Announcing the twelve days of Megaten Christmas

Happy almost Christmas, everyone.  No matter whether you celebrate the holiday in its religious or secular aspects or both, this is one of the best/most memorable times of the year for a lot of people (and if you celebrate neither aspect, then please apply whatever holiday is closest in time and/or spirit to my statement.)

Speaking of that, I wanted to give my readers a special gift this year.  So instead of doing the usual thing for the holidays, which is nothing, I decided to put together a special series of Christmas posts, each one about a demon from the Megami Tensei series that I find interesting.  Could I have picked a more sacrilegious game series to cover to honor the birth of Christ?  Probably not.  After all, this is the series that features games in which you can choose to join up with Lucifer to fight God Himself or just beat the hell out of both of them.

But I’m really not trying to be sacrilegious here at all.  You all probably already know that Megami Tensei is my favorite game series, and this is a great opportunity to cover some of my favorite Kazuma Kaneko character/monster designs.  Also keep in mind that the “demons” that show up in every Megaten game aren’t necessarily demons in the western traditional sense of the term as a kind of devil or evil spirit.  Some of those evil spirits are certainly included in the category of demons (Lilim, Succubus, Incubus, and a bunch of other malicious types) but the term “demon” in the Megaten sense is very broad, embracing all kinds of mythical entities, even angels who work for big man YHVH.  In any case, the SMT games are really just as sacrilegious as you care to make them — you can always go Law path, after all.

I remember the days before Adblock, when we didn’t think demons were in our peaceful kingdom

I was originally going to post this from Christmas Day to January 5 to line up with the traditional Twelvetide/Christmastide period, but since anime blogger Perpetual Morning is getting together other writers to put together their own series starting December 14, I figured I’d just join them.  The series might be called 12 Days of Anime, but it seems like game content is welcome as well.  And Megami Tensei has had a few anime adaptations featuring some of these demons, so it’s close enough, right? Also, I wasn’t kidding about my latest project taking a while.  Fucking writer’s block.  I hate that term, but I can’t think of a better one to use in this case.

Anyway, come back Saturday, Dec. 14 for the first demonic gift, and happy holidays again, or whatever you say to people in early/mid-December these days.

The rabbit girl and the obsolete ゐ

Hey, happy December, and happy official official start of the Christmas/holiday/whatever you want to call it season.  Here’s a post that has nothing to do with any of that.  I mentioned before that I’m doing some Japanese self-study, and now I have some dumbass 外人 ideas about this language that, up until recently, I only slightly understood mainly through reading untranslated doujins.* And if one of those ideas happens to have a connection to games, anime, manga, or the usual kind of thing I write about on this site, I might just post about it like I’m doing now.  Whether you’re fluent, studying, or neither of those, I hope you find it interesting.

For several years, I’ve had the hiragana and katakana down, the two Japanese syllabary writing systems that are used to write out anything that’s not written in kanji, the character-based system derived from Chinese. The largest part of my study by far is of these kanji, of which there are over 3,000. Learning the kanji is a great undertaking, but not as difficult as many people think: the kanji themselves are composed of pieces called radicals, and once you realize how these pieces work, the task of learning the characters they make becomes quite a lot easier.  Still not easy — not even close.  But easier.

However, I’m not talking about kanji today. Today I’m talking about ゐ, a now-obsolete kana, or syllabary character. As the name of the writing system suggests, most of these kana represent a syllable instead of a lone vowel or consonant, the exceptions being the long a i u e o sounds and the lone consonant n. I learned about ゐ well before even properly learning my hiragana, however, thanks to Touhou Project, a shoot-em-up series made by independent game developer/music composer/guy drinking beer in his basement ZUN. One of the most popular games in the series was Touhou 8, subtitled Imperishable Night, which dealt with aliens called Lunarians and moon rabbits causing the moon to stay in the night sky into the day, which somehow causes the world to fall into a permanent night (also, just like in every Touhou game, all these characters are cute girls just like chief protagonists Reimu and Marisa, even the moon aliens.) No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but none of the plots to the Touhou games make much sense.  You don’t play these games for their plots anyway.

A typically cute depiction of Tewi. You’d never guess she would ever try to murder you by firing hundreds of magical bullets at you. (source: poronegi, pixiv)

The connection to my language study comes with the introduction of Tewi Inaba, an Earth-native rabbit girl who acts as a mid-level boss in Stage 5 and dumps bullets all over the screen at you for a few rounds that you either have to dodge or waste your limited number of bombs on to clear. Tewi isn’t a very important character in the game — while she is distinct from all the common enemies around her and can be a pain in the ass to fight, she falls short of the honor of having her own boss theme, at least in her initial appearance in Touhou 8. However, her name is interesting from a linguistic perspective. Tewi’s name is written last name first in the Japanese fashion as 因幡てゐ, her last name in kanji, and her first name in hiragana: て, te, and ゐ, wi.  In 1946, however, the Japanese government decided wi wasn’t a syllable they’d need anymore since it had disappeared from common usage long before. Thus ゐ got the boot along with ゑ (we).  Since wi is no longer a sound used in Japanese, even Tewi’s name is pronounced when spoken as “Tei”.

