Pursuing natural health & thinking beyond the superficial. Deconstructing Culture.

Hikaru no Go anime review

Hikaru No Go – translated simply means Hikaru’s Go, so this anime is all about a boy called Hikaru and it’s his go. His go at what? An ancient game called Go, nice pun eh ;-)

Hikaru is a somewhat brash, argumentative young boy who has been thrust into the glorious world of Go, a world that he and apparently most viewers of the show knew little about but once it finished there was an international upsurge in keen learners!

Do you have to know about the game to enjoy this?

Hikaru no Go anime review

No. Though for the sake of introduction…

The origins of Go, like chess, are unclear but unlike Chess many think it’s more than likely that China was the starting place (with chess it’s thought either India or China) and dates back thousands of years. In modern times it fell in popularity behind the likes of Mahjong and Shogi (‘Japanese chess’), and thought of as a ‘grandad’s game’ i.e middle aged upwards men playing in Go clubs/salons. However this show gave the game a new lease on life reaching out to other age groups and genders. Professional Go was and may still be male dominated and the anime reflected that with mostly male characters, the few females were lesser players or family members ignorant/disinterested to the game but interestingly enough the manga (graphic novels/comics) was written by a novice female player Yumi Hotta and supervised by the ‘Princess of Go’ Yukari Umezawa. Yukari then acted as consultant to the tv series and at the end of each episode hosted a short segment teaching two children (and hence the audience) the basics of Go. So realistic but progressive.

Go is traditionally played on a 19×19 square board with Black vs White stones/counters. That’s a big board and so each player has a pot of stones rather than just a small excess for the squares. The primary objective is to surround your opponent’s counters and take/kill them; the stones aren’t placed inside the squares but on the corners. It sounds straightforward and I’ve come across similar games notably on graph points/grid lines instead of coloured checkerboard style but there’s a lot more to it so beginners often start on much smaller boards. Thankfully the storyline cleverly charts the learning curve and passion of the characters thus making looking at a board you don’t fully understand both interesting and immersive!

A couple of notes before the plot

Hikaru no Go has 5 seasons over 75 episodes + 2 special episodes.

It’s a family appropriate show based on Japanese specialist Go teaching but it is part of a worldwide, fiercely competitive syndicate; other countries and some of their training methods, mostly East Asian, are shown. Amateur Go players and associations are given honourable mention.

Plot, Characters, Commentary – Mixing fact and fiction and traversing time

Ghost in a Go board

Hikaru no Go anime review

Hikaru Shindo is a sixth year primary school student and upon visiting his grandfather comes across an old freestanding Go table/board with what appears to be a blood stain that only he can see. From that stain an amazing apparition actualizes named Fujiwara-no-Sai, Sai for short. Sai is an impressive spectre; a beautiful, well mannered adult male in traditional dress with fan, long hair and makeup in keeping with the more artistic portrayals of aristocratic personages from the past. He tells us that he was originally from the Heian era (approx 794–1185) and was a Go master in the emperor’s court but after being accused of cheating and ousted from his position he couldn’t live with the dishonour and killed himself. The name Fujiwara may refer to one of the most important ‘noble’ families in Japan’s history.

His passion for the game along with his suicide/leftover regret is apparently why he was stuck in the Go board even though he didn’t die near it. Then there’s his ambition to play the ‘divine move’ an elusive play only possible for players at the highest level. But perhaps it’s his ability as a teacher that is also keeping him, as he was released from the board once before which led to the name Honinbo Shusaku of the Edo period (approx 1600 – 1868) becoming legendary in Go circles with many of his games being preserved for posterity and one of the major professional tournaments being named after him. (Honinbo Shusaku was a real person, Sai is fictional.) The difference between Honinbo and Hikaru? Honinbo allowed Sai to play Go all the time (we don’t know whether by possession or dictation) and Hikaru wants nothing to do with the game, at least not yet…

Sai’s despair, pleading and agreement to never control Hikaru’s body finally persuades Hikaru to go to a Go salon and play a game with Sai telling him which moves to make, but what happens is no laughing matter.

The Go Prodigy who had no Rival

Hikaru no Go anime review

Akira Toya has been taught Go by his reigning champion father since he was old enough to put stones on a board with some comprehension and as such his prowess developed with consistent practice and exposure to other expert players. He is the same age as Hikaru but his upbringing means he’s far more intense, focused and is used to pressure. If you’ve been/known amateur (more than hobbyist) and professional chess players (or any singled minded-goal oriented person) you can imagine the difference between Akira and Hikaru.

Akira is the only child in the Go salon Hikaru walks into so Hikaru wants to play him, the receptionist is reticent but Akira accepts and expects to play a beginners game, what he wasn’t prepared for was to be the recipient of a teaching game and by a formidable presence. He’s shocked, panicked and almost crushed but his desire to know more about Hikaru and discover his secret spurs him on to the point of desperation.

Novice to Professional – Obsession

Hikaru no Go anime review

Hikaru and his school team.

