Drowning in fiction and fantasy

Fair warning, a lot of personal stuff here. I try to separate this out from the regular fare. I even considered not posting this since I wrote it during one of my low points, which seem to come in regular patterns. But then I didn’t write anything in this that I think is untrue or dishonest. Anyway, don’t hesitate to skip it if you’re sick of my shit, because you won’t be missing anything important.

A few weeks ago at the time of writing, journalist Tae Kim at Bloomberg posted an article titled “Video Game Industry Struggles to Shake Sexist Attitudes”. In this piece, Kim lauds Sony for pushing what he sees as a positive depiction of a female game protagonist in Aloy, the lead and player character of Horizon Zero Dawn and its upcoming sequel Horizon Forbidden West. Kim contrasts Aloy with Bayonetta, Lara Croft, and characters in Genshin Impact (whose names I don’t know because I haven’t played it — I’ve had enough of gacha for one lifetime) criticizing the latter depictions for being overly sexualized. He also criticizes the industry for continuing to ignore women’s voices and for the bad practices (to put it far too mildly) of some leading developers, most notably Activision-Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Riot Games.

Mr. Kim’s article caused a minor shitstorm on Twitter, one that a lot of us in the game blogging sphere got swept up in, myself included. He was dogpiled for his article, a dogpile I joined in, mainly for his takes on Bayonetta and other examples of games that caused him to “cringe” and that he felt he couldn’t play in front of family and friends. I believe most of us stuck to criticizing this particular attack, though I and others also complained about game journalists in general and how they approach this matter — and I’ve done that here too, so it’s nothing new for me.

However, some others took issue with all this criticism, and I had a few interesting discussions that day with people with differing opinions. So I decided to write something on the matter. I wrote out a rough draft, in fact, but I’ve since deleted it.

There are two reasons behind this decision. The first is pretty simple: I’ve already written about my thoughts on the matter of sexual depictions in games and other media several times, from both legal and moral angles — you can find all those posts in the pretentiously titled “Commentaries” tab above. Admittedly I haven’t taken on a feminist perspective in any of them, but my only comment on that is that I don’t really have any problem with the depiction of Aloy in Horizon and feel that there’s plenty of room in this massive industry for all sorts of depictions and art styles, whether of female or male or any other variety of character. I just prefer anime-influenced styles that some people take issue with for sometimes being sexualized — for examples I’ve praised that occasionally get criticized for similar reasons, see the work of Nan Yaegashi (Senran Kagura) and Sayori (Nekopara). I’ve also talked up a couple of artbooks full of ecchi art featuring almost entirely women, and I follow plenty of such artists on Twitter because I like their work. But that’s a personal preference that I don’t think affects my stance in this case.

The second reason is more complicated, and it’s also the real reason I’m writing this post instead. As far as I can tell, Kim’s position is that games with art styles and character designs such as those found in Bayonetta and the other games he brought up should be discouraged and the type found in Horizon Zero Dawn and similar games encouraged. I’ve said before, and I continue to say, that all art must be open to criticism. However, Kim’s argument seems to go beyond criticism for the purpose of expressing what he likes and dislikes (which is how I believe I use it) and into criticism for the purpose of pushing a change in artistic norms.

I understand that the argument supporting Kim’s position for this change is directed at a perceived social problem — the problem of how women are perceived in games and in media in general. And the simple fact is that I’m not well-suited to write about purely social problems. I can write pretty well about legal problems because law is my profession, and I can write about political and historical questions because I’ve always had an interest in those subjects and have studied them. And undoubtedly social questions are mixed up with legal, political, and historical ones.

But I can’t write very well about purely social issues because I’m pretty far removed from society, or at least as far removed as possible while still being attached enough to it to live a more or less civilized life. That removal started when I was still young, and I dealt with it largely by burying myself in books and video games. After high school things got a bit better, and I managed to have something like a social life, along with extremely poorly matched and conducted relationships each of which ended in a complete wreck. But for as long as I can remember, up until today, I’ve always felt like a misfit. I can get along well enough now, and I take part in society just as much as I think I have to for the sake of my professional life, but my personal life is undoubtedly a mess. Unrelated to all that, I now have to live in a way I dislike, carrying out family obligations that I had no part in creating (short of being born, which I certainly had no say in) but that I have a duty to carry out anyway.1

I used to despair over all this, but you can only care so much before you lose that ability. I went numb more or less after finishing at law school, which was a good time to do so considering both the change for the worse in the political culture in the US and the hellfire and bullshit most newly minted lawyers have to go through.

After saying all this, I realize now that I’d be ridiculous to even try to convince anyone else of my way of thinking about a purely social issue. I’m not a role model; just the opposite: an example of how not to live. The only success I’ve had in life so far has been professional, and that success came almost entirely by accident and after a long series of stumbles caused in part by my addiction to alcohol, and which drove that addiction that I was only able to truly get free of in the last couple of years. The fact that I’m even still here is perhaps some kind of miracle, and I should be thankful for it.

A more reasonable person probably would be thankful and would do their best to be an active member of society with a positive impact. I certainly don’t want to have a negative impact on society, and I’d like to use my skills to help those in need with pro bono work once I have a freer hand. But if I magically came into massive wealth, after making sure my immediate and extended family was enriched and giving to charity enough to satisfy my conscience, I’d use it to isolate myself as far as possible from society, probably by building some kind of fortress. Maybe on an island in the South Atlantic, one of those really remote ones.

It’s probably more realistic for me to hope that I’ll be able to escape someday, at least for a few hours at a time, into some sort of hypothetical full-dive VR world where I can live out my fantasies well away from the irritations of real life. This possibility has been talked about a lot lately, even if only because of Facebook’s extremely shitty-looking Meta setup. But it’s still a possibility worth talking about, assuming the technology is feasible in the form I’m thinking of, and as long as it’s provided by a service more trustworthy than Facebook — which is to say trustworthy in the slightest.

So you see what sort of person I am. I don’t think I’ve ever made much secret of any of these feelings, but they seemed relevant to write about more fully here. You might say all of the above makes me a monstrous cynic, which I honestly don’t want to be, but you may be right about that anyway. You might also say that I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face in thinking and acting this way, which may also be true. Or you might say I’m being selfish in my desire for near-total escape from life, and I’d completely agree with you about that.

But I’ve come to an age now where I don’t think I can change anymore. Over two years of sobriety has certainly helped me out, but mostly only with regard to my physical health, which is shockingly somehow still pretty good — my liver was sturdier than I thought, or maybe it’s spent the last two years repairing itself, and thank God that either or both are true. Otherwise I’m still just as bitter and depressive as I ever was, and I still have the same desire for escape as I ever did. It even seems to me that my mental and emotional health may be getting worse, though nearly two years of COVID isolation may also have to do with that.

Either way, I’m done writing about such issues unless something specific comes up, probably with legal significance, that I can actually address. My stance on art and its potential effects on society has been and will always be that people should be able to freely access and enjoy whatever they wish, of course with appropriate age restrictions in place, and assuming nobody is being harmed in the creation or enjoyment of said art. That said, I do agree that it would be good if positive depictions of sex, relationships, and gender roles in general are advanced by developers and publishers. Quite a lot of depictions that people like Mr. Kim look down on (like Bayonetta for example) I see as positive myself, but we’ll never agree on that point, so there’s no point in talking about those any further.

But as far as supposed negative indirect influences go, to be blunt, I don’t give a damn about them. It’s far too easy to draw any connection you like between some bad act and the artist or work that supposedly drove it. Without specific evidence linking scantily-clad women in video games to sexism in real life, I’m inclined to treat that claim in the same way as the also unproven but constantly cited theory that violent video games contribute to violence in real life. There’s clearly a problem with sexism among some game developers as we’ve seen — perhaps Activision is just the most obvious and outrageous case. And there are absolutely sexist elements among gamers as a whole. Both of these need addressing. But I don’t believe a cause-and-effect pattern between racy female character designs and outfits2 and real-life sexism has been established. As I’ve seen it, the claim is always made without support, as though it’s self-evident. I don’t believe it is. I know people I very much respect who I disagree with on this point, and there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between us.

But then, again, my opinion on this issue might not be worth considering for the reasons I’ve set out above. At this point, I only want to be left alone to drown in the kind of fiction that can nearly transport me out of reality, at least for a while, while the rest of the world goes to hell as it is currently doing. That’s probably reason enough to ignore my opinions on purely social matters, given my warped view of society and my self-destructive tendencies.

Anyway, sorry for the mess yet again. My next post will have less of a “manifesto written in a log cabin” quality to it, I hope. It just seems to me based on my experience that hard work, honesty, and even good luck aren’t enough to live a decent life — you also need at least a somewhat positive attitude, which I obviously don’t have and can’t seem to find.

This is somewhat related to one of the next anime series I’ll be writing about, so you can look forward to that. How’s that for a segue? Until next time.

 

1 To be clear, it’s completely possible to appreciate these kinds of games with lewd elements and to also be socially well-adjusted. The fact that I’m not socially well-adjusted is unrelated to my enjoyment of those specific games, though I think it is related to my plunging into games and other media in general as a form of escape.

2 This is also assuming that every instance of sexualization in a game is bad, which I obviously don’t believe. It certainly can be bad depending on how it’s handled, but as always, context has to be considered. But I’ve written about some aspects of the issue here and here, and I don’t think I have anything to add to those posts unless anyone feels like attacking my arguments in them. Despite what I wrote above, I’m happy to deliver a rebuttal in that case, but no more than that.

Listening/reading log #26 (December 2021)

Sorry for the late post again; work has been drowning me, but every time this kind of rush happens it gets easier to deal with. Maybe this is part of being a “responsible adult” like I refused to be for most of my 20s.

Anyway, how about that omicron or whatever. It’s getting tiring, isn’t it? Everyone’s already talked about how 2021 was more or less a replay of 2020, and between the virus and the first anniversary of what might have been a massive political disaster in my country that people here are now constantly on edge about (and climate change and nukes of course) the mood still feels apocalyptic. I unintentionally saw the last five minutes of the Netflix production Don’t Look Up and decided I didn’t need to see the rest, partly because something about the general tone and feel of that ending got under my skin, but also because I don’t feel like watching a movie about the end of the world even if raising awareness of our problems was the whole point of it. That’s a worthy goal, sure, but my awareness was raised well enough already.

On to the usual business, sorry. Starting with the music, two classic 60s albums this time:

Odessey and Oracle (The Zombies, 1968)

Highlights: Care of Cell 44, A Rose for Emily, Time of the Season

Damn, that misspelling in the title really gets on my nerves. I want to call it Odyssey and Oracle, but that’s not its title, and you don’t get to just correct mistakes like that. To be fair to the Zombies, the spelling of the word is a bit weird, but couldn’t they have looked it up first? Nobody had a dictionary in the studio to spellcheck?

But once I get beyond my obsession over proper spelling, it’s okay, because Odessey is a fine album. The Zombies were a British group that spent the 60s making pop-rock music with a big emphasis on vocals and keyboards, both piano and organ. The big hit was “Time of the Season”, which is one of those very classic-sounding late 60s songs you’ve definitely heard on oldies radio if you’re old enough to even remember that being a thing. It creates that trippy atmosphere perfectly, and the song is broken up by some cool extended organ solos. I’m a big fan of it even if the lyrics are a bit weird (especially that famous “what’s your name / who’s your daddy / is he rich like me?” What are you up to, guys?)