So the question remains: why did ZUN use ゐ in Tewi’s name when it’s not pronounced that way anymore? The answer may lay in the setting of the Touhou Project games. Gensokyo is a piece of Japan that for centuries was populated with youkai, mythical beasts that have magical powers they can use to help or harm humans (very often the latter.) In 1885, this land was finally sealed from the rest of Japan with a magical barrier by Yukari Yakumo, an extremely powerful youkai, to protect the youkai within from the outside world, and ever since the human and non-human residents of Gensokyo have had to try to live side by side. Back when Gensokyo was sealed off, therefore, ゐ was still an official part of the Japanese language, so maybe it’s not strange for it to be used in Gensokyo.  Add to that the fact that despite her looks, Tewi is supposed to be over a thousand years old, and her name’s now-obsolete spelling makes more sense.

If you squint you can see the obsolete ヰ in the company’s name printed on the bottle, but not in the loanword “whisky” printed above it. (source: Hispania – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Either that or ZUN was just doing whatever he felt like doing with the characters’ names. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. After all, the wi syllable isn’t quite dead and buried in our modern world.  ヰ, the katakana counterpart to ゐ, is still used in a few brand names like the Japanese distillery Nikka Whisky, and both hiragana and katakana forms hang onto life in the character sets of the Okinawan and Ainu languages, though those are on the decline and nearly extinct respectively. Small comfort indeed. ゐ now has so little going on that Tewi herself is mentioned in the introduction of the kana’s Wikipedia page as one of the few remaining common usages of the character. The poor kana is relying on being featured in the name of a Touhou character.  Isn’t that rough?  At least Tewi is one of the more popular characters, but still, a long way to fall.

Again, I hope that was interesting.  Don’t know if I’ll write more of these posts or if I’ll make this a regular feature; I’ll just make it up as I go along like I always do.  It may also be a while until my next post — unless you want to read a lengthy, unedited mess of nonsense garbage, I’ll have to take some more time on it.  So I thought I’d post this as a kind of bonus.  Happy December again, and I hope you don’t freeze too much this season if you’re not one of those lucky people in the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics right now.  I’d say you can warm yourself up with some Nikka whisky, but it seems to cost at least 50-60 dollars a bottle.  Must be good stuff. 𒀭

*I’ll leave to your imagination the kinds of expressions I learned from reading doujins, but they certainly aren’t ones you’d say in polite society.

Listening/reading log #2 (November 2019)

We’re officially in the holiday season if you live anywhere in the western world.  So unless you’re an actual Scrooge who hates the holidays (which feelings I won’t begrudge you if you do have them, because I’m a bitter fuck too) I hope you have a good holiday season or a happy Christmas etc. etc.  In the meantime, I’ve got more music to cover as well as a few articles and posts that I found interesting recently.  The following albums contain music that I’ve mostly heard before, but I’ve been playing them a lot lately, and it’s all good stuff, so I thought why not put them in the spotlight this month.

加爾基 精液 栗ノ花/Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana (Shiina Ringo, 2003)

Highlights: Meisai, Okonomide (live version)

Shiina Ringo is an interesting character.  She seems to have been retired or on hiatus for a while now, but back in the early 2000s she was a very active singer/songwriter/pianist/shamisenist (is that the right term?)  Shiina put out some excellent albums at the time, my favorite of which is Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana.  It’s full of memorable songs written and performed in a mix of rock/pop and jazz.  It doesn’t sound anything like fusion, though; it’s more just Shiina’s own style.  I love her singing as well; her tone ranges from angry and aggressive to light and sweet depending upon the song.  She can also play a ton of instruments, an ability I greatly respect.

The songs I linked above are much more in Shiina’s jazz style, but she’s done plenty of lighter pop stuff as well that’s good.  If you’re into this particular style, Shiina also performed similar music with a band under the name Tokyo Jihen.  Their album Adult is a great one to check out if you like the above-linked songs.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (King Crimson, 1973)

Highlights: Easy Money, The Talking Drum, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II

Damn, I am really building up my respectable music critic reputation with this one.  King Crimson has been one of my favorite bands for a long time.  They’ve been around since 1969 and have put out groundbreaking albums like their debut In the Court of the Crimson King (which some people argue started the prog rock movement and others argue didn’t, though I’m not getting into that stupid debate), Red, and Discipline.  All these albums feature the guitar of eccentric jerk/genius Robert Fripp and otherwise completely different band members, so they all sound very different.  I’m not in love with every album they’ve ever recorded, but when Crimson were good, they were great.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic might be their most out there album, though.  The vocal tracks are pretty good (especially Easy Money, with a great funk beat by the excellent drummer Bill Bruford) but I think the instrumentals are the best part of this album.  They’re pretty heavy rock in that early 70s style like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, but completely different in approach, in how cold and impersonal they feel to me.  The Talking Drum/Larks’ Tongues Part II final stretch of the album is more hellish-sounding than Black Sabbath even.  I could keep going on about this album, but I’ll cut it short here.  I like it.  Note: the above links are all to live versions of these songs, so they’ll naturally sound a bit different in the studio versions.  The band was supposed to be amazing on stage in the early 70s anyway, so it’s still good stuff.