Whilst Akira is on the fast track to the pros and not usually allowed to play kids or in school and amateur tournaments for fear of outclassing others and putting them off, Hikaru is introduced to Go in dribs and drabs, each step eagerly latched onto by Sai as an opportunity to play his beloved game. Hikaru finds other interested kids at his school, forms a club and plays in a team against other schools. He signs up to beginner’s classes, visits tournaments and conventions to appease Sai and his interest grows but other’s interest in him also grows. He’s catching the attention of sharp eyes, of those looking out for up and coming players/threats and potential weapons for their own rivalries.

Akira is pushed into and his father finally allows him to join his school team for the sake of his social development; his peers see him with awe, fear and jealousy but he’s only interested in playing Hikaru again. The next time he does he’s bitterly disappointed because over time Hikaru let Sai play less and less against other people and so it’s not Sai that Akira plays against.

It’s a long time before Akira and Hikaru play again – can Hikaru close the gap between them whilst Akira ploughs ahead all the while harbouring suspicions about Hikaru’s ability?

A lot to Learn

Hikaru no Go anime review

Hikaru’s insei class

Hikaru becomes an ‘Insei’ which is the title for a Go student studying for professional exams. The exams are tournament style with arbitrary rules and only a handful are allowed through each year. Many fail repeatedly, some re-trying until the maximum age of 30 but most give up to life’s other obligations before then. If/When children and teens become professionals their compulsory education is sidelined and depending on the country sometimes moved in-house of the Go Association akin to young actors. The Japanese Go sphere is shown as less gruelling as those of Korea and China where students are presented like ‘purebred’ athletes, some living on site training almost all day every day. Some students go on to be pros full time but others continue to college and/or university either part time or take a break from Go for other careers. The show implies that they tend to become successful in business and ‘prestigious’ professions due to the determination and calculation they’ve learned.

Hikaru no Go anime review

Being approx 1000 years old Sai also has a thing or two to catch up on in gameplay but he does so with ease and seems comfortable in the modern setting especially playing online as that allows him to remain anonymous (for only a short time though since the Go world is small and he’s a big fish in a little pond) and play against others he wouldn’t normally access. His personality is ‘loveable’ and was apparently a big factor for the upsurge of Go interest after the show; he’s gentle, sweet and high strung, together he and Hikaru can seem immature but also refreshing in the serious situation. Sai fosters Hikaru but the sacred bond between teacher and student isn’t really appreciated by the latter who wants to outdo his sensei at every turn. There isn’t really mutual respect and Sai isn’t a ‘master’ personality but Hikaru is young and Sai dependent plus they’re in each other’s faces all the time so their relationship is understandable but tiring to watch at times.

With Sai’s coaching Hikaru’s natural talent shows as he picks it up quickly and learns many methods that take years to learn such as memorizing games being able to place each stone on an empty board from start to finish or Speed Go where in the time it takes your opponent to play their turn you’ve already figured out your possible moves and place your stone immediately after theirs. Counting stones/keeping score is essential both mentally and on record to even being able to finish games with a desired amount of points against one or many players simultaneously. Then there’s One Colour Go where only Black or White stones are used and you have to remember (or bluff) which ones are yours!

It’s not all Kill or be Killed

Hikaru no Go anime review

Despite the hierarchical and exclusive nature of the game there is focus on friendship, camaraderie and equanimity between equals. When you spend a lot of time with or thinking about particular people there’s bound to be both strong bonds and quick switches; a situation you might be able to deal with ‘normally’ with a stranger can turn to loggerheads in no time with someone close and vice versa. There’s a lot of pain and soul searching in such a journey/pursuit so there is also or should be sympathy and empathy. In a close knit, cut throat world players have to learn that it’s best to not always compete at high stakes costing personal relations. Hell it’s hard enough without sucking all the fun and fulfillment out and making it a chore, right?

Dubbing & Art

I’m reviewing the English dub here and haven’t seen the sub-titled version. Usually I prefer subs because you get a closer translation of the dialogue and sometimes when anime are aired/released to Western fans scenes are edited plus it seems we have a shortage of voice actors so end up hearing the same voices over and over again. There’s a few animes where I’ve preferred the dubs as I thought the voices used suited the characters better but this is a case of ‘I don’t know’ unfortunately. From other reviews it seems the Western voices changed the persona of the main characters. From my limited point of view the voices are distinctive and not instantly recognizable for the voice actor instead of the”’ ”’character; Hikaru’s is loud and impatient, Sai’s is soft toned and plaintive and Akira’s is pure and forceful but other reviewers”’ ”’have noted that none of the characters are supposed to sound whiny yet they all do in English.

In regards to the artwork I personally find the style very dated (the show was aired from 2001-2003), both in colour scheme/shading and clothing/hairstyle fashions. The colours are solid and matte, no shine/sheen or beautifully blended/’arty’ looking backgrounds with flatter characters in the foreground which is popular nowadays nor overall clarity from thin outlining, strong colours and realistic use of light and dark. That said some have noted Hikaru No Go for its artwork, indeed saying it was one of the best features – I’d describe it as heavily outlined, characters having a signature look and stylized shading e.g. obvious, non-semi transparent ‘lightening strike’ or ‘banding’ on the hair depicting glossiness. The original illustrator was Takeshi Obata for whom the manga brought fame but he is also known for Ayatsuri Sakon, Death Note and Bakuman.

