Archive for the ‘Constellation Records’ Category

odddicksSOUNDTRACK: CARLA BOZULICH-Boy [CST102] (2014).

carlaI listened to this disc casually a few times and never really got into it.  But when I listened with headphones and focused on it, there was a lot of good stuff about it.  The music is really spare and it’s kind of hard to grab onto anything on a casual listen.  As with much of what Bozulich does, she’s very free form—there’s usually a melody but it’s not up front.  But careful listening pulls out what the songs are designed to do.  It’s not always rewarding listening as her stuff is certainly abrasive, but I was pleased to hear some really cool sounds on the disc.

“Ain’t No Grave” is an impressionist song made up of a few bass notes and a  lot of voices.  There’s Bozulich singing and peaking and a male singing low notes with her during the chorus.  About half way through, the song adds complicated drumming and a sprinkling of keys—all impressionistic stabs at rhythm and melody.  It’s a difficult track and certainly a difficult opening track, but the catchy parts are intriguing the way they emerge from the chaos. “One Hard Man” opens with percussive drumming and Bozulich’s repeated refrain of “one hard man.”  Noisy guitars are added between verses and the thumping is strangely catchy.   “Drowned to the Light” is mellower with quiet instruments and delicate singing.  It’s the first “pleasant song” on the disc despite the menacing tone.  The chorus introduces a pretty melody both in vocals and violin.  It follows a murder ballad style.

“Don’t Follow Me” is mostly spoken word with percussion and accents of keyboards although the chorus does add a melody to the voices.  It’s amazing how simple chords and a backing voice can really add something to what is such a spare song.  The song ends with a  cool refrain of “spinning dreams spinning dreams” that builds nicely.  “Gonna Stop Killing” opens with sound effects and backwards rolling tapes.  But the vocal melody is the catchiest so far with a great chorus of rising notes and Bozulich’s aching voice and hammered dulcimer.  The middle section even has a fairly conventional melody line.  It’s unexpectedly pretty given the lyrics.

The second half of the disc seems to coalesce into a more melodic and song-structured  half. “Deeper Than the Well” has scratching guitars and deep slow  bass with the lyrics “I wish that I could fuck up the whole world.”  It’s menacing but catchy and seems to lurch along with only Bozulich’s voice keeping the song going.  “Danceland” opens as a slow bluesy song with quiet verses and a simple three note bass line.  But it’s joined by a really surprisingly catchy chorus “if we could spin under the light in  dance….land.  It was always night in dance….land.”  The middle section is a little weird until it resolves to that familiar chorus again.  The song really seems to slowly unfold with quieter moments leading to if not louder ones, then certainly fuller moments.   “Lazy Crossbones” adds some keyboards to the main melody.  It has one of the stranger catchy melodies that I can think of—quietly and slowly sung “hey hey it’s a parade.” But the organ sound is so unlike anything else it really stands out.  “What Is It, Baby” begins as a kind of slow, almost bluesy type of song until the big chords kick in for the chorus (which I imagined someone like Elvis singing).  The middle of the song has a soaring “ooooh” section which sounds quite unusual for her.  The ringing chords sound so vivid.

The disc ends with “Number X” an almost entirely instrumental 4 and a half-minute track.  The song starts slowly with meandering guitar notes and an interesting yet menacing melody underneath.  A nearly four-minute build up leads to Bozulich reciting a kind of poem that ends with the disc.

Bozulich consistently explores unusual territory and while this will never get played on any radio, it is more friendly than some of her other releases.

[READ: April 1, 2016] Odd Ducks

Odd Ducks is a play commissioned by the Nova Scotia playhouse.  It is set in Tartan Cross, Nova Scotia.

There are four characters, all in their 40s. Ambrose Archibald, he is unemployed but charming and a total narcissist; Mandy Menzies was the high school beauty queen but she is in a bad marriage now, a naive sweet woman. Estelle Carmichael is Mandy’s friend and housekeeper–she had a crush on Mandy in school and has sworn off men forever.  Freddy Durdle is Ambrose’s only friend but even he is fed up with Ambrose’ behavior.

