A review of Yuru Camp (S2)

I guess anyone following me on that cursed social platform Twitter or even just here on my site could have seen this post coming. This is actually a first for me, somehow, even after almost nine years of writing on the blog — I’ve never divided a review of an anime series into seasons like this. I wondered whether I’d even have enough to say about the second season of Yuru Camp that I hadn’t already said in my review of the first, but it turns out that Yuru Camp is a surprisingly deep well to pull from.

Or maybe that’s not so surprising. Because while Yuru Camp season 2 continues along with the central cast of girls going camping and sometimes getting into hard situations they have to dig themselves out from, it also shifts a little away from the camping advice aspect of the first season (which gave us plenty of such advice anyway, so that’s all right) and a little more towards character and relationship development. And once again, the obligatory spoiler warning, though there’s not really much plot to talk about in this season either. Might sound strange considering what I just wrote above, but you can have character development without plot development after all.

Even Outdoor Activity Club advisor Toba-sensei has a little character development, this time just getting drunk as opposed to totally wasted. It’s progress!

The second season of Yuru Camp starts more or less from where the first left off, following Rin, Nadeshiko, Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki just after their Christmas camping trip as they go back to their part-time jobs and prepare for their New Year celebrations. Of course, Rin gets some time to travel by herself, heading out on her moped to see the sights out on a scenic cape off the Pacific coast. In the meantime, the rest of the girls keep connected with her and make their own winter camping plans. While Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki head up to a mountain lake on their own, Nadeshiko thinks about following Rin’s lead and trying out a solo journey.

Nadeshiko, all excitement as usual.

Despite the relative challenges they face, the girls manage to get through their trips in one piece thanks to some help both from old and new friends. And as in the first season, the last third or so of this 13-episode run is dedicated to a group camping trip with the whole crew, driven by their teacher and advisor Miss Toba who as noted doesn’t get quite as drunk on the trip this time thanks to her extra responsibilities (and to her students actively taking the bottle from her hand and holding it away from her. Well, I know the feeling.)

I’m sober now, but even I have to admit that while a beautiful sunset is nice, a cup of sake enhances it a bit. There’s no point denying it.

Again, Yuru Camp is pretty thin on the plot and has no conflict aside from a little of the old “man vs. nature” we learned about in high school English class (or in this case “schoolgirls vs. nature”, but Rin is just as capable as any tough woodsman anyway.) But just as with the first season, this works to its benefit, because there’s just as much relaxation to be had in the second season thanks to this light slice-of-life approach.

However, there is that character development I mentioned above, and I think it’s an important part of what kept Yuru Camp fresh for me after 25 episodes. The season starts with Rin’s own backstory, when she started solo camping as a far less capable middle school student, getting advice and support from her mother, father, and most of all her outdoors expert grandfather.

And from fellow campers who are thankfully friendly and helpful.

As the season continues, Rin keeps warming up to her friends and to the general idea of camping as a group, while still cherishing her solo camping routines. As Rin gets more experience in that direction, Nadeshiko gets more in the other with her solo camping adventure, which goes surprisingly well considering how much of a novice she was when we first met her in the first episode of the first season. Rin is heartened to see Nadeshiko taking solo camping seriously, though she does worry about Nadeshiko when she stops answering her phone and even heads out to her campsite on her moped (as does Nadeshiko’s older sister, totally independently) to make sure she’s not dead or anything.

Chiaki and Ena out on the edge of a lake in January. Winter camping is rough if you’re not prepared for it.

Nadeshiko is fine, but this fear isn’t unfounded as we see in the sixth episode, in which Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki try winter camping at Cape Ohmama, which turns out to be far too cold for their gear to keep them warm. After their phone batteries die thanks to the chill, the trio end up pretty much stranded on the edge of a lake, facing the prospect of huddling all together in one tent simply to survive. Thankfully, the always wary Rin is put on alert when she hears where her friends are, knowing better than them how far temperatures drop there, and she alerts their advisor in turn, who heads out to the lake in her car.

This brings me to one of the most interesting aspects of Yuru Camp in general, and one that came up strongly in this season: the camaraderie between campers, even those who are total strangers. While out looking for ways to survive the night, Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki meet and are taken in by a woman and her father out camping in a tent with a proper stove. When Toba shows up following Rin’s call, she’s invited in as well, and they all have an impromptu dinner party out in the woods. This isn’t the only time a stranger comes along to help out one of our main characters, just as we saw in the first episode of this season with a young Rin still learning the ropes, or last season with Toba’s younger sister showing up before any of them knew each other to assist Rin and Nadeshiko with a cookout they were attempting.

It’s not exactly a reliance on the kindness of strangers, since none of the girls were exactly relying on any of these people to come along and help out. Yet they end up benefiting greatly from this sudden help. I don’t know how much of this sort of mutual support between strangers out in the wild actually happens, since as I noted in the last review I’m not a camper or an outdoors person in the slightest. I do know that I was always taught to be wary of strangers when I was a kid, since there was a non-zero chance they’d end up being kidnappers or serial killers or something similar.

You might think I’m just being unnecessarily dark here again, but this really is one aspect of Yuru Camp that I couldn’t connect with in personal terms so well just because of my upbringing. Maybe it was the time and place I grew up in — 90s suburban America was scared to death of murderers stalking the streets and grabbing kids, to the extent that we couldn’t walk down the road to a friend’s house without being secretly watched by our parents. That’s no exaggeration. So the idea of being able to get on a moped and drive for hundreds of miles alone as a teenager, or even several miles down to a lake to camp on my own — it’s unthinkable to me. Maybe that’s still another part of the appeal Yuru Camp holds for me, being able to watch these characters do things I never could have (if I’d even been inclined to in the first place, which I admit I wasn’t. But maybe I would have been if I’d had the chance? You can never really answer a what if.)