Fancy a Go?

This is a simple teaching website where you can get an idea of the game:

The Interactive Way To Go
http://playgo.to/iwtg/en/

and this is the British Go Association
http://www.britgo.org

Comparisons/Recommendations

ChihayafuruChihayafuru – Subbed – A girl called Chihaya Ayase learns to play the card game Karuta (based on Japanese poetry) meets friends, teammates, mentors and has to learn hard lessons about talent and working hard.

Shion no OhShion no Oh – Subbed – Shion tragically loses her parents, is then adopted by a couple where the father plays Shogi and on her path to becoming a Meijin (master of the sport, like in Go) her parents murder unravels and Shion is in danger.

AkagiAkagi – Subbed – A death match of Mahjong vs Mafia, a boy called Akagi wanders into the parlour as its taking place and takes the place of the man currently playing for his life. The yakuza think it’s going to be easy…

Phi BrainPhi Brain – Dubbed – There’s two types of people in this world; puzzle givers and solvers. Any type of puzzle from handheld to Indiana Jones run-for-your-life type puzzles. Shady organizations, ancient mysteries and character psychosis galore.

… By challenging the rules of structured, creative writing whilst also being a novel.

This was a tough one to read and review; on one hand it’s a unique format, almost first person perspective of the writing process and on the other it has to be an interesting story. How to make education engaging?

The more I read and got a feel for what the author was trying to accomplish the more I respected her and appreciated the book as a whole, a feat in fiction trying not to be fiction trying to be fiction – kinda like looking at yourself in a mirror holding another mirror and living within the endless reflections – but can you really enjoy that, is it worth it?

The design of the book is equally impressive and captivatingly called out to me from the shelf – a Black background with shiny Gold circular, maze like print surrounding what looks like a Black howling dog/wolf, beautifully dark ink tipped pages and that sweeping title – bit like a luxury chocolate box. The choice quotes on the back were just dripping praise for the author’s big ideas and almost insurmountable achievement so all in all I was expecting an epic tale.

Our-Tragic-Universe-Product-pic

CHUCKING EVERYTHING IN THE MIX AND HOPING IT TURNS OUT OK?

What I got was not epic feeling at all but very mundane, possibly a ‘slice of life’ story that could easily be thought of as ‘chick lit’ by those who don’t read such books but patience please! This is all part of setting the scenario and showing readers how events, places and people come together in such a big world and by a giant, assumptive extension – the universe.

A novel’s checklist (in no particular order)?

Interesting/Quirky characters

Meg – or Egg as I called her – is a writer stuck in rut and waiting for a change, she’s primarily known for writing formulaic young adult fiction and hates it and the genre. She also writes reviews on popular and alternative science books and it’s one of those books that ignited the transformation she’d been longing for, that and getting a windfall.

I would list the other characters but they initially serve as nothing but background noise for Meg’s stream of consciousness and day to day goings on. They do stand out though in that they are not ‘run of the mill’ on the surface. For example none of them have what many of us would deem as a ‘normal’ job or education, they’re all arty/creative, lecturing in and learning subjects that seem to many impractical with a wealth of knowledge in Language, Cultural Studies and History – they travel to exotic places, learn the customs, research, restore artefacts, make and sell health foods and crafts. None of them have children either – which I find less believable than their collective interests but perhaps having little people in the story would have made it less high brow-trying-to-be-normal-trying-to-be-something-else-entirely. Regardless of their intellectual bubble they all have the same lowest common denominator – their love lives.

Webs we weave anyone? Tangled they are however we perceive. Though they seem to have come up with a way of avoiding negative fallout – by avoiding throwing stones at glass houses. If no one points the finger and judges, then they can’t be judged. We’re only human afterall, to err and all that, until of course we’re debating a subject where we have to be superior and suddenly we’re the amazing and unique species. Basically most of the characters are sleeping around or having affairs or have done so and they play a big part in who they are. It’s at those times when they’re talking about how bored and unfulfilled they are when it can feel like a soap opera and then the next you’re reading Sophie’s World. Sexual drama interspersed with intellectual discourse but without the comedy of Fraiser (tv show).

It’s sounding dire! To my mind it was – there was only one character I liked, an older aunt like lady who is seen as kooky by the rest of the cast. She likes to learn about everything, currently anthropology and whose words lead Meg to write a ‘storyless story’; she’s kind yet sharp and strong. She’s also the only one with a happy, long term marriage. Then there’s Meg’s cohabiting boyfriend – apparently gorgeous, not into sex (his and Meg’s relationship started off by cheating on someone else close to them but who in the ‘do not judge’ ethos of the book was apparently better off for it since the couples were mismatched, how convenient), likes his woman to be as natural looking as possible, is a full time volunteer on heritage sites and has a tendency to take out his anger in outbursts on inanimate objects and hurts himself in the process. Following him there’s Meg’s best friend who seems the opposite of Meg in that she doesn’t want for anything money wise and has a non-problematic long-term relationship but is bored with it. Lastly of note there’s Meg’s older man, or they both wish they were together but yes he’s married and that relationship is stale.

