an unusual concept of inter-species cooperation through a settlement program meant to include galactic community at large. In this tale a background model of radically different races existing side-by-side for the common good is presented. Zoi’ahmets uncovers a conspiracy to undermine this grand goal, and the wickurns sense of justice becomes the focus of the tale.

The story is a work of wonder. Mr Young’s ability to bring such an alien species to life makes him very deserving a spot in this anthology.

Grade A-

“The House of Nameless” by Jason Fischer , first place third quarter

Raoul the Minotaur lives a full life within a new reality and away from One-Way-World. Then a mysterious and blurry man bypasses all of Raoul’s safeguards and invades his home to inform him his world will be undone. The other gods have no idea who this powerful foe may be. Only Nameless has the answers in his head, answers that may undo everything.

Jason Fischer managed what I considered impossible; crack the contest with a work of humor. Much of “The House of Nameless” is a tongue-in-cheek work of fantasy. The myth heavy tale follows the formidable Raoul as he seeks answers on how anyone, or anything, could penetrate his fortress home. He first tries Nameless’ house then sets foot on the deck of a ship of debauchery, where he rescues a loved one he abandoned. Events lead to a show down, and answers of the blurry ones identity.

“The House of Nameless” is sharply written. I found the tale quick and the protagonist likeable but the plot was much like the antagonist, blurry. Following along on Raoul’s adventure was like making sense of a dream after eating a spicy meal of Mexican food. Too many weird things were going on. The comedy went way over on the ridiculous for it to be funny for me. Nice effort though.

Grade B

A Lopsided Trend And How It Influenced The Winner

A friend asked me a while ago what was his best chance at winning the contest. My answer — “Robots”. I should have followed my own advice.

I doubt you could find a previous volume that didn’t have at least two stories with an AI or bionic theme. WotF just likes them. True, there are many variations possible for the robot sub-genre, and you’ll usually find a nice mixture of fantasy and other sci-fi themes in every volume. However, this years anthology favored the sub-genre so much they could have called it I, Robot.

Five stories were based on artificial intelligence. Another three took the six-million dollar man route, focusing on cybernetic implants in their characters. That meant two-thirds of the winners were in the sub-genre and its sister theme, and I didn’t even include Jason Fischer’s piece, which had a robot but only as comic relief. WotF has traditionally shunned other time-honored sub-genres. Like dragons? Can’t remember the last time I read one in a WotF contest. Fantasy epic? Tolkein would have never stood a chance. Same if like to write about ghosts, zombies, and any other creature Abbot and Costello may have run into. In fact, fantasy took a back seat this time around. Only three winners, one-fourth of the contest slots, were fantasy. Not good if you entered four fantasy entries last year. So why did so many stories based on a small corner of the Sci-Fi genre win? Do the judges favor robots? Or were these stories just simply the best entries written by the best authors? I believe the later tailored to the former.

According to the authors’ bios, this years class was loaded with veteran writers. 11 of the 12 winning authors (congrats to K C Ball for striking pay dirt on her first try) have shown a history of submitting to the contest and to other publications as well. This year’s authors have an impressive pile of honorable mentions and 3 failed finalist entries among them. Good writers who work their way up the ranks pay attention to what motivates an editor. Most magazines ask you to read an issue. Good writers will read more than one. I am betting it was no coincidence the writers who have been nipping at the contests heels for so long decided robots were the way to go. Good for them, not so much for the contest.

It is rumored fantasy submissions dominate the contest. Although I favor sci-fi over fantasy, I believe most of the readers don’t. Hopefully this year’s trend was just a coincidence. I would hate it if readers are turned away because the content just doesn’t fit their taste anymore. Equally as tragic would be if fantasy exclusive writers stop submitting because of the contests weighted preferences. We shall see what happens in the future.

So what made this year’s winner so special? I think I know.

I found “Living Rooms” to be a solid story. The protagonist was likeable and the plot compelling, but so were a majority of the other entries. Although I found it solid the writing fell short of sharp. At 52 pages it was the longest of the anthology. I just can’t see why the plot justified such a length. Compared with the works and styles of the judges (at least the ones I have read), I don’t believe they would have needed so many pages to tell the same story. Ms Tom took extra pains at providing exposition. Her protagonist inner monologues and an overemphasis on back-story appeared as if she worried the reader would miss important details. The result was a slower pace. Not a crawl, but more of a leisurely stroll. The extra exposition also robbed the piece of much of its mystery, a pity because it had the making of a great one.

It could be Ms Toms took notice of the contests’ desire to make the anthology student friendly, not so racy so it couldn’t be placed in a high school library. “Living Rooms” I believe had a very young adult feel to it. In fact, I think the piece would fit well in any middle school classroom. So is its encompassing friendly appeal to a wide audience the reason it won? Not a chance. The answer why it did is clear if you consider the judges preference for robots this year. Originality.

Most of the characters in “Living Rooms” are Artificial Intelligence creations. The rooms, as personified spells, act like robots. They have rules to their behavior and are limited by their creators programming. Some seek to be more, like James of the parlor, while others cannot overcome their instructions, like Martin of the master bedroom, even when following those instructions runs counterintuitive to their own good. Although the story lacks any science whatsoever, the rooms in Ms Toms piece are as robotic as anything Isaac Asimov created. In a sense, she plucked robots out of science fiction and planted them firmly in fantasy. Likely she was just lucky to submit the right story at the right time but it doesn’t make “Living Rooms” any less innovative or brilliant. Even though I graded past winners higher, and a good deal of the stories in this volume as well, her story may be the most deserving of the gold award in a decade.

Congratulations, Laurie. You earned it.

Frank went to his first writers convention recently where he meant a half-dozen authors, whose works he reviewed, in a dark alley at back. Frank was very encouraged to learn how passionate they were about their craft and was pleased to discover theyÂtook his reviews so seriously. The next convention he attends he plans on bringing his own friends to add to anyÂfuture discussions.