The play opens with Ambrose out in the woods trying to find himself.  And after a few minutes of soul searching and a minor fright he has succeeded.  He is pontificating about himself when Estelle comments that she can’t listen to this crap anymore.  She tells him he is full of it.  To which Ambrose says, I forgive you. (more…)

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varmintsSOUNDTRACK: HANGEDUP & TONY CONRAD-Transit of Venus [091] (2016).

conradHangedUp & Tony Conrad have the third of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set. From the Constellation site: Transit Of Venus documents this fertile collaboration and includes some enormous slabs of drone rock alongside more decomposed pieces and gorgeously gritty string duos.  [[The performers] recently plunged back into the archives and started shaping an album from the various 2-track and live-mixed [improvisations and] multi-track source material.

“Flying Fast n Furious” has clattering percussion and squeaky violins.  There’s some fast drumming and violin playing in the middle with a great wobbly low bass around.   About 4 minutes in the sounds are almost otherworldly/underwatery.  “Transit Of Venus” has the return of that low wobbly bass—big round fat bass notes that just seem to linger as the drums clatter away.  The sawing violin is a little less interesting than I’d like, however.  “Principles” features a buzzy violin that scratches over the interesting drum pattern.  After a minute or so some strange sounds percolate under the drone.  The sounds are mechanical, organic, (balloons?) digital—unclear.  It’s 8 minutes long and there’s a few moments when the big bass notes come in that are very cool.  In the last minute or so a new violin solo comes out of the din but it doesn’t alter the tone of the song all that much

“Bright Arc Of Light” is 4 minutes of slow bowed and plucked violins.  It’s quite minimal.  “Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer ” is 11 minutes long and it starts with multi layered violins.  It sounds a bit like The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” and after 2 minute the slow drums come in.  Once the drums enter, the song stays mostly the same—sawing violins and a steady drums with some other occasional percussion.  It’s very droney.  Around 6 minutes things change slightly and the song becomes more insistent.  It continues like this for most of the rest of the song and then ends with some solo violins.  The final track is “Panorama From Maxwell Montes” which opens with some dissonant scratchy violins.  The drums come in and start playing an intersection complex rhythm making this a good album closer.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: November 1, 2016] Varmints

I really enjoyed the drawing style in this book.  The main characters were cute and cartoony and yet the backgrounds were reasonably realistic looking.  It really conveyed the setting (the old west, I guess) effectively.

However, I had a huge problem with the story.  The book felt like it was part 2, but to the best of my knowledge it isn’t.  There just seemed to be huge gaps in the story that were never filled in.  Not to mention, this is supposed to be a children’s story, but we find out (very late in the story) that the childrens’ mother was killed in cold blood–more or less on a whim.  It’s a shocking piece of violence which I suppose little kids can handle but, woah, what the hell, dude?

The story begins with Opie and Ned in a saloon.  They are young kids, Opie is Ned’s older sister–a joke is made about Opie being a weird name for a girl, but sadly, nothing more comes of that.  Opie is holding her own in a game of cards but Ned is bored and keeps interrupting the game as annoying little brother will do.

Ned says he wants a hat, and since no one will give him one, he climbs a mountain of a man (he’s so tall we can’t see his face and he is wearing a full-sized bear as a cloak of some sort) and takes the hat off of him.  Chaos ensues, the hat flies off (and gets two holes in it) and the kids wind up stealing the giant man’s horse and taking off. (more…)

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 quirkSOUNDTRACK: PACHA: Affaires Étrangères [CST090] (2012).

pachaPacha has the second of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set.  Pacha is the solo work of percussionist Pierre-Guy Blanchard and this disc is made of rhythm-heavy instrumentals, propelled by Middle-Eastern synth lines and sprinkled with guitar, bass and oud along with the odd looped field recording. It’s like electronic music with an Arabic pop fixation.  And the instrumentation is really interesting:

“L’Aeroport De Charlo” is mostly thumping drums and a buzzy synth.  There are some synth solos with distinctively Middle Eastern tones.  I like the way the basic rhythm alters throughout the nearly 5 minute track.  About half way through it turns to nearly all percussion a great rumbling drumming with one middle eastern instrument playing over the top (it sounds like a buzzy clarinet).   “Macedonian Mind” has some great, complex drumming behind a simple synth riff.  The music feels slightly menacing as the synths are quite buzzy, but the drums are just a lot of fun.   The middle of the song uses that Middle Eastern sound with a melody line (I can’t tell if its voice or instrument or what) that works perfectly with the main Rockies riff.