Thankfully in the second half of the book they become more readable, we learn more about them, how they affect Meg’s life and interact, and manage to make it as foreground characters.

Big themes

Magic and Beauty vs Science and Rationalization

Meg’s a no-frills, hard boiled, all down to experience, there’s an explanation for everything woman and wouldn’t touch a euphemism with a bargepole. Events in her life however and resurgent memories have different ideas pushing her to question the know-it-seen-it-all-yet-grass-is-still-Greener-or-at-least-must-be-conquerable-on-the-other-side-mentality.

There are even meetings with the Green Man, a triple-goddess, a mysterious ship in a bottle, and musings on the Cottingley Fairies and their significance.

The quest for the ‘Storyless Story’

Basically a story without rules and structure, it just happens, there’s no moral of the story and the storyteller is a straight up reporter without commentating or an agenda. Meg becomes focused on trying to write one no matter how complex that actually is and it adds to her dilemma trying to breakaway from her typecast seeking to upgrade to classy, ‘real’ writing. To make it worse she handicaps herself by trying to make this ‘storyless story’ her magnum opus. She deletes far more than she writes, comes up with one idea after another, goes through and to an extent parodies ideas and mistakes made by novice writers and generally has ‘writer’s block’.

It seemed the book implied that life is closest to a ‘storyless story’, I say that’s only possible if it’s not orchestrated, sabotaged or deconstructed every second trying to find meaning, reconstructed, wondering what makes us so individual or special – which she, troubled people and teenagers do all the time. She also has to bypass the fact that life is a complex of rules, structure and that magic spark that we keep naming and dividing into smaller weights but bigger measures and re-naming because we can’t pin it down or make it fit. (Hey I say that art and science are states of discontent and the desire to copy/manifest inspiration – it’s not all bad, but when you start wondering if you can manufacture life turning it into livestock/assets and owning the space time continuum, stop and slap yourself, hard.) As long as there’s thinking and feeling going on there’s narrative and meaning whether some think it matters or not regardless of who or what is narrating, even if we’re born in a cage and can’t move ‘til we die or ‘move on’, we may not even be aware of narrative that we’re part of. As long as it happens and/or is described (any method, talking to oneself, telepathy, text message) there’s narrative. We don’t need stories because Death makes us search for meaning as she asserts, we are stories.

Big but lesser themes in this case

A superhero saving the world or mega-villain egomaniac trying to avoid comeuppance and nature?

All that lives eventually dies. Yet so many seek eternal life via all kinds of methods; sucking blood/life energy, reincarnation, time machines, body snatching, cloning… Having kids. In this story one strangely elusive Kelsey Newman, author of a hit-selling popular science book, doesn’t believe that life on Earth moreover humans should ever die and indeed that such an event should be prevented at all costs. Even if it takes empire building throughout space until the end of time and then at that moment circumventing it with the aid of technology and starting time all over again, and again ad infinitum. Despite definitively panning his work Meg et al are very interested in him and find that they’re not the only ones…

The beast of Bodmin Moor and the Nature of the Beast?

Many a phantom, strange creature or big cat has been spotted or imagined in the British Isles and the beast on the front cover is another. Meg et al live in Dartmoor and there’s a beast on the loose. One of Meg’s creative writing students decides to enrich his life by tracking it and becomes a local celeb but when he finally comes face to face with it I bet he wished he was wearing incontinence pads and interestingly enough his account of it doesn’t match anybody else’s. It’s a strange plot device, perhaps even an avenger/dark protetcor and it’s (later described as ‘she’) on the hunt for Kelsey Newman.

Archetypes and Symbolism

There’s quite a few examples throughout the book to illustrate theories and archetypes, I won’t go into them all but interestingly enough Meg, her best friend and the older aunt Lady become mirrors of the triple-Goddess when Meg takes up and becomes quite fixated by knitting only to find the other two already know how and surprise surprise she just has to make something really advanced. They become the weavers/hands of fate which conflicts with the ‘storyless story’ and Meg also has to be the Trickster because the closest you get to a ‘storyless story’ is watching the inmates on Big Brother sleep or sit in one spot, they’re dreaming or daydreaming but to a drama hungry/blood thirsty audience that is boring.

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY? ABIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR

‘They’ say to write about what you know and if possible what you enjoy, and I got a definite feel that Scarlett Thomas was writing about herself early on in this book and as Meg’s journey continued that feeling just got stronger. So while it may seem strange putting the author info at this point in the review – that is the reason.

I don’t claim that Meg’s life mirror’s Scarlet’s – just that there seemed a merger between the protagonist and narrator especially when one or other tried to deal with the parallels and paradoxes of trying to write a ‘storyless story’. I’ve since read that whilst writing this Scarlet stopped smoking and ate a lot of clementines as Meg did.