Greatest Idol (Mitchie M feat. Hatsune Miku, 2013)

Highlights: Freely Tomorrow, 愛Dee

Remember that respectable music critic reputation I was talking about just now?  Time to blow it up completely, because I like this album too.  Not only do all the instruments sound entirely synthetic, the vocals are synthetic as well — Greatest Idol features the singing of Vocaloid software characters, most prominently Hatsune Miku.  It’s also 100% upbeat sugar-sweet pop.  My high school self listening to Larks’ Tongues would have been shocked to see my current self listening to this stuff, but that kid was an idiot, because these songs are catchy as hell.  Mitchie M is a Vocaloid composer with the impressive ability to make Miku and friends sound almost human, at least compared to songs put together by most other composers.  And in any case, this music really isn’t any less “manufactured” than a Taylor Swift or Katy Perry album full of autotuning and other studio tricks.  And Mitchie M’s songs are a lot better than theirs too.  Or maybe I’m just an unrepentant weirdo.  Listen to these tracks from Greatest Idol and tell me I’m crazy.

Also, I really like that combination keytar/guitar Miku is playing in the cover art.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.  Not sure how you’d play both parts with only two hands, but Miku is an android, so maybe she can manage it somehow.

That’s it for the listening part of the post.  Now on to the reading part:

Awful People Can Still Be Great Characters — A reminder from Irina that sometimes a character who is a terrible person is also perfect in the role they’re playing.

Take Your Heart: Visiting the Persona 5 Cafes in Japan — Browser Crasher describes the experience of visiting Persona 5-themed cafes in Japan in 2016 and 2019.  These kinds of promotions are apparently pretty common in Tokyo.  The best I can do is read about them, so I appreciate this account of Browser Crasher’s visits.

The 13th Doll (2019) [PC] — From the Well-Red Mage, a comprehensive review of The 13th Doll, a fangame of the 1993 FMV puzzle game The 7th Guest.  While 7th Guest hasn’t aged well in some ways, I still have a lot of fond memories of playing it as a kid, and from this review it sounds like the makers of 13th Doll did a fine job capturing the spirit of the original work.

[GAME REVIEW] Colossal Cave Adventure — Red Metal reviews one of the oldest things we generally consider a video or PC game: Colossal Cave Adventure, a text adventure released in 1976.  While it sounds like the game itself doesn’t hold up that well, the story behind it is interesting if only to understand the important influence it had on later games.

Anime NYC: First Impressions — My experience with anime cons has been mostly wandering around the dealers’ room trying to justify expensive artbook purchases to myself while recovering from a hangover from the last night’s activities.  Simpleek gives her initial impressions of a recent New York anime con, and it sounds like her experience was quite different and probably much more responsible than mine.  She also writes about the different feeling of being an adult fan of anime and how attending a con can bring that out, something I can relate to.

And that’s another month almost done.  See you next time, when I’ll hopefully have the next entry in my deep reads series up.

Seven great video game tracks (part 3)

It’s been a while since my last dedicated music post and nearly four years since I posted an entry in this particular series (see parts 1 and 2 back in 2014 and 2015*) but I thought why let it stay dead?  I’ve been working on that second deep reads post, which is proving to be more of a pain in the ass than I thought, but all this music is helping power my brain after work hours along with the caffeine.  I’m also in the middle of a 10+ hour round trip drive today across some boring state highways, and I’ve been refreshing my playlist and adding to it to get ready for that.

However, the main reason I decided to revive this series is that I’ve heard a few people online suggest that game music isn’t “real music”, which is utter horseshit.  So here are seven tracks to prove them wrong.  I’m sure they’d consider most or all of these “not real music” either, but judge for yourselves.  As before, these are listed in no particular order — they’re just seven more tracks from games that I like.

1) Yousuke Yasai – Point of No Return (Eschatos, 2011)

Somehow I haven’t brought Yousuke Yasai up once on this site, but the guy is a long-time game music composer who does some great work.  I especially like the soundtrack to Eschatos, a scrolling shooter released on the 360 and PC.  This game was put out in 2011 but the music sounds like something out of one of the Mega Man X games (in fact, I think Yasai did some music for the Mega Man Battle Network series, so maybe there’s a connection there.)  Point of No Return is my favorite piece on the soundtrack; it’s driving and powerful in the way you’d expect from a shoot-em-up, but also memorable and catchy.

2) Garoad – Every Day is Night (VA-11 HALL-A, 2016)

I know I’ve raved about VA-11 HALL-A enough here and mentioned how much I’m looking forward to Sukeban’s followup N1RV Ann-A.  The bartending mini-game with a visual novel wrapped around it worked just about perfectly for me.  But the soundtrack was a big part of the game’s success.  Composer Garoad did an excellent job with the background music.  Every piece adds a particular mood to the conversation Jill has with her mostly depressed/insane clientele, her weird boss, and her one more or less normal coworker.  The game even lets the player set up the actual in-game soundtrack for the bar every night on the jukebox, so you can create any kind of mood you like with this music.

Every Day is Night is one of my favorites — I usually started each night in the game with this song.  The title is apt; this and the rest of the soundtrack have a great nighttime feel, very fitting for this game that takes place entirely at night.  Though I also really like Safe Haven, the piece that plays when Jill is home from her shift at the bar.