But there are other notable songs on Odessey, like the extremely depressing “A Rose for Emily” that has a nice upbeat sound to go along with the lyrics about crushing loneliness. And the extra upbeat “Care of Cell 44”, so damn upbeat that I’ve heard the first several bars in commercials — though of course they always cut the song off before you realize it’s about a guy waiting for his lady to get out of prison. And while it’s not quite up there with the other I mentioned, I also like This Will Be Our Year. Will this be our year finally? Let’s hope.

Before I finish with Odessey, though, I should note that I’ve covered one of the band members before: Rod Argent, who would start his own band called Argent after the Zombies broke up the year this album came out. Apparently Odessey as a whole was a flop at the time, which I’m sure didn’t help. Too bad, though like quite a few other deserving works it was later rediscovered, which is something to be thankful for.

Let It Bleed (The Rolling Stones, 1969)

Highlights: All of it

Okay, so maybe I’m being lazy this post. But I’ve written 25 of these already, covering about 60 or 70 albums I think, and yet until now I haven’t brought up the Rolling Stones, who are way more than deserving of at least one mention.

It’s hard to say which of the Stones’ classic albums is my favorite. There are six or seven probably that could try for that spot, musically speaking at least (more on that below) but Let it Bleed is certainly one of the highest on my list. The Stones made a lot of excellent music throughout the 60s and 70s, and though they fell off pretty badly in the 80s, they’ve been somehow active all the way up until now. Quite literally; you can see them on tour this year, though I’m not sure how advisable that would be with COVID still going. I guess Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in particular have survived so much that they’re not too worried about a pesky virus at this point.

But going back 53 years to Let It Bleed — it’s a bit hard to even bring up highlights, because I like pretty much every song on the album a lot, starting with the opening gospel-inspired Gimme Shelter and ending with the choral-inspired You Can’t Always Get What You Want. There’s a lot of country music inspiration here as well carried over from the previous year’s Beggars Banquet — see Love in Vain and Country Honk, the latter of which is better known in its less country and more rock-sounding form as a single, Honky Tonk Women. And if you’re more about blues, see Midnight Rambler. Though the Stones were from London, they got these mostly American styles down very well, though it’s also worth going back to hear the sources of their inspiration.

Maybe the real reason I chose to feature Let It Bleed instead of a different Stones album is that it means I don’t have to talk about songs that are musically great, despite their extremely uncomfortable lyrical subject (like say “Under My Thumb” on Aftermath, or “Brown Sugar” on Sticky Fingers, or “Stray Cat Blues” on Beggars Banquet — these guys would have been immediately canceled today for any one of these songs and might have had the cops called on them for the last one.) But I leave that for people who make a living off of writing about music. I don’t, so I don’t have to address this material myself, which is nice. I can at least say that Let It Bleed is a must, especially for fans of 70s hard rock, because 60s Stones is where those guys got a lot of their own inspiration from.

I’ll be a little more current with the music next post probably. I just wish people wouldn’t dismiss the lot of it as “dad rock” as I’ve heard it called — the great stuff from the era holds up and shouldn’t be thrown out as dated (though there certainly is plenty of dated music from that classic late 60s/early 70s period as well.) Or maybe “dad rock” refers to later guys like Journey and Boston now. Or hell, maybe at this point it’s Radiohead and Nirvana. I don’t have much of a point of reference myself; my childhood music was the late 90s/early 00s technically but I’m not really a big fan of that period in popular music, or not when compared to the late 60s through the early 80s and the early 90s anyway.

Now on to the featured posts this month:

Mieruko-chan (Anteiku Anime Reviews) — Mieruko-chan is a series I’d planned to watch this season, except I don’t feel like paying for more than one anime streaming service, so I couldn’t. But I have it on my list, because it seems like an interesting one. Have you wondered what your life would be like if you were the only one who could see all sorts of terrifying spirits and monsters around you? Read Will’s review for more on this comedy/horror anime.

Tawawa on Monday 2: An Anime Short Review and Reflection (The Infinite Zenith) — An exceedingly in-depth review of the second season of anime short series Tawawa on Monday. Be sure to check out Zenith’s post on it, especially if you’re a fan of exceedingly well-endowed anime girls. Maybe I should pick it up myself…

The Best Stories in Wildermyth Are Told by You (Frostilyte Writes) — Wildermyth looks like one of the most interesting games released in 2021, at least if Frostilyte’s take on it here is any indication. I won’t try to describe the game here since Frostilyte has already done a great job of it on his blog, so please check out his own look at the game there. Wildermyth is another one to add to my increasingly long list.

Shin Megami Tensei V is a Great Return to the Series (The Gamer With Glasses) — I’ve read both positive and negative opinions of the much-anticipated SMT V, but this review at The Gamer With Glasses gives me some hope that the negatives are blown a bit out of proportion (or resulted from specific expectations that were disappointed, which is always the case with these kinds of long-awaited releases.) I still don’t have a damn Switch to play it myself, but I’m hoping my tax refund this year is large enough to justify the purchase finally. Just waiting for that W2 and hoping for the best.

The Return of the Obra Dinn (Nintendobound) — And Matt brings us a review of still another game that I know I have to play at some point. I’ve heard how unique and engrossing The Return of the Obra Dinn is, and Matt’s post on the game gives me one more reason to look forward to it whenever I get around to picking it up.

New Year’s Is for Lovers (I drink and watch anime) — Irina says at the beginning of this post that she’s not much of a romantic. I’m not either, as you might know, but I can still appreciate her presentation of her favorite anime couple from Durarara!! which I shamefully haven’t watched or read. Though now I’m thinking about what it would be like to date someone without a head. I won’t rule out a dullahan, anyway — I’m not that narrowminded (or I’ve just read and played enough weird fantasy to prepare me for that extremely remote possibility.)

Urobuchi December: Fate/Zero (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews dedicated the last month to the works of Gen Urobuchi. A worthy subject — Urobuchi has come up with some of the most creative and innovative stories in anime and visual novel form, including Madoka Magica and Saya no Uta. In this post, Scott takes a look at his Fate/stay night prequel Fate/Zero, an anime that some consider to be even better than the original work.

One Hour Photo (2002): One of the Finest Works of Cinema I’ve Ever Seen – Film Review (BiblioNyan) — I don’t feature live-action film reviews here too often, but here’s one that I’ve actually seen, though only when it was released 20 years ago. BiblioNyan provides insightful comments on the film One Hour Photo, in which Robin Williams showed he could act just as effectively in a tense dramatic thriller about murder as in a comedy.

Senri Kawaguchi: The Mighty Jazz and Fusion Drummer (Professional Moron) — From Mr. Wapojif, a look at young up and coming Japanese jazz/fusion drummer Senri Kawaguchi. I’ve been getting into Japanese fusion, but mostly the 70s and early 80s work — maybe it’s time to get more modern and see what Kawaguchi and her colleagues have to offer. I need to hear what the “Princess of Many Strokes” as she’s called is capable of.

And finally, thanks to Aether for the excellent answers to the questions I imposed on him a while back with the Let’s Blog Award (and also his answers to Red Metal and Alex of Alex’s Review Corner — Aether did a lot of answering questions this month.) If you want more insight into the man and the legend in his own words, you can’t do better than reading these posts.

It’s a somewhat shorter post than usual this month, but since I’ve been flooded with work and personal concerns lately, I’ve been a bit less engaged than I’d like. I also have pending anime series I’m watching that I feel I have to finish before reading anyone else’s takes on them. I don’t usually make resolutions because I don’t generally believe in all that new year new you or whatever stuff, but I have resolved to finish certain series and at least one game (and probably two) before the end of January. I have a few weeks, so I should be able to keep those. Until next time, all the best.

Live-action film retrospective (2021)

Before I continue with the anime and games, as well as the usual end-of-month post, I have one more piece of old business from last year to complete: the live-action film retrospective. I did it last year, and I’ve seen a few more live-action movies since then (well sort of live-action in one case; you’ll see at the end) so I guess this annual post is a tradition now. These aren’t movies that were released this year, just movies that I’ve seen this year — although one was released just a few months ago, so at least I’m staying one-third current in this post. In no particular order:

Dune (Denis Villeneuve, 2021)

I went into Dune about as blind as anyone could — I’d never read the novel or seen the 80s David Lynch adaptation, the one everyone seems to hate. All I knew was that there was something called spice, and the spice must flow for some reason, and something about people with blue eyes. All that said, I was able to easily follow the story watching this new adaptation without any of that prior knowledge, which I appreciated. The novel is famously dense and full of background and lore, but the movie distills all that into something that’s enjoyable and understandable (not that the novel isn’t enjoyable — I’ve just started the audiobook, and I like it, but it sure isn’t a casual read/listen.)

Unfortunately, thanks to the constant threat of COVID, I didn’t get out to see Dune in the theater as it was probably intended to be watched, given just how impressive it looks, but I still enjoyed it enough on my relatively small TV. The acting is also great, with Oscar Isaac even making a return from my live-action post last year (he was the billionaire tech executive in Ex Machina, and after that and the Star Wars prequels I was happy to see him in something I liked for a change.) It was also fun to see a guy as slight as Timothée Chalamet playing the protagonist Paul Atreides and beating the shit out of way bigger guys than him, though that also seems to suit the character.

I’m just hoping Dune doesn’t turn out to be the usual “chosen one saves the universe” kind of story, but my understanding from what little I know about the novel series is that it isn’t that at all, despite how this film ends. This is only the first part of two — not sure why the Part One that flashes on screen in the beginning isn’t more prominent, because just calling it “Dune” is a bit confusing. But Mr. Villeneuve did a great job with it, and I’m looking forward to the second part to see where and how Paul and his friends end up. Though I’ll probably learn about that once get through the source material soon, considering how much time I’ll be spending in the damn car. Fucking commutes.

1984 (Michael Radford, 1984)

Now for a film based on a novel I have read. Since people won’t shut up about how our world is literally 1984 now (kind of understandable considering there’s a new wave of book-banning and possibly burning in our future) this is a timely one to watch, though you could argue that’s been true for a long time — really since Orwell wrote the novel in the 40s.

But I’d recommend reading the novel over watching this film if you’re only going to do one. Not that this film is bad at all — I guess someone had to put out a film version of 1984 in 1984 after all, and this is probably about as good as an adaptation of the novel could be, with excellent actors including John Hurt as protagonist Winston Smith and Richard Burton as O’Brien. I also like how well the film gets the horrible, sickening feel of the dystopian world of Airstrip One down, depicting the London of 1984 as it’s described in the book, impoverished and miserable and with surveillance screens everywhere for the Thought Police to watch and listen through at any time.