Scarlett teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent, her personal website as advertised in the book no longer works but her profile is on Wikipedia and the university website http://www.kent.ac.uk/english/staff/thomas.html

‘Her most recent publications include Monkeys with Typewriters; Our Tragic Universe; and The End of Mr. Y. Her work has been translated into 24 languages, longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize and shortlisted for the South African Boeke Prize.’

She’s written 10 novels in total, the other 9 I haven’t read but from the reviews I’ve seen it seems she does focus on ideas and discourse though this book divided opinion on whether it sacrificed characterization and others not liking the lack of obvious direction.

A BOOK IN HALVES – WHAT NOT TO DO AND FIXING IT

I was initially very underwhelmed and disappointed after the hype but the second half changed that.

The hardback is 448 pages so not massive and the print isn’t squint inducing but it is heavy going. I could of written copious notes on how ‘wrong’ things seemed; contradictions, inaccuracies and close-or-too-open-mindedness, and generally why I didn’t like it but it’s like Scarlet anticipated that and answered all those potential trappings! She knew what she was doing, dare I say all along? The assumptions/questions/attitudes of the characters and narrative did a 180deg turnaround as if from one page to another (in the grand scheme of things) yet they were the same characters and the events flowed well… There was just now an added wisdom and it made the difference in readability. That said perhaps Scarlet overcompensated later or didn’t know how to finish without turning it into a series so let her themes have small or no endings and having characters do/say things I couldn’t quite believe they would. That was really my only bugbear.

Is there a target audience?

I think it would be helpful to have background knowledge in Literature, Psychology and Philosophy (Mathematics unnecessary for that one here) because there are a lot of names and theories mentioned. The lengthy debates and internal monologues are integral to the aims of the story so it’d be difficult to sidestep them whilst trying to develop or maintain character sympathy and interest.

That doesn’t mean it’s only for select people, go ahead and give it a go if it sounds appealing, it’s certainly educational and/or a refresher in those subjects, gives a fulsome example of practicalities, pitfalls and pointers for those interested in creative writing; it just takes patience or it did for me anyway and perhaps looking things up here and there.

Did it manage to be a ‘storyless story’?

I think it tried very hard and certainly gave a realistic or semi-believable image of an author trying to write something original yet real whilst juggling both relatable and unrelatable dilemmas but at the same time I think it still conforms to having narratives (temporal or seemingly disjointed or not) and a timeline even if those acts are different in length and pace but then so does life and if she was really trying to get away from that the originally intended title would have been more apt aka ‘Death of an Author’. She may have tried to manoeuvre out of that one by giving it a non-ending but the last scenes and summing up were too contrived for me, she could of just said ‘we don’t know the meaning of anything really let alone life and that’s ok in some ways and not in others’.

The ‘funny’ thing about this book is that it constantly gives examples of how a ‘storyless story’ isn’t possible, that there is no such thing as coincidence, that fate or at least laws of attraction or cause and effect negate ‘true’ randomness. Nothingness without potential would theoretically be the ‘storyless story’ but you wouldn’t be aware of it because you wouldn’t exist as an individual or wider sentience. So a ‘storyless story’ is a pointless non-story, the bathtub that doesn’t fill when you leave it. Existence is necessary for a story – it is a point/purpose in itself before any purpose/narrative/meaning we then ascribe to it. It isn’t needed because of Death, it just is and is complex even if the sentience is ‘at peace’. It doesn’t stop at Death, it stops when everything and everyone ceases to exist completely.

Where her characters compromise saying at least make it a good story, it wasn’t achieved. Where they say don’t fear life/the maze, don’t worry about the beginning and end it’s the journey that counts regardless of the direction you’re going in (towards the centre of the maze or outwards) and that it continues as part of one endless journey (strangely agreeing with Kelsey Newman and going against the beast) – they admit a fear of Death/an Ending and perhaps the true path to the ‘storyless story’. I agree that for the existing it is the existence that counts but it would take someone truly uninterested in longevity to reach the ‘storyless story’.

Why not just pursue works in the subjects mentioned? This just seems a culmination of the author’s knowledge and she wanted to put it down on paper before learning something else and then writing about that? In that sense more action and less striving for the ‘storyless story’ would have been better as it could easily lose 100-150 pages but as a diary style project I think it works and helpful for those who can’t make that investment. I wonder what grade she would of given had one of her students written it.

`One of the paradoxes of writing is that when you’re writing non-fiction everyone tries to prove you’re wrong, and when you publish fiction, everyone tries to see the truth in it.’

She doesn’t reinvent the wheel but she tries to roll with it, luckily for her characters the road isn’t that bumpy.

Our Tragic Universe Scarlett Thomas Book Review

Photo credit – rarebookceller.com to illustrate the details.