It’s the soundtrack to my life, sitting in the dark in my shitty apartment

3) Kenichi Tsuchiya – Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, 2003)

It’s a piece from Nocturne.  I know, what a surprise.  This one wasn’t written by Shoji Meguro, though.  Composer Kenichi Tsuchiya was also responsible for a fair number of the tracks in the game, including the organ piece Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven, the theme that plays when you visit the Cathedral of Shadows during a full Kagutsuchi phase (if you haven’t played Nocturne I know this probably sounds like nonsense, but it really does mean something.)  Tsuchiya has written quite a bit of music for the SMT games and spinoffs like Persona and Devil Summoner, and I’m sorry that I’m only now getting around to mentioning the guy, because he is worthy of notice.  There are a few different Heretic Mansion themes, and they’re all pretty ominous, but this is the only one that’s performed entirely on what sounds like a giant church organ.  It sounds like it came straight out of the Baroque period.  Great stuff if you’re into that.

4) Shoji Meguro – A Way of Life (Persona 3 Portable, 2009)

Even so, I can’t go without listing at least one Shoji Meguro song.  This time I’m going with the opening theme to Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port of Persona 3 that included the female protagonist who’s now part of a weird multi-universe canon along with the male protagonist since they can’t exist at the same time in the same game.  It’s no wonder they haven’t tried this out since.

Fans argue over whether P3P or Persona 3 FES, the expanded PS2 version of the original, is a better game.  I prefer FES, but I still like the P3P exclusive music tracks, which include A Way of Life.  It’s just a catchy pop song.  That’s really all it is.  But Meguro is really damn good at writing catchy pop songs, so this one is worth a mention.  There’s no Lotus Juice either, so if you’re not a fan of his this is a good track to check out.  I like him, but his rapping can get old sometimes.  There’s a reason I didn’t put “Mass Destruction” on this list instead — it’s a good song, but it’s been burned into my brain so deeply that I can never listen to it again.

I remember when this game coming out was big news. Ten years, shit. I feel old again now.

5) Tee Lopes – Lights, Camera, Action! (Sonic Mania, 2017)

One of the best things about Sonic Mania was how it finally killed all the “Sonic was never good” bullshit going around the reviewer and critic circles.  The game’s music also lived up to the quality of the Genesis soundtracks thanks to Tee Lopes, a composer who had previously worked on remixes of music from Sonic and other series.  Lights, Camera, Action! is the first stage thrme in Sonic Mania and sets the game’s mood perfectly.  It sounds like a technologically updated version of one of the Sonic Genesis pieces, which is exactly what I was looking for (well, the same can be said for Sonic Mania as a whole.)

6) Toby Fox – Spider Dance (Undertale, 2015)

I never thought “spider girl” plus “maid” were tags I’d be into, but the weirdos who draw Undertale fanart taught me something new about myself. (source: zingexGG, pixiv)

Shit. Somehow I’ve gone all this time without even bringing up Undertale. I don’t even need to tell you about it, right? It was a massive hit back in 2015 when it came out. I guess a surprise hit as well, because I didn’t know it was a thing until it was out and everyone was raving about this weird indie pacifist RPG. I wasn’t quite as in love with it as some people were, but I did enjoy Undertale a lot; it obviously had plenty of time, effort, and care put into it. However, I did love the soundtrack without any qualifications. Game creator and composer Toby Fox wrote one of the best game soundtracks ever, in fact — nearly every piece in the game was so memorable that they stuck in my mind for weeks and months afterward.

It’s hard to pick this time, but I think my absolute favorite Undertale piece is Spider Dance. The frantic feel fits the mood of the scene perfectly; it’s just the kind of music that should play when you’re fighting against a deadly spider woman or trying to dodge all her attacks if you’re doing the pacifist thing. I guess I might be in a small minority here in saying this is my favorite; everyone really seems to love Megalovania, and people will even get teary over Toriel’s theme and all that. Those are great pieces too, but I just like Spider Dance the best.

7) Masafumi Takada & Jun Fukuda – Sleeping Intermission (Grow Up Nyan Nyan) (Contact, 2005)

Here’s a bizarre song to end with.  Contact was itself a weird game, a Suda51-written DS RPG that didn’t get a lot of attention when it was released and that since seems to have slipped into near-obscurity.  I reviewed it years ago here, and I haven’t played it since, but I still listen to the game’s music from time to time.  The Contact OST was composed by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, both big pros in the field who also worked on other Suda51 stuff as well as titles like God Hand.

Contact.  There’s a fourth-wall-breaking setup here that I won’t get into now, but it was interesting.

Sleeping Intermission might be a weird choice to pull from the Contact soundtrack.  It’s the song that plays when you send the protagonist to bed to heal his injuries and pass time in the game world.  However, during this intermission you get to play with the Professor’s pet Mochi by tapping him with the stylus while the hero sleeps it off.  It’s a bit strange like everything else in this game, and the same is true of the music, especially those digitized synth voice parts that play throughout.  But shit, I just like it.  I liked Contact too.  It’s worth playing if you have a DS, a 3DS, or an emulator.  Check it out.  I still think it deserved to be remembered more than it is.

And that’s it for now.  I’ll go back to being on semi-vacation here.

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* Yeah, I know part 1 says “seven” in the title here but only contains six if you read the actual post.  I think I was too drunk to know what I was doing at the time.  That’s a safe bet to make back when I posted it.

The Real Neat Blog Award, round 3

It’s another award, this time from Pete Davison of MoeGamer.  Pete writes about worthy niche games that certain professional game review sites either look down upon or won’t get anywhere near.  It’s well worth reading, and if you like my stuff anyway, you’ll like his too.  Thanks very much again for the tag.