The problem with the film 1984 is that it loses out on a lot of context. Considering just how much of the novel is told through Winston’s inner monologue, that probably couldn’t be avoided, so I wouldn’t blame the director or anyone else for it. Still, if you haven’t read the novel first, you might end up missing out on a lot. I’d recommend watching the movie after reading the source material, though, because despite my criticism, I think it is worth seeing just for how well put-together it is. You’d better just be in a lousy mood already before watching it, because it’s naturally dank and miserable and it might ruin your day. But then that’s partly the point.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Jeff Fowler, 2020)

And ending with a wacky film after two that are deadly serious. Yeah, I finally watched the Sonic movie, and my opinion isn’t that different from the general consensus: it’s a lot better than anyone could have possibly expected a live-action adaptation of a video game movie to be. People said the same about that Detective Pikachu movie that came out a bit before this one, but I think the quality of this movie was more of a shock considering the missteps Sega’s taken with Sonic in general over the last two decades, as well as Sonic’s original horrific-looking nightmare demon model that the studio reworked after the public backlash and mockery it got.

Even aside from that comparison, I think Sonic was a pretty good take on the franchise. I like that it does its own thing, creating an entirely new backstory for Sonic as an alien who jumps through a ring to a small town somewhere in the US, and for Dr. Robotnik aka Eggman as an eccentric genius inventor hired by the government to track him down (though it is a bit weird to see a thin Robotnik — but Jim Carrey does a good job hamming it up in just the way Robotnik/Eggman has done in a bunch of Sonic games and shows, so no problems there.) The setup of Sonic befriending/going on a road trip/flight from the law with a well-meaning cop was also nice, if also a little weird. I guess Tails will have to earn his “Sonic’s best friend” spot in the sequel, because in the movie universe it’s occupied by James Marsden’s character right now.

So I thought Sonic the Hedgehog was pretty fun. Good for the kids, probably, but there’s plenty for fans of the series to enjoy as well (which I guess I’d count myself as, even if I kind of fell out of it after Sonic Adventure 2.) Sonic is appropriately scampish without being annoying, and the movie is aware enough of its own goofiness to work. I liked it, and I’m interested to see how Tails and Knuckles turn out in the next movie coming out in just a few months.

And that’s it for the live-action stuff — I’ll be returning to the anime after the end-of-month post coming up next. Happy new year, and let’s hope we actually do see a change for the better in 2022.

A review of The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!

Continuing my look at a few of the recently ended summer/fall 2021 anime, here’s a complete review of the 20-episode series The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, or Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai!. I probably won’t have much more to write about it than I already wrote in my first impressions post, but considering how fucking tired I am from work and also from life in general (not much of a Christmas break for me, though I could have easily gotten one — have to bill those hours and get money though) that might be for the best. At the very least, it’s appropriate that I feel this way right now, since it makes the main character feel relatable in at least one way.

Jahy-sama, as I’ll be calling it from now on, is the story of title character and protagonist Jahy, a demon lady who was thrown into modern-day Japan after her native land, the Dark Realm, was destroyed by a magical girl who blasted the mana crystal powering it into pieces. Jahy, as the second-in-command of the Dark Realm and the right hand of the mysterious and powerful Dark Lord, has naturally taken it upon herself to restore and return to their realm by collecting the shards of the shattered mana crystal that have flown all over her new home of unnamed Japanese city.

Unfortunately, Jahy’s situation is complicated. First, because she’s lost almost all her magical power, having been left with merely a small piece of the mana shard to use, and second because along with this loss of power, she’s taken the form of a mere kid. Jahy is pissed beyond belief at her circumstances, but without her magic and without any contacts in this new world, she’s forced to camp out by a river and scrape around for any food and supplies she can get.

But then she’s discovered and taken in by a pair of sisters. The elder sister (known only as tenchou or boss/manager) just happens to own and manage a pub, while the younger, Ryou, is the landlord of a shitty slum apartment, so the two set Jahy up with both living quarters and a job as a waitress. Luckily, Jahy can use what little magical power she has left to transform back into her fully adult-looking form for at least part of each day, allowing her to work at the pub without raising concerns from the police or child welfare services.

Tenchou is genuinely the nicest fucking person on the planet

Jahy is understandably upset at being downgraded from second-in-command of the Dark Realm to a waitress living in a single-room apartment, but she’s motivated by her goal to restore her former home and to revive her boss, the Dark Lord, by using her built-in sense of magic radar to find pieces of the mana crystal Knuckles in Sonic Adventure-style. But along the way, will Jahy make friends and learn the value of true companionship?

Well, spoilers: the answer is yes. Jahy-sama, despite having plenty of demonic characters with destructive magical powers, is pretty much a lighthearted slice-of-life comedy. While Jahy is quite serious about finding those mana crystals and restoring the Dark Realm, she ends up constantly sidetracked by friends and enemies both old and new, starting with her former demon subordinate and big-time masochist Druz, who also happens to be looking for the mana crystals and doing a far better job of finding them (all while profusely apologizing for not doing a better job while begging Jahy to insult/punish her. Druz is a bit weird.)

Good reaction screenshot

Further complicating her situation, Jahy feels the need to conceal her difficulties from Druz and to try to maintain her former dignity, all while working as a waitress and living in a crap apartment. A lot of the comedy in Jahy-sama comes from seeing this haughty demon lady reduced to living the life of a minimum-wage worker, learning to scrape by like a lot of us do or have at some point in our lives. These are the relatable parts, at least to me — thankfully I don’t quite have to live like this anymore, but I know too well the crushing pressure and anxiety of having to count your money carefully, thinking about how long your next paycheck can last and how much you’ll have to tighten that belt you’re wearing. In Jahy-sama it’s all played for comedy, but it is still relatable.

I’m not here anymore, but I remember this pain. At least we always had those Cup Noodles around to eat.

I mentioned in my first impressions post that the tone and feel of Jahy-sama reminded me a lot of the Disgaea games I’ve played, and I feel that now even more having finished the show. Partly because they both prominently feature humanoid demon characters with those signature pointy ears — I don’t think he has anything to do with the series, but I can imagine someone like Jahy, Druz, or Saurva coming straight out of Takehito Harada’s sketchbook (though they came out of the original manga author Wakame Konbu’s sketchbook instead.)

But Jahy-sama also has exactly that same sort of goofy, light slapstick humor with a few emotional bits thrown in, as when Jahy realizes she’s actually making friends in the human realm. Disgaea is a little heavier on the dramatic side, but the similarities are strong enough in terms of the story, look, and general feel that I’d feel pretty safe recommending Jahy-sama to big Disgaea fans, or at least to people who are in love with the typical Disgaea style.

It gets super Disgaea-ish at parts, Jahy almost channeling Etna here.

That’s not to say Jahysama is perfect. The most obvious issue with the show is its kind of cheap-looking production. If you’re out for visual spectacle, you won’t get it here (you might instead get it in one of the other summer/fall anime series I’ll be writing about later, so you can look forward to those posts I hope.)

This wasn’t a problem for me, though. I don’t think you need a huge budget and a lot of spectacle for a series like this. I’d barely seen anything before from Silver Link, the studio that produced Jahy-sama, so I didn’t have set expectations going in anyway. But even if I had, the show kept me more than entertained enough that I could overlook the shortcuts they seem to have taken. And those complaints absolutely don’t extend to the voice acting, which is excellent. They’re all good, but Kana Hanazawa did an especially amazing job as Druz. Though I hope she got a break to rest after all the dramatic, pitiful screaming that character did.

Hearing Hanazawa scream her lungs out is more than enough reason to watch this show

The other, potentially more serious problem some viewers might have with Jahy-sama is its goofy, over-the-top vibe. The show is almost surreal in how easily its human characters accept Jahy’s strange situation, the magic of the mana crystals, and all the rest of this demonic dark lord stuff as if it’s no big deal. I can also see the antics of some of these characters getting on people’s nerves. I’m probably a huge hypocrite for being all right with an obsessive character like Druz, for example, while finding similar characters in other series a little grating.

Going back to the Disgaea comparisons, I gave a similar warning to readers looking to get into that game series, and that same warning applies here. If you find this kind of wacky slapsticky humor annoying, you’ll probably be annoyed by Jahy-sama as a whole, especially since there’s no game element to distract you from the story this time around. But again, none of this is a problem for me, since I generally like these kinds of weirdo near-surreal comedies. It might have also made a difference that I watched and kept more or less current with Jahy-sama as it aired — the show might start to feel too samey if you just binge it like a lot of people do at the end of a season.

That said, Jahy-sama is the feel-good anime of the year, or whatever it is people say

That’s all I have to say about Jahy-sama. It’s not much to say, especially about a 20-episode series, but hell, it’s just a goofy slice-of-life comedy with a bit of plot. Not terribly deep, but then that worked perfectly for me. The Jahy-sama anime is an adaptation of a still-running manga that I’ve never read, so maybe it’s better to read than to watch — it’s being officially translated into English and published in physical form, so that might be something to check out if you’re into manga.

Vocaloid songs you should hear

Before the year ends. Or after. Whenever you can get to them, you should listen to these, some of my favorites using the Vocaloid voice synthesizer software.

I don’t really know if anyone who reads this weeb-centered blog needs a primer on what Vocaloid is. But in case you do, here’s a rough start. Vocaloid is a line of music creation software focusing on synthesized vocals that was first released in 2004 for use by both amateur and professional composers. However, it only started becoming what it is today when its second release came out in 2007. Unlike the first, Vocaloid 2 came along with a face to fit its new voice: Hatsune Miku, an android girl character built specifically for singing.

Miku has since become insanely popular both for her voice and her design, and apparently picking up on the fact that she was probably most of the reason for Vocaloid’s success at that point, publisher Yamaha and developer Crypton Future Media put out several more “virtual singers” to join her with their own unique voices, like the more mature-sounding Megurine Luka and the Kagamine twins Rin and Len.

You can find a load of all sorts of media surrounding Miku and her friends now, almost all of it fan-created. They’ve even gone on tour around the world in hologram form several times. But of course, music is at the core of the Vocaloid craze, and a lot of great music was and still is produced with the software, largely by indie composers. The following are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order.

6) “Donut Hole” – Hachi

After going on and on about Miku, the first song I’m posting isn’t one of hers but rather one of Gumi’s. From what I can tell she was developed by another company as a kind of spinoff Vocaloid, but Gumi has become pretty popular in her own right, and “Donut Hole” is one of her best-known songs. Not much to say about this one other than that it’s catchy and I like it. And the meaning of the lyrics is apparently pretty vague, which has given plenty of room for interpretation — and fans have gone ahead and done a lot of that.

I’m not into Vocaloid enough to care about popular fan theories about the lyrics of certain songs, but I know “Donut Hole” isn’t the only song they theorize about. I just like the music, that’s all.

5) “Online Game Addicts Sprechchor” – Satsuki ga Tenkomori

Here’s a song with a meaning that’s not vague at all — “Online Game Addicts Sprechchor” is about online game addicts. Specifically those addicted to MMOs, and especially specifically to Phantasy Star Online 2At least that’s the case in the Vocaloid rhythm game Project Diva Future Tone, where I found it first, since the video that comes along with it seen above is full of references to the MMO. Maybe the real reason was that Sega, who has a license from Crypton to develop Vocaloid games, also wanted to shill their own online game PSO2. Weird reasoning if the message of the song is “go outside”, but I can’t exactly tell.