“Modern Malaise” opens with a vocal choir, singing while there’s a simultaneous, seemingly unrelated bass line.  And then a very cool funky section with more great drums and a kind of sneaky sounding riff.  As the song progresses some spacey synths enter the song amid a clatter of echoing drums before it all resolves to that initial cool riff.  In “La Gare De Podgorica” slow synths play over some complex drumming with a bunch of what sounds like hand drums.  “Tunel” has some great hand drumming and low droning synths.   And then comes the most middle eastern sounding riff of the disc.  This track is my favorite–catchy and funky with some great hand drumming.  The keys sound very later 60s.

“Ankara” is a fast song with complex hand drumming and an almost drone with vocals samplings, and a lot of the instrument listed below (Omar Dewachi plays saz and oud) and a warbly synth line.   It is one of the longest songs on the disc and has the most going on it.  “Starcevo” opens with some deep hand drums and what sounds like violins or maybe sampled voices or both.  It’s kind of a disconcerting track with the drums the only thing keeping things steady.  “Le Soviet” is played on a bunch of synths with a kind of carnivalesque feel to the sound.  There’s a Middle Eastern riff and some interesting solos that sound almost classical.

From the Constellation site:

Blanchard received a BA in music in 2003, majoring in percussion performance, and then escaped the ‘new music’ trajectory by traveling extensively and immersing himself in Middle Eastern and Balkan traditions, studying under various masters and playing with a wide range of regional groups. During his periods back in Canada he performed as guest percussionist for Black Ox Orkestar … has also performed regularly with Sam Shalabi’s jazz/psych/arabic orchestra Land Of Kush.  … Constellation re-sequenced and remastered the Affaires Étrangères CD-R for vinyl and is proud to be giving this album a more substantial life. It marks Blanchard’ first attempt at a definitive musical statement of his own and we think it succeeds wildly.


fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled:

[READ: October 31, 2016] Quirk’s Quest 1

This story threw out so much disconnect for me that I never really determined if I liked it.

The artwork is adorable–the characters look like Fraggle Rock creatures–soft and furry with big round ping pong ball eyes.  Even the bad guys (much taller with four eyes) don’t look all that fierce.

And yet.

In the first 30 pages, these monsters kill and eat some of the cute Fraggle Rock creatures. What?!

This book looks ostensibly like a children’s book.  It is really cute.  But the diary entries of the Captain are written in a cursive that even I had a hard time reading (particularly because the captain’s named is Quenterindy Quirk and he is sailing on the H.M.S. Gwaniimander (hard enough to read that, imagine trying to figure it out in cursive!).

So just what’s it about? (more…)

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jack SOUNDTRACK: KANADA 70-Vamp Ire [CST089] (2012).

vampKanada 70 is the first of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set.  The set is primarily electronic instrumentals, highlight little known bands or collaborations.

From the Constellation site:

Kanada 70 is the home-recording project of Toronto’s Craig Dunsmuir, who started giving away CD-R micro-releases under this moniker in 2006. There have been over two dozen K70 titles issued since then… where the repetitive and cyclical nature of mostly loop-based tracks is conditioned by the fact that Dunsmuir plays and punches everything by hand; returns of phrase contain odd stutters and variations, intention and accident collide, and there’s an organic immediacy throughout. Vamp Ire spans a wide range of influences, from abstract techno, industrial and noise music to prog-rock, African funk, no wave and metal. The hardest part was selecting only 45 minutes worth!