Here are the rules once again:

1. Display the logo
2. Thank the bloggers for the award.
3. Answer the questions from the one who nominated you.
4. Nominate 7 to 10 bloggers.
5. Ask them 7 questions.

So with 1 and 2 out of the way, let’s move on to the substance: the questions.

1. Have you ever deliberately sought out a piece of media you knew would make you uncomfortable somehow? If so, why did you do that and what was the experience like?

I can’t say I’ve done that.  I’ve watched movies and read books that have plenty of heavy, depressing parts to them, but I wasn’t really going in with the mindset that “I will be uncomfortable with some of this material” or anything like that.  I can’t even say I was seeking those kinds of works out because I thought they’d make me uncomfortable.  As far as media that expresses opinions I completely disagree with, I did read the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s book A Matter of Interpretation, but that was assigned for a class, so I don’t know if that counts.  For what it’s worth, Scalia was a very entertaining writer, a rarity for a federal judge or a lawyer of any kind (I hope I’m an exception to that rule too.)  I still think most of his views were repugnant and/or crazy, but it’s a great book to read if you want to understand the mindset of a typical conservative judge in a US court.

These days I spend most of my time at work, and when I play, watch, or read something for pleasure, I prefer something that brings me pleasure, not discomfort.  I do understand the value of playing games, watching movies, or reading books well outside your comfort zone, though, even if I don’t necessary seek them out myself.  I’m just getting old and cranky, that’s all.  But I believe there’s a lesson in this, especially for game developers: if you want to express an aggressively challenging message, just wrap it in great gameplay and interesting characters and have it sneak up on me and I’ll be all about it (unless your message is bullshit, of course.)  Also, for God’s sake, make the message just a little subtle.  I don’t want to be talked down to like I’m a child.  Even children shouldn’t be talked down to like they’re children.  Give your audience a little credit, please.

2. What is your favourite tangible, physical item that you own and why?

A page from the Harada artbook. Very worth buying if you can find it for a halfway decent price now.

Does my entire physical library of games, albums, and books count as one item?  No, I guess not.

I’m not sure there’s one single thing I can say I own that’s my favorite.  They all have different functions that are pretty useful to me. I don’t have any family heirlooms or anything, and even if I did, I don’t think I’d get much value out of having them myself beyond the memories that might come with them.  I do really like that Takehito Harada Art Works Vol. 1 artbook I was talking about a couple of posts ago, though.  If I were forced to sell all my artbooks but one (God forbid such a thing should ever happen) that’s the one I’d keep.  Harada is one of my favorite artists, and the book is full of art of some of my favorite characters, so how could I bear to part with it?  It’s also translated, which is nice because it means I can read it now instead of two or three years from now when I hopefully get through most of my Japanese lessons.

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever sat on deliberately?

I could think of all the sorts of lewd answers you might get to this question, but unfortunately I don’t have any of those.  My actual answer is the Duck, an old World War II amphibious military vehicle that’s basically a combination car and boat, a boat with wheels.  The “DUKW” as it was originally named (get it) is now used by a Boston tour company to take people around the streets and into the famous harbor.  I can’t remember whether the tour was worth taking — I was 8 or 9 at the time the one time I was in Boston.  But the Duck tours seem to still be operating, so I guess it’s something to do if you’re there for a while and have nothing else going on.

4. What do you want for Christmas? (I’m not going to get you it, I’m just curious.)

“What is this, exactly?”
“Don’t… don’t ask.”

You know you’ve truly become an adult when your answer to that question is “a Visa gift card so I can buy food.”  There are certainly some less necessary things I want, but I’m going to be buying those for myself, not asking my family or friends for them, because they’ll start to ask some questions about my interests at that point that I don’t feel like answering.  At least not until I’m rich enough to not have to care what anyone thinks of me anymore.  If you know a good way to make millions of dollars while not being an asshole tycoon who pollutes the environment or employs contractors like Foxconn, please let me know and we can work something out.

5. Do you have something you would like to achieve that you know is well within reach, but which you can’t seem to make progress on? If so, what do you think is stopping you? If not, what was the last major achievement you think you accomplished?

I need to get my piano proficiency back.  I used to play pretty well, but I’m rusty as hell after years away from it.  I know I can still play from messing around on pianos and keyboards a few times — once you’re good enough, playing an instrument isn’t something you ever forget how to do, no matter how much time has passed.  But I’d need a month or two to get back to where I used to be.  Sadly I don’t have room for the family piano where I live now, and I don’t have enough to afford a non-shitty keyboard with weighted keys, so there’s not much I can do at the moment.  Maybe next year.

6. Assume you work full-time if you don’t already. If we suddenly switched to a 4-day working week, what would you do with that extra day?

I usually work well more than full-time, so a 4-day week is an even better deal that it would be for actual 9-to-5 toilers.  Hell, I would jump at the chance to work four tens, but that’s just a fantasy.  Assuming the fantasy could come true, though, I would use that time to write and accelerate my Japanese studies.

7. Think of the characters you find attractive — in terms of both personality and appearance. What traits do they have in common, and what is it you find attractive about those traits?