4) “News 39” – Mitchie M

Okay, I admit that I’m one of those “the world is fucked and we’re all doomed” types, though you absolutely don’t need me to admit that if you’re a regular reader here. Still, I appreciate what this song is trying to do. “News 39″* casts Miku as a news anchor on a program that focuses on positive news, I guess to try to get people’s spirits up. Worked better in 2015 when the song was released, but maybe we need this song now more than ever, if only to distract us from that impending doom bullshit I was just talking about.

More importantly, this is catchy as hell. Mitchie M is one of my favorite Vocaloid composers, and “News 39” is one of my favorites by him. Just try to get that chorus out of your head. It’s stuck there for a week now. You’re welcome. (And if you want more Mitchie M, see also Freely Tomorrow and Viva Happy. His music is apparently all just this positive, which is maybe good medicine for someone as negative as I am.)

3) “Roki”  – mikitoP

Anyone who knows Vocaloid music won’t be shocked by my selections here I guess, because most of these composers are big names. But what the hell, they do good work, and “Roki” is another excellent song, this time by composer mikitoP. This time I really have no idea what the song is about, but who cares when it’s both this memorable and energetic. And if you like the original, be sure to check out a few covers, like this English-language rap take by Mori Calliope (yeah, getting my VTuber mention in here again, but she’s also a pretty serious musical performer in her own right, at least if her output and reception both as Mori and otherwise is any indication. Though I admittedly know fuck all about the rap genre or any of its sub-genres.)

2) “World’s End Dancehall” – wowaka

Another excellent song from another excellent composer. “World’s End Dancehall” is a sort of rivalry duet song battle between Miku and her Vocaloid colleague Luka, at least judging by the animation that plays during the track in Project Diva Future Tone where I discovered it. Very fast, almost frantic (with some insanely speedy singing in parts from Miku and Luka that barely any human could replicate.) Maybe that’s part of their musical battle?

Whatever this song is about, wowaka did a great job with it. He’s sadly no longer around, having died in 2019 at a young age, but he left behind some great songs like this one and Unhappy Refrain, which I could just as easily have featured here.

1) “Shoujo Rei” – mikitoP

And finally, here’s another mikitoP song, because I couldn’t pick just one of his to feature. “Shoujo Rei” is also very different in sound and tone from “Roki”; the guy can certainly mix up his styles, and all while maintaining a high quality of work. I love the energy in “Shoujo Rei” (again, I keep saying that I like these songs’ energy, but I really do, not sure how else to put it) but it also has a bit of a sad, nostalgic feel to me. Though that might be thanks to the subject matter of the song. Somehow it all fits well with the island-ish sort of sound with that steel drum and Hawaiian guitar in the background.

“Shoujo Rei” is so good in my opinion that it actually pulls off that old “dramatic key shift” trick — hear the part starting at 3:23. That full step up at the intended climax of the song is horribly overused in pop music, usually when the composer wants to make the listener feel chills or cry or whatever. Very often it doesn’t work, I think because a song that sounds stale and expresses itself in a cheap way only falls flat all the harder when it tries to puff itself up with this trick, one that’s already overused as it is. But it can still be effective when the song is actually good. Like this one is. (Actually a couple of other songs in this list effectively use the same trick too. It really is just a matter of using it properly, I think.)

Well that was a totally unnecessary tangent, wasn’t it. I guess the point of this post, other than being something to write while I continue stalling out on various other post drafts, was that people should look into Vocaloid music, because a lot of it’s extremely good and worth hearing. This post just scratches the surface, really — my taste in this stuff is embarrassingly basic, probably in part because almost all this music is made in Japan and my Japanese skills still pretty much suck, making it hard to dig the way I’d like.

But that’s fine. Maybe you can jump into that rabbit hole instead. I have enough on my plate right now that I can barely remember where I am and what day it is half the time. In fact, writing about Vocaloid has made me feel old — I first heard about the software in 2007 when it started getting big, almost 15 years ago now. 15 years ago? Three presidential administrations ago. Fuck, I can’t believe that. Guess I’m old now.

While I deal with this recurring approaching middle age/existential crisis I have going on, I’ll try to distract myself by continuing my work and my writing. In the meantime, since I won’t be back before then, have a happy Christmas or whatever other relevant cultural and/or religious holiday/festival you choose to celebrate or not celebrate.

 

* Language note #?: The “39” part fits into Miku’s name, since mi and ku are common readings of the characters for 3 and 9 in Japanese. “39” comes up in quite a few other song titles and references to Miku for that reason.

Anime short triple feature: Piacevole / Miss Bernard said. / Ganbare Douki-chan

The anime short review feature returns, and as a triple feature this time instead of just a double! However, I’m not actually doing more work here, because this time the featured shorts aren’t just half-length but are rather extra-short shorts, with each series consisting of only twelve 3 to 4-minute episodes.

I’ve been curious about these for a while, wondering how their makers manage to get their points across in only a few minutes at a time. Turns out this format is pretty limiting. A lot of these extra-shorts (not sure if there’s a better term for these 5-minutes-or-less-episode series to differentiate them from the longer shorts) also have middling-to-poor scores on the big anime database/grading sites, suggesting that a lot of viewers aren’t satisfied with them.

But fuck those scores, I say — I’ll judge these series for myself. Before I start, I should note that these are all adapted from print works, only one of which I’ve read, so for the most part I’ll be taking these series on their own merits. Starting with:

Piacevole

No, I don’t know what this new annoying black border on the screenshots is about. I’ll try to work that out.

I picked most of these series to watch based on whether I thought I’d enjoy their themes. And Piacevole is about Italian food, and I like Italian food.

But did I like Piacevole? That’s a more complicated question. This series opens with a high school student, Morina, looking for a part-time job. In the course of her search, she discovers Trattoria Festa, a rustic-looking Italian place, and is immediately hired as a waitress there. However, Morina’s time with the absentee owner’s young son Maro, an aspiring chef, and with the rest of the restaurant’s strange/quirky staff inspires her to try cooking herself.

A slow start, but she’s determined

The crew at the trattoria along with a few new characters who show up halfway through are pretty fun, and it was a good time seeing Maro desperately trying to impress Morina, because he’s obviously smitten with her, but while also proudly pretending he doesn’t really care or anything. And aside from the above kind of scuffed-looking Caprese salad, the show makes all this food look nice enough — the usual high standards for food featured in anime.

It’s been so long since I’ve had mussels…

The trouble with Piacevole, and I’m guessing with some of these other types of shorts, is that I’m left wanting more. I’m pretty sure there’s enough here to at least fill half-length episodes — first, because I’ve already seen a series with a similar premise of “new girl starts working at restaurant/café full of weird characters” that pulled off a full-length one-cour season (Blend S, though that one was much less about food and much more about otaku-related stuff like idols, doujinshi, and mobile game addictions.)

And second, because everything in Piacevole runs at triple speed. Every character is talking and speeding around a mile a minute, seemingly to cram as much as possible into each three or four-minute stretch. I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the series, though you could argue it fits the frantic pace of working in a restaurant.

Italian food is serious business

But I thought Piacevole was all right in the end. Italian cooking is an interesting niche for a manga, anyway — I guess it’s considered more of a novelty in Japan than here in the US, where Italian cuisine is pretty common and has been absorbed somewhat into the broader American culture.

I don’t know enough about food or cooking to say, though. I just know that Piacevole made me want some fucking fried eggplant that I don’t know how to prepare myself and can’t easily get, and now I’m annoyed because of it. But that’s not really the show’s fault, is it? In fact, that seems to be the whole point of the show, so if its purpose was to get viewers hungry for Italian food, it probably pulled that off well enough.

Miss Bernard said.

I also like reading, so I also picked up Miss Bernard said., another extra-short series, this one about students talking about literature. But don’t let the above screenshot fool you: the school library remains peaceful for about 15 seconds, until title character Sawako Machida shows up.

I wonder what anime she’s talking about

Sawako, who for some reason insists on calling herself “Miss Bernard” (though nobody else calls her this, and I’m sure there’s a reference here I’m not getting) tries to make like she loves reading, but she’s too lazy to actually read a book. She brags a lot about her literary pursuits, but the other three characters in the series see right through her act and end up pretty much tolerating her presence in the library while still thinking she’s an idiot. But they also all become friends in the end.

Miss Bernard is maybe even faster-paced than Piacevole, and it’s certainly crammed even more fully with text. It’s Literary References: The Anime. I thought I liked reading, but not as much as the people who made this or the source material behind it, because some of these references were over my head. Though a lot of them connect to classic science fiction, which I haven’t read too much of (I haven’t even read Dune. I know, I know.)

Pretty much

There are a few spot-on jokes here about readers who go on about “the book being better” when a movie adaptation comes out, or pretending that they’ve read more than they actually have, or that they’ve even tried to understand the writing of Thomas Pynchon and other purposely difficult authors (I’ll just admit here as well that I’ve never tried to read Pynchon, nor James Joyce outside of a few of his short stories that read pretty normally from what I remember — far more normally than his novels at least from the bits I’ve seen.)

But in general, I didn’t get much out of watching Miss Bernard. Except that I learned Haruki Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, which I guess is interesting, but I can’t do much with that knowledge either. At least the ending was nice.

Ganbare Douki-chan

Good luck with that

And finally for the series I was looking forward to, since I’m reading/viewing the source material. Ganbare Douki-chan is a recently completed adaptation of Yom’s still-running hybrid manga/artbook series of the same name, featuring a lot of nice art of attractive lady office workers pining after the one guy they work with. The main character Douki-chan (again, douki here meaning “co-worker”; none of these characters get actual names) wants to express her feelings to Douki-kun, but she’s too nervous to do so clearly. And Douki-kun is just as dense as your typical anime romantic comedy male lead, which is certainly no help.

Douki-chan’s situation is complicated by her rivals, a flirty and much more forward junior office worker (above) and a business client with a more subtle and seductive approach. Every time Douki-chan works up the nerve to move her relationship with her co-hire forward, one or both of these rivals edge their way in and involve themselves, trying to get Douki-kun’s attention instead much to our protagonist’s frustration.

I know the feeling

Unlike the first two series I covered in this post, Douki-chan thankfully doesn’t move at 200 miles per hour to cram a ton of dialogue into its three to four minutes each — each episode is more like a vignette than a full story, so it can move at a relaxed pace without any trouble. It probably makes a difference that it’s not adapting a manga but rather a series of artworks that just have bits of dialogue and text attached, leaving a lot up to the reader’s imagination.

In that sense, I think this series of shorts is a pretty good adaptation of the original material. I still prefer the books — watching the anime just can’t beat fully taking in Yom’s art, which I felt was a big part of the appeal of the work — but it’s still fun to see it all animated and voiced. (Also, does this count as saying “the book was better”? Guess I really am one of those readers.)

Douki-kun still has that “no face male lead” thing going on here that a lot of VNs also do, which I’m not a big fan of. I know why it’s a thing — makes it easier to self-insert supposedly. But it still creeps me out a bit. Still, it’s a better solution than animating everything from his POV.

So it’s this series alone that gets my full approval. Though just as with the artbooks it’s based on, that’s a qualified recommendation. If you care very much about whether the anime you watch passes the Bechdel test, for example, you obviously shouldn’t come anywhere near this stuff. Ganbare Douki-chan didn’t even take the Bechdel test; it failed to study and then slept through the alarm because it was hung over that morning.