There are fifteen tracks on the disc.

“Ignore Dub I” a droning keyboard and analog synth noodling.  There’s some ringing metal sounds too. For a  song with dub in the title there is no dub or bass or drums, it’s just an electronic soundscape.  “Mou” is one of my favorite tracks on the disc, with an interesting pulsing synth line and a cool noisy descending bass riff.  It’s only a minute and a half but it’s really neat.  “Krankqui” has a slow, pulsing bass line which plays under a quiet series of notes.  “Molle” has a neat retro sound.  It begins with some noisy staticy percussive sounds and out of the rumble comes a neat  outerspacey echoing guitar or synth riff. It seems like it could lead some where but since its only 2 minutes long.  It sets up something interesting and then disappears just as quickly.

“Delivery” is a fun piece with a high-pitched series of rapid notes.  This track is the longest on the disc and after a series of 2 minute songs a four minute track feels really long.  “Gnaer” runs through a series of repeated guitar lines, kind of staccato and fractured. With some of the chords being unconventional it sounds a little like 1980s King Crimson.  “Errora High II” is a series of rumbling noises–more effects than song.  About half way through an interesting riff comes out of the noise sounding like an 80s sci-fi movie.

“Chimura” has a series of guitar lines which overlap and make an interesting fugue of music.  At only a minute and a half this song feels like it has much more to explore.  “For T.O. (Perish)” is primarily drums and percussion, playing a  simple rhythm.  Of all the songs to be 4 minutes, this is certainly the least interesting–it’s all just a simple drumming rhythm with no real diversion.  “Annoyo I”  is a slow bass piece.  About 30 seconds in a series of horn blasts plays a staccato melody over the bass.  “Redrag” is a bunch if high pitched synth notes.  The song adds some staccato guitar licks and it eventually resolves into a kind of fast, inelegant guitar solo.

“Thumas” has a great riff and sounds like it could be any kind of jam band introduction (including some wha wah guitars in the background).  Why are the best songs the shortest?  “Redsidled” is a series of guttural noises that sound like car horns over a series of crashing percussion.  “Scorpi” features repeated noises with a series of sound effects whizzing through the background.  “Doubles” has  harmonics and echoed percussion.  I like the way the echoed guitar runs through a series of creaky notes to make this song spacey and grounded at the same time.  The drum beat is simple but cool and the background guitar make this whole song one of the better ones on the disc.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: October 30, 2016] Mighty Jack

Ben Hatke continues to make me very happy with his books.

When the blurb on the back said that Jack’s job was to stay at home and watch his autistic sister, Maddy, I was afraid that this story was going to have a Message.  But it doesn’t.  It doesn’t exactly address her autism at all, which is great–it doesn’t make a big deal out of it, which allows the story to flow naturally.

Indeed, Maddy’s autism isn’t spelled out exactly, she is just introverted and doesn’t really speak.  Until, that is, jack comes across some magic beans.

I love that Hatke is playing with the jack and the Beanstalk story without retelling the story at all.  So he is touching on a lot of things without explicitly using those story parts. (more…)

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decomposSOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON & SARAH NEUFELD-Never Were the Way She Was [CST113] (2015).

colinThis is kind of a show offy disc because both Stetson and Neufeld proudly state:  “All songs performed live (no overdubs/loops).”  And so we get Neufeld ’s cycling violin and Stetson’s cycling saxophone playing seemingly endless series of trills and melodies.

Despite Neufeld’s excellence on the instrument, the violin does play a kind of support role to Stetson’s sax (mostly because the sax is louder and more obtrusive).  But while the disc does sound like a Stetson disc, the violin adds some really interesting textures.  The disc opens with “The sun roars into view” and the violin playing a fast two note melody as the sax seems to rise up from the initial static slowly overtaking the song.  About 2 minutes in, the violin plays some loud trills that remind you it’s there, but when the sax quiets a few seconds later, the repetitive violin picks up the melody.  About half way through the 7 minute song the violin soars.   Around five minutes the sax drops away to a single bass note repeated while the violin takes some fanciful runs.  A voice, (not sure whose, but I assume Sarah’s) then soars above the music.