Well, here’s the big question.  I thought about it a bit, and while I find a variety of characters attractive in personality and appearance, I really like those that are extremely loyal.  Not the yandere-crazy type of loyal, but the stubborn type.  Like Saber from Fate/Stay Night, Flonne from Disgaea, and Aigis (who you could argue as an android is programmed to be loyal, but it’s pretty clear she gained a sense of human-like identity in Persona 3 so I think there’s a lot more going on there.)

I suppose it’s pretty obvious why loyalty is attractive, at least on the surface.  It’s great to be with someone who you can trust even with your life.  On the other hand, loyalty can have its downsides — if it’s not reciprocated, it can cause a lot of emotional pain, and it can drive people to do stupid or even evil things if they’re loyal to the wrong sort of person.  A little skepticism can be good sometimes as well.  Even so, I like the idea of having a loyal partner if only for the reason that she’d force me to examine my own sense of loyalty and honor as well and hopefully make me a better person for it.

Or maybe I just like cute blonde girls.

***

Thanks to Pete again for the insightful questions.  Now here are the questions I promised last time.  I’m cheating a bit here because the previous nomination I received required 11 questions, but I’ve done a few of these now and the well’s run a bit dry.  I hope I’m not repeating any of my older questions with the following seven.  The last couple are holiday-related because I don’t know.  The holidays or whatever.  You know.

1) Is there a game, book, or other work that you’d like to experience but that you can’t because it’s untranslated, not ported, or otherwise inaccessible?

2) What’s one work that really affected you or stuck with you in the last year, and why do you think it did?

3) If you could revive one series of works that’s been abandoned or dropped by its creators for any reason, what series would it be and why?

4) When it comes to music, do you prefer songs with vocals and lyrics or instrumental pieces, or do you have a preference at all?  If you prefer one type over the other, why do you think that is?

5) When was the last time you bought a magazine, newspaper, or other form of print media?

6) Is there a holiday you don’t get to celebrate/take off because of family or work reasons but that you wish you could?

7) If you had to create a new holiday, when would it be and what would it involve?

And the tagged persons are:

NekoJonez

Scott @ Mechanical Anime Reviews

Gaming Omnivore

Frostilyte

Pinkie’s Paradise

Ospreyshire

Red Metal @ Extra Life

As usual — if I tag you too often, or you don’t care for these questions, feel free to ignore them, but if I haven’t tagged you, also feel free to answer them.  Do whatever you want, in fact.  Freedom is great, isn’t it?

The Sunshine Blogger Award Challenge Part 4: No more clever subtitles

Last month I was honored with a fourth Sunshine Blogger Award nomination, this time from animeandfanfiction, who runs an excellent site dealing with anime, manga, and games.  Thanks very much for the tag.  My answers are a bit late, but they’re here now.  As usual, here are the rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you in the blog post and link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

I’ve fulfilled the first and last requirements already, so now it’s time to answer the questions:

1. If you could cosplay any anime character to a convention or just at home, who would it be?

I guess I’d have to say Phoenix Wright, because 1) it would be an easy cosplay; all I’d need to buy is some hair gel and a golden pin, and 2) we’re both lawyers, so it would work thematically.  And I’m pretty sure he was in an anime adaptation once, right?  So this works an as answer.  Though being a lawyer in Phoenix’s world is a lot more exciting that being one in ours.

2. Who is the most relatable anime/manga character to you?

Very sadly, I have to say it’s probably Nozomu Itoshiki, aka the Zetsubou-sensei in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.  This is a series about a teacher who constantly takes as negative a view of life as possible, not because he’s trying to be contrarian but because that’s just how he is.  Meanwhile, his class is full of girls who each have their own psychological quirks, and there’s a lot of weird dark comedy that ensues.  SZS does contain a lot of cultural references and language puns that I probably wouldn’t get even if I looked them up, but I can totally understand Itoshiki and his view of life, because it’s not too different from mine.  I’ve been trying to be more positive, though.  It’s not easy.

The worst possible conclusion is probably the right one.  This is a hard mindset to break.

3. Which genre do you think you’ve watched the most of this year?

I’ve completed a grand total of one current anime series so far, Cop Craft, and I’m also watching that Fate/Grand Order: Babylonia show (yeah, I’m still watching at least one anime series currently airing.)  So it’s a tie between urban sci-fi fantasy cop show and ancient battle royale (or isekai?  Does F/GO count as an isekai?  I have no idea.)

4. What seasonal animes were your favorites this year?

Again, not much I can say here, but Cop Craft was actually pretty good despite the at times extremely janky animation.  The relationship between Tilarna and Kei in that series made it worth watching.  Also the Range Murata character designs.  It is really a shame that the art in Cop Craft so often lacks detail, considering the incredible detail Murata puts into his own works.  Just a case of low budget, I guess.

An example of Murata’s work from one of his artbooks; the guy is a master.

5. How did you get into being an aniblogger?

I wouldn’t say I’m quite an aniblogger in the way animeandfanfiction, or Irina, Scott, or some of the other dedicated anime bloggers are.  But if we can lump video games in with anime, I can get into why I started this blog: it was essentially a way for me to blow off some steam and do something unrelated to my studies when I started at law school.  At the time, I really wasn’t looking for anything else from the blog but that.