But that’s kind of the point, anyway. You’ll already know whether this series is for you, so if it’s clearly not, best avoid it.

I’m sure Douki-chan will realize her ambitions eventually, but I’m also sure Yom will keep stringing us along for a while.

That’s it for the shorts for now. I’m not sure whether I’ll return to these extra-short series — they’re naturally very quick and easy to watch, but I didn’t get much out of them aside from Douki-chan, which I already figured I’d probably like anyway. The only other one I even have on my watchlist, Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki, looks like it’s all about regional Japanese cultures and dialects focusing on Nagoya, and I’m not even going to pretend I’d understand any of that. Especially not if it’s all presented in this lightning-speed 3/4-minute format.

But there’s plenty more anime to come with the end of the fall season. I actually watched a few series that I plan to write about, so you can look forward to that later this month and/or next month depending on my schedule. Until then!

Talking shop #1: Grammar and style

Today I’m starting a series of posts on a subject I’ve never really brought up here, or at least not in a serious way: writing. As my fellow bloggers know, writing isn’t exactly easy work. A lot of care goes into the process, and though we all have our own approaches and methods, I think the effort we put into our work always comes through in the final result.

It’s enough work, anyway, that we probably wouldn’t be writing at all if we didn’t enjoy it, and that’s especially true considering that most of us don’t make a cent off of our amateur blogs. If I could afford to do so, this is what I’d try to make a living on. However, my obligations and my unfortunate lack of a massive pile of money both force me to work at a different profession.

And while legal work pays the bills, and I do take pride in that work in some sense, I’d be lying if I were to say I love being a lawyer. No, my real love is writing.

Okay, writing and my waifu, fine. (Original Holo by Juu Ayakura, another favorite artist)

But while I love writing, I don’t love following writing rules. I mean that in both the sense of strict English grammatical rules and looser but generally accepted (by English teachers and professors, at least) guidelines on style. Of course, there are a ton of rules I do follow — otherwise my writing would be a jumbled and unreadable mess of characters. So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m not a pedant or a stickler, except when I am. I follow the rules I like and ignore those I don’t.

This attitude is one of the reasons I think I started this blog. When I first logged onto WordPress in 2013 and came up with the dumb name for my site and the dumb first article I posted, I was still doing some freelance copywriting work, mostly for small business and lifestyle/travel sites. Certainly much less than I’d been doing the few years before — I was just starting at law school at the time, and as any 1L can tell you, that first year occupies nearly your entire schedule with reading cases and writing summaries, briefs, and outlines. But I kept working a bit on the side, as much as I could manage.

And that wasn’t much at all, because while copywriting work has some benefits (working from home being the greatest, and this at a time when working from home was not a standard situation as it is now) it also comes with serious annoyances, one of which is the prickly client and/or editor who puts your work through a rigorous grammar check and yells at you for having one comma out of place or for putting a preposition at the end of a sentence.

The life of a copywriter at least half the time

Of course, I understand having high standards for the writers you employ. Even when it came to my fluffiest, least substantial jobs, I would not forgive myself for producing crap. I always wanted the reader to be informed and/or entertained in whatever proportion seemed appropriate for the subject matter. In that sense, I didn’t mind the fact that some editors could be strict — but some of them were strict on those fixed rules of grammar and style guidelines, even when strictly following those rules made no sense at all.

But when wouldn’t it make sense to follow these rules? When you’re writing a piece with a casual tone, and that’s exactly what you’re doing as a copywriter most of the time, at least in my experience. Clients and editors hammer these points into your head — be friendly and conversational, put in a call to action at the end, and for God’s sake cram those SEO keywords in, especially at the top so Google-senpai notices your article enough to get it on page 1 when those keywords are searched.

When it comes to pieces like these, my approach was always to, big fucking surprise, write in a conversational and easy tone. To me, that means being a bit loose with grammar rules. My writing flows better that way, and people honestly, genuinely don’t give a shit if you don’t have your comma placement down — chances are most of your readers won’t even know those rules or remember them from their elementary and middle school English lessons. And in fact, outright breaking a few of the strict rules of grammar can give your writing exactly that conversational tone you’re going for.

But then, every so often, I’d run into someone ready to jump up my ass about my approach, perhaps thinking that my not following every rule in the Chicago Manual of Style or MLA Handbook or whatever reference they wanted me to follow meant I was a lousy writer. In almost every one of these instances, I wouldn’t be able to convince them of my reasoning, and I’d have to go back and hammer my draft into a different, and in my opinion less effective, form.

Typically poor copywriter-editor relations. Which side you think represents which depends on where you stand.

To be sure, I’m not saying students shouldn’t learn said rules — you have to know the rules before you know how and when to break them, after all. And I’ll bet some of those editors would have enough to say about uncooperative, temperamental writers like me anyway. But then, that’s partly why I left that field behind forever (also because the work was extremely uneven — it’s hard as hell to exist as a freelancer in America unless you don’t mind being uninsured for the rest of your life and living in an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, but that’s a different matter.)

No, I’m quite happy to keep writing as an amateur, getting most of my actual stress and headaches from the work I get a regular paycheck for. I’m sure my writing style on this blog would give any editor a fucking heart attack, but thankfully for both me and them, they don’t have to edit my writing here. And truly, absolutely, fuck Chicago style* and double-fuck MLA.** The only style guide I’ve ever read that wasn’t an irritating mess is The Elements of Style by our old friends Strunk & White, and even then, I don’t follow their rules religiously or even close to it, though I do appreciate their more casual approach in providing more tips than set-in-stone rules.

There’s only one “style guide” I pay attention to that much, and it’s not quite a style guide but more a short list of don’ts: George Orwell’s “six rules” in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”. While these six rules are directed at political and journalistic writing, they can easily be applied to other forms, including writing about anime or games or whatever else you like. I’ll admit that I don’t always follow all Orwell’s rules (especially the one about cutting out unnecessary words — I basically agree but am also too lazy to edit all that much.) But my favorite, one I try to always follow, is his final one: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

To me, that’s the real heart of writing for any kind of audience, even if it’s just an audience of one. Style is important, but if the substance is lacking in integrity and genuine sentiment, it may as well not exist. Anyone on Earth can create mere content — that’s simple enough. But the best style employed to create the worst kind of mindless drivel, provocative clickbait, or incendiary hate speech is wasted. There are different kinds of trash, but in the end, trash is trash.

Because I’m trash. Wait, this isn’t how I meant to end the post. Fuck.

I have more to write about writing once I sort my thoughts out, but for now, that’s all I’ve got. I’d like to say I hope I didn’t offend anyone with anything I wrote above, but if any offense was given, it was honestly meant. Especially if you’re an editor who yells at writers for not following the MLA Handbook 9th Edition to the letter.

 

* To be clear again, I mean the style guide, not the city. I’ve never been to Chicago but I’m sure it’s very nice.

** And triple-fuck the Bluebook, but that only applies for law students and law clerks who have to actually cite cases. Even law clerks don’t really use it, or at least I didn’t, since Westlaw and Lexis do all those pinpoint citations for you. Guess I’ve just gotten lazy.

Listening/reading log #25 (November 2021)

Turns out 2021 was a fucked year too. How about that. Just as we get to the end of it, we’re beaten down by yet another virus variant. So thank God Mark Zuckerberg is here to save us with his complete dogshit watered down VR platform! Also, people are buying NFTs. Apparently this is the utopian future we were promised. Is it too late to go back and try all this shit over again?

As you can see, I’m not happy. But that’s usually the case anyway, so it’s okay. And maybe my mood will improve now, since December is one of my favorite months thanks to the holiday season. Despite my hating some Christmas music that gets way too much play this month (if I never hear those particular songs by Mariah Carey, Wham!, or Paul McCartney again I’ll be happier for sure. And no, Paul doesn’t get off the hook because he was in the Beatles and did some decent-to-good solo stuff in the 70s either. You know what you’ve done, Paul.)

So let’s start by looking at some albums that have no Christmas music on them whatsoever:

Time Out (The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 1959)

Highlights: Blue Rondo à la Turk, Strange Meadow Lark, Take Five

Yeah, more jazz. I know I lean hard on the typically snobby/nerdy stuff like jazz and prog in these posts, but hey I don’t care, so here’s more. Maybe I’ll put up a punk album or something for once to balance the rest out.

But that day hasn’t come yet, so here’s Time Out by Dave Brubeck and his Quartet. This is a landmark jazz album, one of those that has music you definitely know even if you don’t know its title. Namely “Take Five”, a cool piece with an uneven rhythm that gives it a unique character — I guess the “five” in the title refers to the 5/4 time, but despite that unusual time signature (and despite a drum solo that I’m not a big fan of — never was a fan of drum solos honestly) it flows along nicely. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” is almost as well-known, another complex piece with great flow. Speaking of prog, I think ELP covered this one, nice piece for them to show off their skills. Shoved up in the front along with them is my other favorite on here, “Strange Meadow Lark”, a slow, relaxed piece.

The whole album is nice, though. Time Out makes for an excellent mood-setter, especially if you need something classy to play at a dinner party or something. But then, it’s also not boring like a lot of other “mood-setting” music tends to be — there’s a lot here to actively enjoy too. In that sense, I’d put it in a similar category with the bossa nova I’ve also looked at here like Wave and Getz/Gilberto. And the latter had a piece of modern art on the cover too. Not sure what that’s about, but at least it’s more creative than the band photo covers albums in the late 50s usually got.

The Faust Tapes (Faust, 1973)

Highlights: ???????

Warning: still more weird shit here. Faust was a German band in roughly the same artsy rock category as Can and Amon Düül II. But this band is a lot less listener-friendly than Can, and maybe even less so than Amon Düül II? I haven’t heard their whole catalog, so I can’t say that for a certainty, but I have heard The Faust Tapes, which consists of one track with a bunch of seemingly disconnected weird percussion and sounds stitched together with a few pieces that sound almost like normal songs but not quite. From what I understand, Faust was in this real hardcore avantgarde territory throughout their career, which would explain why they might not be better known today — nothing here makes sense exactly.

But does it have to make sense? I don’t think it does, as long as the end result is interesting. It’s easy to dismiss all this avantgarde stuff as pretentious, meaningless bullshit, but I don’t get that feeling from Faust here. Firstly, because they actually can and do play their instruments properly and put together some catchy songs, like the nice folk one starting around 1:20 and the stretch of almost funk-sounding music transitioning to more acoustic folky French poetry recitation (or maybe he’s reading out of a user manual for a vacuum cleaner, not like I’d know the difference) around minute 35 to the end.

And secondly, because even the more nonsensical parts of the album do work if you’re in the right mindset. I don’t know if this is what the band was going for, but The Faust Tapes sounds to me like a normal album filtered through a dream; everything sounds sort of off and strange. It reminds me of Yume Nikki in that way, maybe because that game is literally about dreams and consists of a lot of disconnected pieces that run into each other in a similar way. Like Yume Nikki, it’s not always pleasant, more like a nightmare than a nice dream in parts, but it still works for me somehow.