VWC Ultimate Hair Repair Serum Organic Argan Oil Prickly Pear Seed Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Corn, Olive, Aloe Vera Orange Blossom Essential Valerie Widmann Cosmetics Natural Vegan

I consider my hair to be at least a sentient semi-autonomous-part of my body and though I usually trust it, it can be difficult keeping it from caressing people it likes and stopping it strangling those it doesn’t, so I wouldn’t want to hear what it may sometimes say behind my back. We have a standing agreement; it has almost free reign, looks cool no matter how messy it is, almost looks after itself and I home-colour my roots maybe three times a year, go easy on the hair dryer and have stopped my Mum experimenting on it to see if a style would look good on Her via proxy.

That’s why I wouldn’t normally try and then review a hair serum since there are very few products I would use on it so I hope that speaks volumes because I only tried this due to the ingredients and am very impressed with Valerie Widmann’s Cosmetics (VWC) Ultimate Hair Repair Serum.

It’s an oil blend and the oils used in my opinion give it that va va voom.

To my mind this is a sleek product in a strong, clear, tall glass 55ml/1.85 fluid ounce bottle with a plastic pump dispenser that actually works since the inner tube goes to the very bottom and unlike many bottles actually has the description, ingredients and directions on a label as well as the branding. It comes in a matching box which is handy since the glass isn’t dark and doesn’t slow down oil degradation.

The recommended method or as I call it ‘method 1’: A Serum To Wash Out

‘Instructions for use: Massage oil into scalp and leave for circa 20 minutes to 1 hour. Then wash hair as normal.’

As a wash-out oil treatment it works like all good oils do in my experience aka it depends on your hair type and scalp sensitivity. If you have dry to average scalp/hair you’ll probably notice more of a difference i.e. softer skin and the oil lightly coating the hair as it rinses through which should stay in place unless you then shampoo/condition and/or towel dry so much that it mostly comes off on the fabric.

My hair isn’t dry so doesn’t absorb oil that much, but it does hold on to it well without feeling greasy – so basically this blend with this method doesn’t suit my needs so much because I already use oils. That means I didn’t really notice a difference in using this except a bit of sting on the areas I’d previously scratched (not a problem for me, that’s the kind of thing that happens on raw skin depending on the oil and it subsided) and I have to wash and wait for my hair to dry before I can use this which I’m not inclined towards.

Method 2: A Leave-In Hair Conditioner/Moisturizer

Overall I preferred it left in, there’s nothing obvious in the ingredients which necessitates it being washed out as far as I’m concerned, it’s just an oil so I’m ok with that but for those whose hair gets unmanageably greasy quickly (though bear in mind the more frequently you wash hair the quicker it’ll get greasy/used to doing so) it’d probably be easier to wash out as instructed.

Finding a good leave-in conditioner is akin to finding a good pair of shoes and. That. Is. Hard. I rarely find shoes that are comfortable and I can walk long distance in and I rarely find a leave-in conditioner my hair will accept whilst still looking cool enough to wear sunglasses (since I don’t like them on my nose). I’ve tried lotions, balms and oils and been unhappy with most of them – not this one. It covers, softens, smoothens, moisturizes and does it straight away, it also absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a noticeable residue – bonus!

It can also be steamed instead of washing out. Note – this doesn’t involve heating the oil beforehand. I put the cold oil on both my scalp and hair then steam it in and when it dries voila soft, shiny, vibrant, bouncy hair. To steam either put your hair up in the bath/shower or even in a double helper by steaming your face under a towel hence aiding your nasal passages and skin whilst also steaming your hair. To dry, a hair dryer with cold to medium level heat will suffice, not too high or for too long though as not only is that damaging but remember hot oil cooks.

Steaming means not stripping the hair with extra washing and serves me better for detangling than using specific ‘detangling’ ingredients in a lot of products naturally derived (different to ‘natural’) and synthetic, I find those do detangle my hair but also leave it ‘squeaky’, less elastic (so easier to snap/break) and too light/voluminous which means ‘flyaway’ for some people and necessitating some kind of holding product like a spray.

Comparisons to other oils used on the head

Doesn’t itch.
My scalp likes to breathe and tends to itch a lot when leaving any product on it so even though I use oils I tend to focus on the hair but this one doesn’t bother my skin although those with sensitive or problem skin should always do a patch test.

A little goes a very long way.
It takes 2 squirts to cover my scalp and a further 2 for all over my hair – to me that’s not much as it would usually take 2-3 times as much, and I find it spreads very well even through thick, coarse/wiry aka curly hair.

Detangling – knots what knots? Bedhead? No problem.
The simplest, quickest detangling product I’ve used period when leaving it in. I can run my fingers through my hair with barely any effort and undo knots easily. I don’t often have hair hijinks but it calms stray strands and mushed areas like music to a beast.

Good replacement for coconut oil – a Winter oil
You can go from looking salon fresh one moment to Worzel Gummidge (a scarecrow) the next if you go from a warm environment to a cold one e.g. indoors to outdoors and vice versa whilst wearing coconut oil. It’s wonderful and gotten very popular but not very practical in the Winter; olive oil, shea, cocoa butter are also wonderfully nutritious but not for people who can’t handle the weight. This is a lighter, versatile alternative.