“Won’t be a thing to become” begins with a slow bass melody (with audible sax clicks).  The violin plays a similar melody—slightly different to accentuate the notes.  It’s a shorter piece (only 3 and a half minutes) and these shorter pieces tend to explore quieter moments in an interesting way.  “In the vespers” starts with some fast violin notes once the sax kicks in, it adds a new sense of urgency to the melody.  It’s all very pretty.  The middle turns into rapid fire violin alternating with some noisy sax.  As the song winds down, the fast sax notes continue but a bit more quietly and they are accented by long slow bows of the violin.

“And still they move” is a slow piece.  It’s primarily violin with the occasional sax note adding low end.  It’s barely 3 minutes long.  “With the dark hug of time” stays slow but with some incredibly deep rumbling bass notes underneath the squeaky violin.  It’s a cool and menacing sound.  There is a quiet section near the end which resolves as a low rumble and Stetson’s unusual vocalizations through his sax.

“The rest of us” is a kind of bouncing,thumping song with some high tense violin strings running along it.   I love the part where Stetson “sings” the four note discerning riff and the violin plays along with it—it’s the highlight of the disc for me.  The 8 minute “Never were the way she was” opens with a low rumble and feedbacky sounds.  The melody comes in slowly with some incredibly low notes from the sax.  After about 6 minutes the sax drops out leaving just the bowed violin.  The last two minutes are a pretty, somewhat mournful violin section with the sax providing low bass notes.

Flight is only a minute and a half and it opens with a gentle static/rain and slow notes.

Given these two great musicians, I expected a bit more from this.  Either Neufeld really keeping up with Stetson (rather than accompanying him, which i what it feels like) or perhaps Stetson playing differently to accommodate someone else.  I suspect I have just been spoiled by their other works to expect something mind blowing.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

I have really enjoyed Andi Watson’s work in the past.  I haven’t read much from him lately, but when I was really into graphic novels twenty years ago, he was an artist I would always gravitate towards.

This is his first book for First Second (he used to do a lot of his books for Oni Pres).  It’s a romance (like many of his stories) but with a twist.

The story is set in the underworld.  Princess Decomposia is the overworked daughter of King Wulfrun.  The kind is old and infirm and never gets out of bed.  Indeed, he won’t even eat, declaring that any food is too much for his poor stomach.  Of course, he reads Wellness Weekly to get new ideas for broths to eat–but he never likes them.

Since he never gets out of his bed that leaves the Princes to do all of his diplomatic work.

She meets with the lycanthrope delegation and almost has a disaster on her hands because her father has fired the chef.  But when they see uncooked meat the werewolves are quite pleased. (more…)

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margoSOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON-New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light [CST092] (2013).

stetson3 After the raucous wildness of Stetson’s Vol. 2, I wasn’t expecting the first song to be so gentle.  Justin Vernon sings (with many layers of processing) the rather pretty opening track.  When I first heard it I didn’t like it—I wanted Stetson to do Stetson and it seemed like the track was all voice (nad very different from Stetson).  But Stetson is there, and he plays his normal unceasing melodies behind the voices.  The track seems especially light since it is followed by the aggressive “Hunted” which prominently features Stetson’s “voice” (he has a microphone on his throat or something to pick up his grunts), making an almost growling noise as he plays.   It’s worth repeating that Stetson does circular breathing, is able to play nonstop and can somehow to play different things at the same time (no overdubs) as well as vocalize in interesting ways.  You can also hear him taking breaths while he platys—the breaths are part of the percussive nature of his playing. It’s pretty amazing.  About four minutes in, the tone changes a bit, becoming a little sharper which seems to make the growl even more pronounced.

“High Above A Grey Green Sea” is a quieter song with more vocalizing, but this one feels mournful and lonely as opposed to intense and scary.  “In Mirrors” opens with a deep breath as he plays a slow quiet 90 second song full of unexpected high notes.