So not exactly a broad recommendation this time, but if you’re into the really weird artsy side of rock music, Faust was at the core of all that. And The Faust Tapes even reportedly sold well, hitting the charts in the UK in 1973. Though that definitely had to do with it being sold for the price of a single to get their sales numbers up. A nice marketing trick, but how many people do you think regretted that purchase right away?

Adventure (Momoko Kikuchi, 1986)

Highlights: Adventure, Night Cruising, Mystical Composer

Since I had a look at something as bizarre as The Faust Tapes just now, let’s go to the opposite end of that spectrum again with something ultra-commercial: more city pop! On top of that, Adventure might be the most aggressively 80s-sounding album I’ve featured in these posts until now. Lots of those very 80s-sounding synths and drum machines and all the other musical trappings of that decade.

Normally I don’t go for that stuff too much, but I like a lot of this album anyway. Adventure is another album with a perfectly fitting cover: singer Momoko Kikuchi wading in what looks like the ocean under a pink sky, with the water lit up like the whole ocean is a massive swimming pool. The album itself is just as relaxed and luxurious-sounding as that, and Momoko’s nice soft voice fits and adds to that vibe as well. The title track sums up that feeling nicely, as does “Night Cruising” (even the title reminds me of Kingo Hamada’s “Midnight Cruisin'” — they were doing a lot of cruising in Japan in the 80s I guess.)

But the real standout on Adventure is “Mystical Composer”, a song that I’d bet did a lot on its own to inspire the vaporwave movement. Both because of its general sound and because I’d heard it quite a few times remixed before finding it in its original form here. Makes sense, because that chorus is catchy as hell.

As an aside, and since I’ve looked at a few city pop albums on the site, it’s interesting to see how this musical movement that died off at the end of the 80s, when Japan’s real estate bubble popped and its economy fell into shambles, has come back in such a big way on the internet — and now, when the whole fucking world seems to be on fire. Maybe it’s all driven by a desire for escape from reality, the same one that I theorized gave a boost to VTubers (and that might partly explain how one in particular exploded, as a VTuber known for singing city pop?)

But I’ll leave that to the people actually qualified to talk about it, or at least until I write another dedicated bullshit post of my own on the subject.

And now as usual for the featured posts:

Shoot from the Hip – Gravity Rush (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 gives Gravity Rush some well-deserved attention in this look back at the game. I maintain the series didn’t get nearly enough of the praise it should have, so I’m always happy to see it getting more.

Wrapping up 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim – waffling about a game I love (Video Games And Things I Write About Them) — From skyraftwanderer, a piece on another game that got far too little attention. I loved 13 Sentinels, and this post and the other posts on this blog about the game sum up everything I loved about it.

Mega Man 7 (Extra Life) — Red Metal examines Mega Man 7, Capcom’s first throwback to its original Mega Man series on the NES (or Rockman on the Famicom if you want to be more of a weeb about it, sure.) I was always lousy at those old NES titles, though I liked them for the most part, but I never had the chance to play 7. Find out above whether it’s worth a try.

The Power of Two: Princess Jellyfish (Confessions of an Overage Otaku) — I’ve heard a bit about the anime Princess Jellyfish, and the more I read, the more I’m interested in seeing it for myself — and this post might have tipped the scales finally.

Chihayafuru: An Objective Review (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — From Scott, an “objective” review of Chihayafuru, an anime about students who compete at karuta games, or Japanese card games. Scott also shows here just how hard it is to write an objective review. Please check it out (and maybe Chihayafuru as well? I haven’t seen it, but it sounds interesting.)

Return of the Destined Battle! Aether vs. Yandere Simulator, Round 2 (Lost to the Aether) — Yandere Simulator has become the prime example of an indie game in development hell, with its developer known for putting off work on the project. Shockingly, a new playable beta or something recently came out, and Aether in this post saves us the trouble of having to play it by enjoying/suffering through it himself and giving his thoughts on it. Thanks, Aether.

Give Ever Oasis another chance on the Switch (Nepiki Gaming) — From Nepiki, a look at Ever Oasis, an action-adventure RPG now on the Switch. Nepiki gives plenty of great reasons to take notice if you’re a Switch-owner (which sadly I’m still not, but hopefully soon!)

Shin Megami Tensei V First Impressions (The Gamer with Glasses) — Speaking of not owning a Switch, here’s a first look at SMT V from someone who does. A great post to check out if you’re interested in the game. I hope I can join in the fun soon enough.

Moonglow Bay – A cute, cosy and flawed game about Fish (but not necessarily always chips) (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — A review of an inviting-looking but seemingly flawed indie game. Too bad, but hopefully the makers will improve on their mistakes next time — and you might still find something to like here, so be sure to check out Wooderon’s post.

The Best Games I Didn’t Play This Year (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte writes a post that I should probably try out myself, considering I’ve only played a single game released this year. Some interesting-looking stuff, though God knows if I’ll find the time for any of it myself with my damn schedule.

Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #4: Yuuta Togashi (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Our fellow Weeb highlights an anime high school romantic comedy protagonist with more depth than usual through a religious lens. An interesting angle, and one I hadn’t considered, but it sheds more light on why I liked Yuuta from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions (and my shared confusion at why he ended up being so into Rikka, but who knows about the mysteries of the heart I suppose.)

Asterisk War vs Chivalry of a Failed Knight: Showdown! (Crow’s World of Anime) — This is a joint project, a comparative look at two anime series with similar story setups. I haven’t seen either of these and I’m not sure I have any interest in either — these sorts of stories aren’t really my thing. But I like the idea of putting two similar series head-to-head like this. Might be something to try in the future!

1000th Post. 10 Quick Tips for Anime Bloggers. (Otaku Orbit) — Congrats to Jiraiyan on one thousand posts (and shit, that’s a whole lot — not a landmark I expect to reach anytime soon!) To mark the occasion, he’s posted some excellent advice for those looking to get into anime blogging.

A Look Back On ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ – 20 Years Later (Jon Spencer Reviews) — I was born about a year too late to care that much about Harry Potter, at least as a kid — I have seen some of the films since, and my thought was that they were pretty good adventures (and anything that included the late Alan Rickman will be naturally elevated by his presence anyway — my favorite character for sure, especially when he was acting like a dick.) Author J. K. Rowling has fallen out of favor among a lot of fans, but her work seems to have kept its popularity. Jacob over on Jon Spencer Reviews has a look back at the first film in the series 20 years on.

Why You Should Pay Attention to EDs and OPs (I drink and watch anime) — Irina gives us some good reasons to care about anime openings and endings. While they can’t make or break a series, good openings and endings can add a lot to their entertainment value (and also possibly prevent me from skipping intros/endings, which I admit I sometimes do.) And I’ve found a few really good bands through them as well.

Exploring Anime Fictophilia (I drink and watch anime) — The rare double feature this post, but for good reason: I couldn’t go without highlighting this insightful piece also from Irina about the strange love some fans have for fictional characters, bordering on and sometimes even crossing the border into romantic sentiment. Strange, but is it unnatural? Maybe not. Be sure to read Irina’s post for her thoughts on the matter.

You’re Missing Out – if You’re Not Watching Enna Alouette, the Songbird of Nijisanji EN (The Unlit Cigarette) — I can’t end this post without fulfilling my self-imposed VTuber mention quota. Thankfully I have some help from @valsisms, who here takes a well-deserved look at Enna Alouette. Enna is part of Nijisanji’s third wave of English-language streamers with a special talent at singing, but that’s not all she does.

These days, in the very rare moments I have the chance to watch a stream, it’s almost always a Nijisanji one. These girls have stolen my heart completely, though I still have a lot of respect for the talent over at the rival Hololive group. But despite their great chemistry, they haven’t caught on quite as much in the West as Hololive has (and don’t forget the stiff competition from the western-based agency VShojo — mostly not my thing, but they’re formidable as well, and I admit I do appreciate the talents of Projekt Melody that… well, go beyond the usual VTuber skill set, to put it mildly.) But if you have the spare time and the inclination to do so, I’d highly recommend giving Enna and her friends a shot.

That’s all for this month. I don’t have anything special planned for Christmas or any of the other stuff going on, just the usual possible reviews and features coming up. I haven’t even drafted anything yet, so I know exactly as much as you do at this point. Until next post, then!

Update #4 (Squid Game / Blue Reflection: Second Light / Atelier Firis / Komi Can’t Communicate)

Barring any work emergencies, I have a four-day weekend, which is amazing. I barely know what to do with this much time. Except catch up on anime and games while hiding from people I don’t want to interact with, which is what I’m doing now. Fuck the outside and being a social person! I’ve had enough of it for one lifetime. Wake me up when full dive VR happens (or so I’d like to say, but I have actual social obligations to carry out eventually when I run out of viable excuses to avoid them. Again: fuck it all, I say!)

Now that my regular bitter, bile-filled complaints are out of the way, why am I writing still another unfocused mess of a post? There are series and games I want to write about that separately, at least at this point, might not warrant their own posts, so I decided to dump them all in here. As always, proper reviews and commentaries are on their way, along with the usual end-of-month post.

Let’s start with something truly unusual, however, at least for this site: a look at a live-action series.

Squid Game (S1) (a very short no-spoilers review)

Yeah, I watched a popular thing on Netflix. I guess I’m a sellout now. No more hipster weeb cred for me. In fact, normally when I keep hearing about a series that’s exploded in popularity like this one has, I’m more inclined not to watch it, partly because I wonder whether it’s really as good as the hype suggests. That’s not really fair, though — just because something is insanely popular doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. Getting past that whole “popular thing = good/bad” mindset is necessary anyway.

And this time I was intrigued by what I’d heard, so I decided to give said popular series a shot. If you’ve been out in space orbiting Mars and haven’t had any signal for the last few months, Squid Game is a Korean series about a set of games run by a shady organization in which 456 players in serious debt compete for a massive amount of money. And naturally, since the reward is high, so is the risk: players who lose are eliminated in the fullest sense of the word.

We mostly see these death games through the perspective of the protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a down-on-his-luck divorced father with severe gambling debts who just wants to do right by his daughter and his mother for once. Gi-hun, despite all his faults, is a decent man at heart, but he’ll have to navigate a treacherous series of mind games and temporary alliances that test his senses of justice and morality to get at the final prize.

People have compared Squid Game to quite a few other survival game series, but the one I immediately thought of was Kaiji. If you’ve read or watched it, you can probably notice the similarities even from the synopsis above. I saw a parallel in the protagonist too: Gi-hun is very much a Kaiji sort of guy in that he’s unremarkable until faced with a life-or-death situation, when he gains nerves of steel, but all while attempting to stay true to his ideals. He’s far from perfect, but I found him to be sympathetic enough to root for along with a couple of other players who become close to him. The biggest strength in Squid Game I found was how it built its characters — with one massive exception, but that’s something I want to address in a separate post I’m planning.

The games themselves and the organization running them are also interesting. Again, as in Kaiji, these pit debtors against each other, resulting in some instances of teamwork and others of treachery and backstabbing. However, in Squid Game, the contests are all incredibly dangerous adaptations of children’s games. The strange and unique art style of the show adds to its appeal and probably did a lot to get people’s attention, and I think it works well, though I can see how it would put some viewers off.