Method 3: Scent

I’m not a perfume wearer since you never really know what’s in them except alcohol and the notes (there are some attractive make-your-own kits though!) I’ve only ever bought two perfumes and that’s not for lack of trying. I once went through a bunch of those sample sticks to the counter assistant’s frustration only to buy the first one I chose and knew I liked and had always liked but wanted to see if anything better had come along since. Both of those perfumes were purloined by someone who wouldn’t buy them for himself. Cha. I do however like oils for scent and find them much more sensuous.

So it nourishes and in my opinion smells gorgeous! For many people this could be the first and potentially most important factor because it’s a strong scent; sweet, rich and reinvigorating (and I’m glad it doesn’t have added perfume, even a natural one) I’d wear this for the scent alone! Well… I might reconsider now that I write it down, I’ve been told that I smell really sweet – something hormonal on my part perhaps or just something pervs think up for a line. Adding more sweetness might increase those who sniff you at bus stops or stand close to you on the tube in those ridiculously rare moments when it’s not ‘rush hour’ and there’s actually space to move. Then again it might make you sickly sweet, hmm… So potentially offputting for those who find a little too much oil to be pungent or dislike of ‘Oriental’ type fragrances.

Method 4: Face/Body Oil

This is probably the fastest way to use this product and yet it’s my favourite – my hair doesn’t need much of it, but the rest of me does!

It’s light, absorbent, refreshing, moisturizing and healthy – it’s made my face look less blotchy from all the sleeping-under-the-blanket weather issue, removing the blemishes from a recent foray into food with White sugar, soothing my nose (and surrounding skin from) and nasal passages from a cold and has been helping with the burn mark on my left hand. An all rounder.

Interestingly enough I can feel the resistance when using it on drier body parts like my hands, it doesn’t spread as easily or the skin feels abit rough/’sticky’ until it sinks in but elsewhere it’s smooth like other oils.

Ingredients and General Properties

Organic Argan Oil, Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Corn Oil, Olive Oil, Aloe Vera Oil, Organic Prickly Pear Seed Oil, Orange Blossom Essential Oil, natural preservative, Vitamin E.

Note – only the argan and prickly pear seed oils are organic, ‘organic’ means being certified and hopefully adhering to rules and guidelines from certain organizations. That doesn’t necessarily mean others don’t meet those/similar standards or are low quality just that the manufacturer couldn’t, wouldn’t or haven’t yet gotten organic status. (That doesn’t include extraction and refining if refined.) Then there’s genetically modified (GM or nowadays GMO) crops, one of the reasons for many turning to companies like this and I’m highlighting this point because there is controversy over GM corn (and soy and many tend to lump GM and non-GM versions together in the argument). That can make it confusing with ingredients that either aren’t labelled ‘organic’ or ‘GM’ (if the ingredients are labelled at all) or aren’t one or the other.

Argan & Prickly Pear Seed – Very high in essential unsaturated fatty acids including omega 6 & 9, also in Vitamin E. The former has Vitamins A & F and the latter Vitamin K. They are commonly used for antioxidant activity, regeneration/healing, dry/mature skin and dry/damaged hair.

Sesame – Sometimes called the ‘Queen of oils’ and has a multitude of health uses – edible, medicinal and cosmetic. There are far too many properties to list but they range from antibacterial to protecting against radiation-induced DNA damage.

Coconut – High in essential unsaturated and saturated fatty acids including medium chain triglycerides, high in Vitamin E, has many uses including being a natural sunscreen.

Corn (Maize oil) – Depending on how you look at it is either a filler or additional help to the others. It’s med-high in Omega 6 and possibly Omega 3 but the ratio is said by some to be unhealthy. For cosmetic purposes noted for Vitamin E but has others. Susceptible to heat damage.

Olive – Known as one of the healthiest fats and one of the most studied – a multifarious edible, medicinal/preventative, cosmetic oil full of essential fatty acids and polyphenols. Everything from an anti-inflammatory to pain relief.

Aloe Vera – Not usually thought of in oil form, has all the usual qualities but concentrated. Soothing, said to prevent hair loss by improving blood circulation in the scalp, prevents/treats dandruff & itching, moisturizes skin & retains the moisture.

Orange Blossom (Neroli oil – not the same as Orange Blossom ‘absolute’) – an interesting and pricey essential oil that has many medicinal uses, generally thought of as mentally revitalizing yet physically soothing, hormone balancing and resistant to sun damage hence holds its properties well. Also known for its strong and sweet flowery scent.

Valerie Widmann Cosmetics

This item was provided by VWCosmetics in exchange for a fair opinion and company mention. It’s available to buy for €28.95/£22.71 at:

http://www.vwcosmetics.com/products/organic-prickly-pear-seed-oil-products/hair-repair-serum.html

‘It does not contain parabens, alcohol, synthetics, sulfates, petroleum, GMOs, animal by-products, artificial colours, silicones (no dimethicone!) and fragrances… Added to this is an exotic blend of oils which repairs and restores the shine in your hair. It nourishes, conditions, treats and repairs dry, colour treated, heat damaged hair leaving you with a silky, shiny, luxurious finish.’