Now I work full time and then some, which doesn’t afford me a whole lot of time for other pursuits, but I still stick with this because I’ll be damned if I have to lose one of the only places I have where I can be myself.  I enjoy the community we have here, and it’s nice to be able to put my writing out to others who might be interested as well as to the internet as a whole.  The idea that some guy in Burkina Faso can find my deep dive analysis of the romance element in Saya no Uta with a Google search is one I like, even if it doesn’t benefit me directly in any way.

6. Shortest or longest anime you’ve watched?

Don’t know about shortest, but the longest anime series I’ve watched, by a long shot, is Legend of the Galactic Heroes at 110 episodes.  It’s still one of my all-time favorites, a space opera/war drama story with political intrigue and romance and a lot of other stuff that you might like.  Except it’s 110 episodes long, and it was also made in the 80s and early 90s and very much looks it, so I have a hard time recommending it to some people.  If you can get past the dated look of the series and get a few episodes in, though, you might find yourself hooked.

I haven’t used this gif in five years, but finally I have another opportunity.

As an alternative, you can check out the LOGH remake currently airing.  I haven’t watched any of it, so I don’t know how it compares to the original so far, but it’s probably worth checking out too.  I’m not the type to hate something just because it’s not the original thing it was based on, so I might watch it at some point myself.

7. Best anime character husbando or waifu crush?

It’s been a long time, but I have to admit that I crushed on Misato Katsuragi, the military officer who directly supervised Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion.  I was a few years younger than Shinji at the time I watched Eva, but even then the idea of living with an attractive older woman who sometimes just wore a towel around the place was exciting to me.  I don’t know if Misato would count as the “best” — she’s got plenty of problems and probably drinks too much — but she’s still my best, and I guess that’s what matters.

Misato: still best waifu

8. Do you have a favorite protagonist or antagonist? If so, who?

Going in to Persona yet again here, so big time spoilers for Persona 4:

===

 

Adachi.  I don’t know if Adachi being the culprit really counts as a spoiler anymore, but it did when I played it.  I’ve heard some people suggest that his reason for shoving people into the TVs and leaving them to die was dumb, but the simplicity of his reason was exactly why it worked for me: he’s a bored, frustrated asshole who discovered a power he had and used it to amuse himself at the expense of others.  Nothing could be more human, at least if we’re talking about the negative side of human desires and impulses.  On the positive side, you have the protagonist, who made something great of himself and forged meaningful relationships with his family and friends while possessing the same power as Adachi.  Two sides of the same coin, that old thing.  Maybe that’s overused, but I like it when it’s done well, and I think Persona 4 does it well.

9. If you could change the ending of an anime you didn’t like, how would you change it?

I don’t think I’ve seen an anime series with an ending that I hated so much I’d know how to change it for the better.  I know a lot of people really hated the ending to Oreimo, but I’ve never watched that show, so I don’t have an opinion on it.  As far as games go, I did watch someone play the walking simulator Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture on Steam a couple of years ago, and the ending to that game was so bad that the streamer went on for about 15-20 minutes afterwards about how much dogshit nonsense it made the entire work into, which I remember pretty much agreeing with.  But then I wasn’t too impressed with the game otherwise, so I’m not the best judge there either.

10. What is your favorite setting of animes? For example, schools, being transported to an online game, feudal Japan, etc.

I’m very into the urban or urban fantasy setting, which is part of why I picked up Cop Craft.  Feudal Japan can be interesting too, though.  I guess it’s a bit of a stereotype for nerds to be into the Sengoku period, but it really does feature some strange stories, especially the ones about Nobunaga.  That guy was crazy.

11. If you could make one fictional being or thing in an anime real, who or what would it be? For example, Pokemon, yo kai spirits, mecha robots, etc.

I’m really not sure.  Aigis, I guess.  I still like the idea of living with a cute android girl/full-scale home security system in one.  When will engineers and technicians stop with the god damn not-even-marginally-better new smartphone versions and build something good for once?

Who else can dance and defend against aerial attacks at the same time?  No one, that’s who.

Once again, thanks for the questions!  I’ll hold off on issuing my own because I currently have one more set of questions to answer for a different blogger award, this time from Pete Davison of MoeGamer.  You can look forward to that post and my own tags sometime this weekend, probably.  Until then!

Two new artbook reviews (and an announcement)

I went to an anime con recently and came back weighed down with a few new artbooks. These are my only real vice as far as buying things I don’t technically need to live. However, I would argue that having these increases the quality of my life in a real way — reading through them and seeing the art inside, alongside a cup of coffee or strong tea, makes me feel better and helps calm me down after a stressful day at work. I used to use whiskey for that instead. I’d say making that change was worth dropping some money on.

So I thought why not briefly review these books for the benefit of the interested reader? You might see something you like here. If you’ve been following my site for a while, the books I chose to buy will come as absolutely no surprise to you.  I do want to apologize for the shitty, awful-looking glare in a few of these photos though; I don’t have anything like a professional setup here, but I hope these give you an idea of what’s in the books anyway.

Finally, I’ve got a massively important (well, to me anyway) announcement to make that you can skip down to right away if you don’t care about the artbook stuff.