I can’t give Squid Game an A+ or 10/10 or whatever equivalent you prefer, though, because I had a few issues with it, most seriously with the ending. I won’t get into it here in detail, but I felt the last episode undercut some of the story and especially one relationship that was central to the show, and in a way that didn’t pay off at all. I also found some strange inconsistencies in how the organization operated that weren’t explained.

Despite those negatives, I don’t regret watching Squid Game at all — I really liked it, at least up until the last episode (and well, episodes 7 and 8 were kind of goofy and bizarre in a not entirely good way either) and since the show is now confirmed for a second season, maybe it will somehow build on what it established at the end of this first season. So I’d recommend Squid Game if you’re into this survival/death game genre and don’t mind a whole lot of graphic violence, but with the caveat that the ending is kind of a mess, just not quite enough of one to overturn the rest of the series.

There’s more I want to write about the issues I had with the narrative, but I’ll save it for a spoiler-filled post (and I’ll probably spoil Kaiji as well, since I think there are some good comparisons to be made there.)

Now on to a couple of games I’ve started recently, one of which I’ve mentioned a bit already:

Blue Reflection: Second Light

I do know, yeah.

Since my look at the demo last month, I’ve gotten up to Chapter 6 of Blue Reflection: Second Light, which seems to be a bit more than halfway through the game, and I’m happy to say that it’s fully lived up to my high expectations so far. This sequel has surpassed the original in most ways, with a lot of fun and engaging characters and more fully fleshed-out relationships between them.

The game’s new setting helps: the protagonist Ao and her several companions are all students who have been mysteriously transported to this small dimension that only contains an otherwise unpopulated high school on a small island, with a connection to a strange separate set of dimensions composed of fragments of the girls’ places and memories and patrolled by dangerous and bizarre beasts called demons. Naturally, this “Heartscape” as the girls eventually name it is where all the combat takes place and where significant parts of the plot are moved along.

The start of combat against a dangerous demon in the Heartscape. The girls start out fighting in their normal forms but can transform into Reflectors (i.e. magical girls) and gain new power in the course of battle.

There’s not much else to say yet about Second Light other than the yuri, which the game really went hard on this time around. There were hints of it in the original, but nothing close to what the sequel offers. Ao can go on “dates” with her friends, which just consist of walks to various points of interest in the school like the gym or the pool where a short cutscene takes place. It’s a nice bit of relationship-building, though just as in the first game, spending time with your companions unlocks fragments that can be used to boost the characters’ stats and gain other benefits in battle.

Conversations can also take place on the way to your date spot. And yes, Ao gets flirty with every other girl in the game.

There’s also at least one real deal no bullshit romantic thing going on between two of the girls, though as far as I’ve played, it’s not clear whether those feelings are only one-way or are going to be returned. I’m honestly surprised they went straight for it, though — usually these games dance around the issue, merely hinting at such feelings or playing them partly for comedy (see any of the Atelier Arland games, also made by Gust with Mel Kishida’s involvement) but Second Light went for it without ambiguity. It will be interesting to see how that aspect of the story develops.

I also like this chalkboard note

There’s the update on Second Light, if you cared to have it: it’s good so far, and I don’t see it going bad unless the ending sucks or something. I’ll see soon enough.

And now for still another Gust game, because aside from a couple of other games, I’ve entirely dedicated this year to them for some reason:

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey

Hi again Sophie and Plachta

No sooner was I done with Atelier Sophie than I started the next game in the Mysterious DX package. Atelier Firis is still another example of just how much Gust mixes things up from one game to the next, because aside from the somewhat similar alchemy system, Firis provides a completely different experience.

Our protagonist is the above-named Firis Mistlud, a girl who is soon to become an alchemist (surprise!) Firis was born and raised in Ertona, a strange mining town that exists entirely inside a cave sealed by a door only allowed to open for certain people. And sadly, Firis isn’t one of them. Highly valued by the elders of Ertona for her almost magical skill at detecting ore in the ground without using tools, she’s stuck where she is for the time being.

But of course, this soon changes. After a chance encounter with Sophie, the protagonist of the previous game, Firis discovers the wonders of alchemy and gets a shot at learning the discipline from her. Together, they manage to convince the town elders and her parents to let her go outside accompanied by her older sister/bodyguard, the hunter Liane, on the grounds that she needs to expand her knowledge so she can help the community more with this new skill. However, there’s a condition attached: Firis has to make it to the faraway city of Reisenberg and pass a notoriously difficult alchemy exam within one year, or else she’ll have to return to her hometown for good.

Outside for the first time in her life, Firis and her big sister face down a Puni, the Atelier version of the slime.

Despite being the next game in the same trilogy, Firis is very different from Sophie. Firstly, in terms of its settings: instead of the relatively small exploration fields and dungeons typical of Atelier that we got in Sophie, Firis features massive landscapes to run around in, with maps that fill out as Firis explores the world around her. That change works pretty well, since it fits with the theme of the game — Firis is all about exploration, after all.

The other change is maybe a bit more questionable, though it was one I already knew was coming: the return of the dreaded time limit. I don’t usually mind time limits in Atelier, but this one has me slightly on edge. The game isn’t kidding when it tells Firis to get to Reisenberg and pass that alchemy exam within a year, because it features a clock and a countdown starting at 365 days, presumably with a bad ending if you fail to meet your goal in time.

As in Sophie, there’s also an LP meter again that restricts how far you can travel without resting.

The trouble is that I have no idea how far I am from Reisenberg or how much I have yet to do to meet the game’s requirements for me to pass this first year. I’ve heard the time limit in Firis is an easy one to clear, so I’m taking my time to level Firis, both in the atelier and out in the field (which I have to do anyway for plot reasons, so it’s just as well) but with a constant eye on that countdown. As a result, I don’t feel like I can enjoy this newfound freedom.

But maybe that’s the point — Firis is under pressure in the game’s story, so having a time limit makes sense when you approach it from that angle. And once she passes the exam, the time limits are apparently all gone for good and I’ll get to explore at my leisure, so I’m looking forward to that.

And finally, moving over to anime an update on a series I may or may not finish:

Komi Can’t Communicate

Now I can see why this series seems to be divisive. Apparently a lot of people really dislike the protagonist Tadano because they think he’s being underhanded in his intentions towards Komi somehow. I don’t really get that impression myself — my read on the guy is that he’s a pretty normal awkward, dense anime romantic comedy protagonist. Sure, he’s obviously into Komi, but then everyone is too. And even so, Tadano and his friend Najimi are among the very few at their school who treat her like a fellow human instead of a goddess.

No, my problem with the series is its side characters. The fears I expressed in my first impressions post have been fully realized: aside from the above-mentioned ones, nearly the rest of the students at this school are a bunch of annoying one-dimensional dipshits. I’m pretty sure they won’t change much either, because then we’d lose the amazing jokes that come along with them.

This aspect of Komi hit me in the face in episode 3, which starts with a nice plot about a classmate of theirs, Himiko Agari, who has social anxiety similar to Komi’s, only Agari can’t stand when people look at her. Tadano thinks the two might bond over their shared socialization problems, and after some expected communication problems they end up friends, which is perfectly nice.

Then Agari turns immediately into this:

Anyone who’s read this site for any amount of time will know I’m absolutely not prudish at all. I’m all about letting your freak flag fly and all that stuff. That said, I don’t get how making Agari into a masochist who wants to literally lick Komi’s shoes makes any god damn sense in the context of everything else that happened in her episode. It feels thrown in at the end, as if to say “by the way, this is Agari’s thing and it’s going to be hilarious every time she acts like a dog in front of Komi and weirds her and everyone else out.”

Then there was episode 4, featuring Ren Yamai, the school’s resident yandere who’s naturally also obsessed with Komi and who apparently gets to kidnap and plan the murder of a fellow student (Tadano for being too friendly with her god-queen Komi, because right, Tadano’s the creepy one in this story) without so much as a referral to the school counselor.

Whatever

I get that Komi is a comedy and it’s not meant to be realistic, but I feel like mixing this sort of almost surreal, bizarre style with the attempt at a heartfelt, emotional story doesn’t work so well. But still, if I don’t drop Komi, I’ll write a more complete review of it. To be fair, the latest episodes I’ve seen were easier to take than the third and fourth, and there are still some aspects of the show I like — they’re just in danger of being outweighed by the things I don’t, and those things are still present in the series. Anyway, humor is pretty subjective, isn’t it? A lot of people find Komi funny, and if I don’t, maybe that’s just my problem.

In any case, even at its worst, Komi is still ten billion times better than fucking Big Mouth, which is still on the front page of Netflix every time I log in. So if you have to choose between the two for some weird reason, please watch Komi instead.

Also, I’m still watching Aquatope, takt.op Destiny, and Jahy-sama, but I’ll save my thoughts on those for the end of the season. I’ve already written more than enough by now to bore the hell out of everyone around. I hope you found something interesting above, at least. The next post will likely be that end-of-month one, so until then — happy Thanksgiving if you’re also in the US, and happy Black Friday, and I hope you didn’t get mauled too badly out there. Though if you’re the sort of person who reads my site, you’re probably holed up inside too.

A review of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PS4)

My journey through Atelier continues. After finishing Ryza, I was afraid I might be burned out on the series for a while, but apparently that’s not the case yet. The fact that the Mysterious DX trilogy was on sale at the time also helped my decision, admittedly, but I was destined to play this anyway. So better sooner than later: it’s on to still another world, another story, and a new cast of characters with Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book.

Sophie Neuenmuller is a young alchemist living alone in her atelier on the outskirts of her hometown of Kirchen Bell. Sophie doesn’t have a lot of experience with alchemy yet, but she’s determined to improve her skills, in part to carry on the legacy of her alchemist grandmother, who raised her and taught her what she knew before her passing.

She still has plenty to learn however

Sophie’s life might seem a bit lonely, living and working entirely on her own, but she has plenty of friends, including her childhood companions Monika and Oskar. All of Kirchen Bell is with her as well — her grandmother was a valued citizen and friend who helped everyone around town, and all that goodwill is also extended to Sophie, who does her absolute best to be worthy of it.

While working as usual one day, something happens that changes Sophie’s life forever: one of her reference books, an old tome she inherited from her grandmother, starts floating and talking to her. At first, Sophie thinks she’s suffering from a hallucination brought on by working too much, but she soon realizes that this is no illusion. The book calls itself Plachta and tells Sophie that it has regained a little of its memory thanks to her writing alchemy recipes in it.

Sophie soon learns that this Plachta was a human girl like her, and another alchemist no less, who five hundred years ago had to transfer her soul into a book for some reason. That reason is still unknown because Plachta has unfortunately lost her memories. But Sophie is determined to help her new friend. By learning more alchemy recipes and writing them into Plachta, she can slowly recover those lost memories. Not just for her own sake, either: as Plachta tells Sophie, she transferred her soul into this book for an as of yet unknown reason, but an extremely important one, making their goal all the more critical to achieve.