“Brute” is appropriately named as it sounds like he is forcing the song out of his sax.  He places mics on his sax so you can hear the clacking of the keys.  And that is readily apparent on this song which is full of clacking and clicking and grunting all the way.  After about a minute, a discordant melody comes in and establishes a tone that plays or a few bars until Justin Vernon returns, but this time with growled words.  It’s a pretty intense and rather scary track—and nothing like Bon Iver at all.

“Among The Sef (Righteous II)” is a brighter song—higher notes played in a very fast style.  There are some vocalized melodies as well.  But the main song is a rolling series of high notes.  “Who The Waves Are Roaring For (Hunted II)” opens with an interesting vocalized melody—he is really using that technique a lot on this record.  It also featured Justin Vernon.  “To See More Light” opens with slow echoed notes as he begins to build a melody out of a four note string.  He starts adding more and more notes.  The melody grows faster and faster until about five minutes when it starts to really slow down—dramatically so.  Around 7 minutes in, the song slows to a crawl, almost drunkenly it seems.  And the song feels like it has ended.  But Stetson has more on his mind.  The notes are held longer and shift more slowly.   Then the song starts to build up again with a different 4-note pattern that adds some squeaky feedback notes and then a catchy melody.  All 15 minute of this song done nonstop, pretty impressive.

“What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?” begins with voices from Vernon (in a softer voice than we’ve come to expect) as he sings a verse before the sax comes in.  “Bed” features some loud key clacking a great rhythmic pattern and some quiet notes from both the sax and his voice.

The final song is “Part Of Me Apart From You.” It really emphasize his “singing” the melody in his throat while playing the repeating lines on the sax.   The song seems to emphasize the lower notes in this song even as he “sings” higher notes.

[READ:October 20, 2016] The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

The title of this book implies that it is a series, and I rather hope it is.  I loved the premise of this book.  Most of the characters were interesting and the mystery behind Margo herself was really cool.

I didn’t love Weing’s drawing style, though.  It really never resonated with me at all, and at times I found it off-putting.  Which is a shame since the story is so fun.

Charles is moving to Echo City and he hates it.  His mom tries to convince him that big cities are fun.  Plus, his dad is fixing up a big old hotel and they get to live there for free (suspension of disbelief there).  There are already some people living there, too.

Charles’ dad is hip and cool (he is seen with Dead Kennedys and Black Flag logo tattoos).  All of the things that Charles finds creepy about the place, his dad calls “character.”   Like the giant chandelier that was in a closet.  Whatever his dad says, Charles’s comment is simply, “This place is definitely haunted.” (more…)

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klezmerSOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON [CST073] “The Righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man” (2010).

stet7This is a 7″ release from Constellation, a kind of single from New History Warfare 2.  It has two tracks, “The righteous wrath of an honorable man” is such a good song that it deserved to be singled out like this.  It’s also amazing how short it is.

Side 2 is called “Judges (Damian Taylor Concretification Mix).”  This is a fascinating track because Taylor has “grabbed samples from throughout the album to create a musique concrète roundup of the entire record!”

It’s a strange listen as he picks certain things and repeats them–sometimes very quickly (like a skip) other times in slow modulations.  And then it just jumps somewhere else–again, like a skip.  There’s some menace and some sirens like sound juxtaposed with thudding bass moments.  And the middle samples all the clicking and banging from the keys on his sax.

I did like how he throws in a few notable riffs into the song but more as a repeated refrain than as part of the overall song.

This track is more interesting than enjoyable.  It’s unlikely to convince anyone of the genius of Stetson, but it’s an interesting listen.

[READ: June 10, 2016] Klezmer

I have read a bunch of books by Sfar because of First Second publishes a lot of his books (although apparently only a small fraction of the hundreds that he has written).  The frustrating thing about this book is that thee are apparently five volumes of this original series but it appears that there is no intention of publishing the rest (it has been ten years since this one came out, after all).

This story is meant to be very loosely based on something, although I’m not exactly clear what.  As with so many other stories, it was translated by Alexis Siegel. (more…)

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