VWCosmetics is a German company that imports from fair-trade cooperatives for their organic, cold pressed argan and prickly pear seed oils and aspires to a higher quality, unique selection of products.

Conclusion

This works both as a boost and maintenance product. For those wary of oils due to having oily skin remember there are oils actually used (including some of the above) to balance that for many reasons such as astringent properties.

I siphoned some oil into a smaller bottle and found that 20 squirts equated to 8ml so if you used it for a hair&scalp treatment once a week at 4 squirts a round that’d be upto 9 months of use. However if you’re using more and in various ways it’d decrease much faster, I’ve been using it for 10 days and down to 2/3 but then I was experimenting… Although I like it in most of the ways I’ve tried it so I can see it lasting approximately a month. But hey, it’s worth it.

It’s taken me a while to put this post together due to wanting a variety of examples (and I’m posting this whilst not hungry so all the better ;-) ). Basically I saw some vegan friendly veggie burgers in a supermarket on special offer back in the January sales and thought it’d be nice to have something different and that I hadn’t had in ages. They tasted similar to many others I’ve had over the years and weren’t anything unexpected but still, Mum was very disappointed and thought they were like cardboard and to me they just felt like mush, something to perhaps have with a plateful of other things to compensate. Not for the first time since I started focusing on preparing food from scratch I wondered why I’d ever bothered with them.

Anyway as usual when we don’t like something we (try to) do it ourselves.

The results

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Vegan

It’s big! That’s a dinner plate, not a small one.

A Chunky veggie burger, vegan friendly and easily made allergen friendly by using preferred flours etc.

It’s a very simple recipe – just veg of choice, flour of choice, abit of sea/Himalayan salt, just enough water to make it sticky or into a batter and a little oil of choice.

The amounts used depends on the size of your pan, how many you want to make and how thick you want them to be. We initially used:
500g of veg,
1tsp of salt,
just enough flour & water to make it sticky,
1 heaped tbs of chia.

Chia seeds are used for their nutritional value and gelatinous quality e.g. as an egg replacer; they literally open/turn inside out with the jelly surrounding the shell. However ground flaxseed/linseed is also a popular choice (1 tablespoon flaxseed/linseed plus 3 tablespoons water) although I find slippery elm a fine and much cheaper alternative. Plus it has the benefit of not sticking all over my mouth/teeth/gums like chia. That said we’ve found that this recipe doesn’t need egg replacers.

Heat enough oil to shallow fry, add some mixture and fry on high heat for upto 5min per side or just before it burns – the chunkier the burger the more heat it needs but it also depends on the strength of your cooker. Cooking it that way made 2 burgers but we decided that a little oil was needed within the mixture as well to ensure cooking all the way through and to improve taste, it also shortened cooking to 3min per side but others may prefer it with less oil.

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Vegan Fried Frying

We found that makes very chunky and filling burgers as pictured but if you make the mixture into a batter rather than just sticky you can make them thinner in the pan to get 3-4 burgers. You can also add tomato sauce, an alternative milk instead of water (which makes them creamier) and spice. I think this would really have benefited from fresh herbs as well such as coriander, parsley or dill – Mum says pesto lol.

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Vegan

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Vegan

The benefits of cooking them like this:

You control what goes in and don’t have to put up with cheapening filler and sometimes unnecessary formulation ingredients like rehydrated textured protein, methyl cellulose, yeast, dextrose, added gluten, hydrogenated or hydrolized ingredients.

It’s a very versatile method and we tried different bases like beans and fruit, yep fruit :-)

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Chunky Bean Vegan

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Apple Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Vegan

Apple

This is apple and instead of salt we used 1 heaped tsp of demerara or molasses per apple and we found 1 apple made upto 2 burgers/fritters. More sugar can be used but we like them to be slightly tart tasting. The density of the fruit determines the texture of the outcome e.g. apples are harder and actually tasted like strudel whether we used water or a mix of water/milk but we also used pears and just milk and they tasted softer and more like pancakes.

Homemade Veggie Vegetable Fruit Burgers Fritters Pancakes Healthy Vegan Pear Argan Oil

I actually used organic unrefined argan oil in the mixture for this pear batch!

On the whole these are very filling, we could only eat 1.5 at most at a time!

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) Seed Oil is another treasure finding its way out of Morocco following its hugely successful predecessor Argan (Argania Spinosa) Oil. It’s currently one of the most expensive oils available to buy purely for its own value rather than say, couture brand label mark-ups and packaging so it’s quite an honour to […]

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My left hand was recently scalded and though luckily the worst of it didn’t cover the whole hand quite a large and noticeable area was affected so I was looking for a product that would help. To show how this item fits into the wider perspective I’ll quickly outline my actions to treat the burn […]

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They say, whoever they are, that need is the mother of all invention. The same goes for art in my opinion which springs also from a need. Well my Mother is always creating and fixing things and she’s blimmin’ good at it even if I do say so myself :-) I’ve got a one of […]

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