Naturally, Sophie has to explore uncharted and dangerous lands outside the safety of Kirchen Bell and its surroundings to gather rare ingredients for her alchemy recipes. As always, our alchemist protagonist has plenty of help from both old and new friends who join her in adventuring. And while Plachta can’t (yet) join Sophie in battle against the monsters that menace them, she helps out by teaching her what she knows about alchemy as her memories return.

Also, Oskar can communicate with plants. At first it comes off as a joke, but he’s dead serious, and his unique skill actually is helpful later in the game.

If that doesn’t seem to you like much of a story to play through, especially for a JRPG, I’d say you’re right. But that seems to be by design. Sophie is the most slice-of-life, relaxed Atelier I’ve played yet, and that includes both Ryza and the parts of the Arland series I’ve played that were already pretty slice-of-life themselves. So Sophie isn’t really that unusual for the series as a whole, and Atelier is a pretty atypical sort of JRPG series in that sense anyway. This game just carries that more relaxed tendency even further than usual, and I imagine this would have been even more noticeable to players coming directly off of the Dusk series that preceded it.

I don’t want to overstate this point, however. Because there is a plot to Sophie, and the game does require the player to make progress towards an eventual end goal that’s directly related to recovering Plachta’s memories. The big difference is that instead of working under time pressure as you would have been in Arland or in parts of Dusk, there’s no deadline here. Sophie doesn’t even punish you for spending too much time in one particular section of the game by literally slowing you down the way Shallie did, which is much appreciated, because I didn’t much care for that aspect of Shallie.

In fact, you can just spend time away from the plot fulfilling item synthesis and monster-killing requests for money and vouchers at the local pub so you can buy the ticket that lets you go on a date with your bunny girl waitress friend Tess. And you’re sure as fuck right that I did just that, much to the despair of her many male admirers who missed out. Sorry guys. Maybe you should have spent less time drinking coffee and leering at her and more time busting your asses too.

Atelier Sophie is clearly designed to let the player take their time — everything about it is set up so that you can’t rush the game even if you try. One reason for this slower pace is the alchemy system, and specifically the method this new sub-series uses to teach its protagonist new recipes. There are still a few books lying around for Sophie to read and learn more alchemy from, but the vast majority of new recipes in Sophie are learned simply by doing things. Just doing things, yeah. Fighting enemies, synthesizing new items in your cauldron, or even just talking to people around town or finding unusual spots while out in the field can give Sophie new ideas, which are denoted by a light bulb appearing over her head, after which she writes something in her book (which apparently isn’t Plachta, though she does actually write in Plachta when she returns to the workshop.)

The item synthesis system is also totally different from previous systems and takes some getting used to, but as usual it’s not hard to get down once you’re practiced at it. Still easier than the relatively opaque and weird trait transfer system in Ayesha, though some might disagree.

I found both of these new aspects of the alchemy system a bit annoying, especially at first when my options for crafting items were limited. This new system seems to simulate the cauldron itself, giving the player a square grid layout to insert each ingredient into with the variously colored squares corresponding to the usual fire/water/electricity/wind element system and with a fifth white element (holy or something like that? I guess.) The key to improving your items above the relatively crap level you start out with is getting new cauldrons with better properties and larger grids — there’s not much you can do with a 4×4 cauldron, for example, but a 6×6 one gives you a lot more room to work with.

Getting used to the cauldron stuff wasn’t too bad, but the recipe book system that went along with it was slightly more irritating because of how vague it could sometimes be. Some recipes were pretty straightforward about their requirements for being unlocked, but a few others weren’t, and I ended up having to look up a few hints about where to go and what to do to unlock such and such recipe to create a new item — something I never like doing. It may be that I’m simply an idiot, a possibility I always hold open, but I think the game was just being too damn obtuse in a few places.

The water of life is booze, isn’t it? Well, Sophie is still under Kirchen Bell’s drinking age as the café/tavern owner Horst reminds her, so I guess it’s non-alcoholic in this game.

But maybe it’s not such a big deal. Because there’s no time limit and no penalty for running in circles in Sophie, you’re free to do so, though players who actually want to stick to a schedule might be annoyed by getting caught up with some of these riddles. Then again, there are plenty of side stories available to play through, one for each party member and also for a couple of more major side characters (namely, Logy from the Dusk series and Pamela from Arland, who return confusingly enough as alternate-universe versions of themselves.)

Logy is exactly the same personality-wise as he was in Dusk, even working again as a blacksmith, although not an alchemist this time. But Pamela is pretty different — she’s far more mature and also not at all flirty with any of the guys around town like she was in Atelier Meruru. In fact, she’s a nun in this game, so just the opposite.

While I felt the side character stories in Ryza were pretty thin, in Sophie they’re somewhat more interesting and fleshed out. As usual, we’re presented with a cast of colorful characters, and for the most part they’re pretty fun to hang around and to help out — you can even give them gifts that they’ll reciprocate later on, a nice way to clear out your overfull inventory of ingredients while also improving your standing and moving their side plots along.

And naturally, some of these side plots also require Sophie to venture out into the field. And going into the field requires her and her friends to fight monsters. Unlike in past installments, every character in Sophie can use items in battle, though only Sophie and a few others can actually handle high-level items well enough to stock them in their inventories. Otherwise, Sophie uses a turn-based combat system similar to those in Arland and Dusk, though with a few twists of its own. I found combat to be pretty straightforward anyway — it relies heavily on having effective attack items on you and weapons and armor equipped with helpful traits as you’d expect, so as usual your alchemist level seems to be more important than your adventurer level in taking down powerful enemies.

This dragon was piss easy when I finally got around to fighting it, mainly because of the high-level weapons and armor I’d crafted.

That leaves the aesthetics, which are always a big part of the appeal of an Atelier game for me, and with the partial exception of the music (Dusk still has the best soundtracks in my opinion, but the music here is all right — just doesn’t quite rise to the level where I’d want to go back and listen to any tracks on their own) those are up to par as well. Following series tradition, this new trilogy brings with it a new art style, this time courtesy of artists/character designers Yuugen and NOCO. I wasn’t familiar with these guys before, but I like their designs and the art direction in general — Sophie, and from what I can tell so far the Mysterious series in general, returns to the more colorful look of Arland, moving away from the earthy look of Dusk, but again with its own style distinct from the others. I like them all, though; each one fits well with the character of its respective series, which is what matters.

Some really nice CGs in Sophie, also a series tradition.

Sophie also adds some of its own flavor in the characters’ costumes, which are somehow even more elaborate than some of those put together by Mel Kishida back in the Arland series. You might have already noticed Sophie wearing two very different outfits above, and then there’s still a third, an old set of clothes her grandmother wore when she was about the same age, which Sophie decides she has to recreate and wear at certain points in the game to embody her spirit or something. One of your party members, Leon, is even a traveling tailor and fashion designer who makes the honestly kind of strange-looking gold shorts and beret getup for Sophie you see above.

Well, it fits anyway — as someone said in a previous game (Wilbell maybe?) alchemists always dress strangely. And Leon is apparently one of those haute couture designers who specializes in unusual dresses like you see in those weird as fuck fashion shows in Milan and Paris, so I shouldn’t question her work.

I actually prefer Sophie’s grandmother’s dress design to the others, seen here. See also pimp hat ghost

You might think it’s strange to focus on the protagonist’s costumes so much, but they actually play a minor part in the story this time around. And not just Sophie’s — Plachta’s as well. It’s not much of a spoiler considering the fact that she’s on the cover, but Sophie and friends eventually manage to put together a life-sized, fully autonomous and functional doll body for Plachta and transfer her soul from the book into it. This procedure is part of their plan to help Plachta recover her memories by giving her as close to her old human body as possible, and more conveniently for the player it also allows Plachta to finally join the party and fight.

However, there’s also a “doll-making” mechanic that lets you put new clothes on Plachta. I still have no idea whether it has any actual effect on her skills or stats or anything; my mind was probably too clouded at the time to notice (edit: I’m stupid and it does.) But I do remember what I ended up putting Plachta in for most of the rest of the game once I discovered it:

Of course I go with the catgirl outfit. You’re not surprised, are you. And in my defense, this isn’t even close to the skimpiest one.

Anyone who was looking for all the fanservice in Atelier and went straight to Ryza based on the (admittedly pretty damn good) thighs? They completely missed it, because it was all here in Sophie. I’d still say there still isn’t that much fanservice in this game in the grand scheme of things, but the doll-making mechanic does stand out in a funny way. In any case, though, it’s entirely optional — you’re free to leave Plachta in her original Leon-designed costume that makes her look a bit like a tower administrator from the EXA_PICO series. Which hey, those are also Gust games, so maybe it’s not a coincidence.

And none of that’s a complaint, to be clear — not coming from me anyway. No, my only actual complaint with Atelier Sophie is that it returns to some of the old ambiguity in item, effect, and trait descriptions that we got with Escha & Logy. Added to the intentional ambiguity in some of the game’s requirements to learn new alchemy recipes, this can cause some real problems, especially for the player looking to complete their recipe books and craft the absolute best items, weapons, and armor possible. None of that’s necessary to complete the game’s main plot, but since Atelier tends to attract obsessive completionist types (at least I imagine, considering the emphasis it puts on filling out compendiums of items and ingredients etc.) this may still be an issue for some players.

God damn it Logy, stop pretending you don’t know what alchemy is. You did so much of it with Escha in your own game. Help me out here.

But aside from that still relatively minor issue, I was happy with Atelier Sophie. The slow-paced slice-of-life style of the game was refreshing, and even when I got stuck at points, it was pretty easy to just go with the flow and carry out other tasks in the hope that a solution would eventually present itself (though again, on occasion that just didn’t happen.)

I can also finally agree with the pretty common opinion I’ve heard that Sophie is a good place to start for the Atelier beginner. It still has a lot of depth in its alchemy mechanics, but it’s not all that demanding either, and in some ways it feels like a return to the simpler “cute girl doing alchemy in an old European-looking town setting” setup that Arland had going, only without that series’ restrictive time limits. The only drawback I can see to starting with Sophie (or Ryza for that matter, which I think also makes for a decent enough starting point) is that going backwards from here into Dusk and/or Arland might feel uncomfortable as a result.

Not as uncomfortable as going to university lectures hung over, but still maybe a bit uncomfortable. Those memories will stick with me forever.

But hell, you have to start somewhere, and it may as well be here if you’re planning on getting into Atelier. As usual, I wouldn’t recommend Sophie to those who dislike games with turn-based combat or a lot of collecting items and crafting. Those looking for a deep and/or intense plot won’t find much of that here either.

However, if you’re looking for a nice light slice-of-life game about cute girls doing cute things and also doing a lot of alchemy and killing dragons and ghosts with it, you can’t go wrong with Atelier Sophie. Having only played the DX version, I can’t say how much it adds to the original, but since it’s now the standard it’s likely the one you’d end up getting. Though if you want a physical copy, I think you have to stick with the original plain vanilla version. If only I could get my hands on one myself… but I do have the upcoming direct sequel Atelier Sophie 2 preordered, so that’s some consolation.

Before that, though, I have the rest of Mysterious to get through. As usual, as of this writing I’ve already started the following game in the trilogy Atelier Firis, and I can already tell just a few hours in that it’s very different in its approach from Sophie while maintaining a consistent style. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me — hopefully someplace equally pleasant. So until then.