Shigenori Soejima Art Works 2004-2010

I’ve been looking for an affordable copy of this artbook for years now, and I finally have it. The Japanese version was originally published several years ago, but it must have gone out of print for a while because I never could track down a copy under 80 dollars or so, shipping included. Even after I managed to get Shigenori Soejima’s second artbook, 2010-2017, on Amazon for a deal, this one eluded me. Thankfully, both this and 2010-2017 have gotten full translations and are now being sold at cons and on Amazon and eBay for prices that won’t give you a stomachache thinking about how you’ll pay the electric bill this month. This book is full of great artwork by Soejima, character designer and chief artist of the modern Persona games. Most of the pieces here are of Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters — if you want Persona 5 or Catherine art, you’ll naturally have to spring for 2010-2017.  There’s also an interesting interview with Soejima in the back of the book dealing with his history, his general approach to art, and the unusually detailed cover art of Aigis. I wish more artbooks had interviews like this one.

Side-by-side comparison of the first volume English and second volume Japanese Soejima books.

The only real complaint I have about this book is that it lacks both the dust jacket and the additional protective clear cover that the Japanese version has. Above you can see the difference between the English version of the first volume and the Japanese version of the second, which is modeled after the first. Not sure why we get short-changed like this, but maybe such cost-cutting measures are necessary to sell these books in the West at a profit. At least I can read the interview in the English version, which is nice, but if you can read Japanese I’d consider buying that version unless there’s a big price difference between the two.

DISGAEArt!!! Disgaea Official Illustration Collection

I’ve seen this book around for a long time, but until finding it at the con and reading through it, I avoided it out of a fear that it would be duplicative of the two Takehito Harada Art Works volumes I already own. While there is some overlap — probably unavoidable considering how much material is in those books — there’s also work in this volume you won’t find in those. As the name suggests, DISGAEArt is full of promotional and character art from the series, covering Disgaea 1 through Disgaea 4. There is a separate artbook dedicated to Disgaea 5 that I want to get, but it will have to wait for a while.

A Mage being a real asshole to some Prinnies. What’s her problem, anyway?

This book is a bit smaller than most other artbooks, more the size of a typical doujin work, but it’s also priced a bit lower than those oversized artbooks — I got mine for less than 30 dollars. Not a bad deal for an import. And no, there’s no English version of DISGAEArt as far as I can tell, but there’s so little text in it that it doesn’t make much of a difference unless you really need to be able to read the index in the back listing the source of every illustration.

If you’re a fan of Harada or Disgaea in general, this is a good book to look out for.  I do still like the two separate, larger Harada Art Works books better, especially Vol. 1, which got an English translation a while back.  However, they’re long out of print, and even the newer English version of Vol. 1 is selling in very good/like new condition for around 75-85 dollars as of this writing, whereas you can get DISGAEArt for less than half that price.  An easy choice to make if you’re concerned with money, which most of us are.

***

That’s it for the artbooks.  But I did promise an announcement, didn’t I?  It’s one of those good news/bad news deals.  I don’t know whether anyone will actually care enough about any of this to be that emotionally affected by it, but I’ll start with the bad news anyway: I’m dropping the Seasonal Anime Draft stuff I was working on.  I just don’t have the time to keep up with running series that may or may not turn out to be any good.  Sorry about that.  But if you want to follow bloggers who write great beat-by-beat reviews of currently airing shows and/or weekly review posts, check out Irina at I drink and watch anime, Cactus Matt at Anime QandA, Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews, and Jiraiyan at Otaku Orbit.

Now for the good news.  I’ve said for years that I need to learn Japanese, this language that’s in so much of the media I consume in some form or another.  Well, I’m doing it.  I recently learned that I can make a lot more in my current field if I qualify as fluent in Japanese, in part because so few American attorneys (or Americans in general, I guess) know the language.  And of course, if I learn to read Japanese fluently, I can play Japanese games without having to wait forever for ports or worry that we won’t even get a port.  I’ll also be able to read the text in all these god damn artbooks I own that aren’t translated.  I can be a king among weebs, most of whom don’t seem to know Japanese probably because it’s so damn different from English or their own native languages.

I might also be doing it to understand all those kanji-based jokes I’ve seen

Yeah, learning Japanese is a big project.  Thankfully, I already have some basic knowledge: I know my hiragana and katakana, about a hundred kanji, and some very basic vocabulary and grammar.  It will still take a hell of a long time, but I think of it this way: if I’d started studying Japanese the day I started this blog, I probably would have been fluent three years ago. Even the difference from English seems like more of an advantage than a disadvantage to me.  Over the years I’ve taken Spanish and German, and while I’ve kept bits of those languages, for all the classes I took in school I’m nowhere near fluent or even conversational.  I think part of the reason I had issues with those was that my brain didn’t easily separate them from English — after all, English is a Germanic language with Romance elements in it, and so it has some basic similarities with Spanish and a whole lot with German.  Japanese, however, is such an entirely different language system that my brain says “hey, this is different!” making it easier to set aside in its own compartment if that makes any sense.

So fuck it — I’m going for it.  I suppose this is what I’m doing now instead of watching currently airing anime, but I’m willing to make that change to learn the language.  However, I’ll still be posting here on a regular basis, so don’t worry about that.  The deep reads posts and the occasional reviews will still be coming along with whatever angry rants and caffeine-fueled late night legal analysis I happen to think up.  In fact, I might try to find a way to incorporate my Japanese-learning odyssey into the blog, especially if anyone’s interested in taking the plunge and learning along with me.