Rin and Nadeshiko seeing the sights in Nadeshiko’s old hometown before she moved inland to Yamanashi. Another theme of Yuru Camp I’ve enjoyed in general was the easy mix of old and new friends — no drama or jealousy going on here, just good vibes, which is exactly what I need. Save all that shit for another series.

In my look at the first season, I missed out on a lot of the aesthetic aspects of Yuru Camp, so I may as well mention them here. That was a major oversight, in fact, since this series looks great as you can tell from the screenshots I’ve posted. I’d never even heard of the studio C-Station before watching this anime, but they did a great job with it, really making the Japanese countryside, mountains, and seaside look beautiful. I’ll extend my praise to the character designs too — each character is distinctive with a look that fits them perfectly. I haven’t read the Yuru Camp manga at all, but I imagine that praise should go to the original artist and writer Afro.

Somehow I didn’t bring up the series’ music, either, which is an even worse mistake on my part. Yuru Camp has an excellent soundtrack, with several recurring tracks that stand out like Laid-Back Time and Solo Camp△ Recommendation (there’s that △ I’ve been avoiding all this time!) It’s all or almost all acoustic as well, perfectly fitting the outdoors feel. Though I guess you could drag some speakers into the woods with a power supply if you really felt like it. And don’t skip those opening or ending themes either, like first season’s Fuyu Biyori.

And of course there’s also just as much talk about cooking and eating food as in the first season. I almost fucking cried looking at this just because of how much I wanted it.

I wrote in that last post that watching Yuru Camp made me hate life a little less, and I still feel that way about this second season. But there’s a little sadness mixed in there as well now about possibly missing out on some good experiences myself. Maybe that’s just my general sense of bitterness and lack of gratitude talking.

And also my continued jealousy of access to those natural hot springs. I don’t want to fall into that “grass is greener on the other side” trap but it doesn’t look like any amount of “self-care” you can get where I live can compare to this. The only natural resources we have here aren’t the kind you’d want to soak in.

Well, maybe there’s still time for me to unravel all that stress and bitterness, probably in fifty years once I’m nearly dead assuming I make it that far. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye out for the Yuru Camp movie that’s supposed to be coming out this summer and for the third season that’s being talked about beyond that. I have no doubt they’ll both be great after watching these first two seasons.

So that’s all for Yuru Camp for now. I have no idea what’s coming up next, but whatever it is, I’ll probably somehow find a way to make it depressing too — until then!

Listening/reading log #29 (March 2022)

Usual apologies for the extremely late post. Otherwise, as far as the news goes, the world is even more fucked than ever. With impending doom coming ever closer, let’s relax once again with good music and good writing.

Pig Views (Regal Worm, 2018)

Highlights: Rose, Rubus, Smilax, Vulkan; Revealed as a True Future Tyrant; Rose Parkington, They Would Not Let You Leave (all found here)

All this time I’ve been listening to progressive rock from the 1970s, and mostly the early 70s back during the peak of that genre. But there’s some damn good prog around these days too, and not simply made by guys who sound like pale imitations of ELP and Yes and the like (who I love, but I don’t need modern copies of.) I came across the band/project Regal Worm more or less by chance after getting a recommendation and then following a rabbit hole down Bandcamp. All the music on Pig Views is written and recorded by one guy from Sheffield, England named Jarrod Gosling who apparently plays every instrument known to man, accompanied by a host of guest singers and musicians.

That’s impressive in itself, but Mr. Gosling has written some fine songs as well, though the best ones are shoved onto the front of the album. I have no idea what the fuck the above three songs I linked are supposed to be about with their obscure lyrics in typical overblown prog fashion. But they’re catchy and have great atmosphere, so their meanings if they even have any don’t make a difference to me (though I’m admittedly a big fan of 70s Yes, and you can’t beat them if you’re looking for convoluted lyrics.) I’d much rather listen to music with no meaning or obscure meaning that I enjoy than music with a clear meaning that I don’t, but I suspect that’s true of anyone who likes prog at all. Regal Worm/Gosling seems to have a sense of humor as well, and I get the feeling that some of this music is meant to be playing on the more self-important aspects of the genre — see “Pre-Columbian Worry Song”, about concerns of falling into the ocean and off the edge of the world.

My only problem with Pig Views is that a couple of the songs drag on too long, and sometimes without much purpose — I’m thinking mainly of the epic-sounding “The Dreaded Lurg” which I feel doesn’t really justify its length. But there’s nothing bad on this album, even if the second half of it falls off a bit. If you’re looking for some weirdo modern prog in the vein of Gentle Giant or Van der Graaf Generator (and I’ve read comparisons to 70s Canterbury rock guys like Henry Cow too, who I haven’t really listened to (yet)) I’d highly recommend Regal Worm, and I may look into more of their/his work and more good modern prog in general.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports (Brian Eno, 1978)

Highlights: 1/1

More weird shit! But this one is a classic, sort of. At least it’s a classic in the ambient genre, and I’ve looked at ambient a bit in these posts, usually on the darker side, so why not go to the source? Music for Airports was created by legendary musician/composer/producer Brian Eno for exactly the purpose you’d think from the title: this album contains music made to be played at airports. It’s been years since I’ve been on an airplane or in an airport, so I had to imagine what it was like back when I had to haul ass through those long concourses. It might sound weird since air travel is so often seen as a hassle, but I actually miss that typical airport atmosphere, especially when it’s not crowded.

So I’m fine with the concept of “music for airports”, but even though Mr. Eno was a key figure in the development of the ambient genre and this is considered a great ambient album by a lot of people, I’m not in love with it myself. The big problem I have with the album Music for Airports is most of it doesn’t feel right for an airport. The only piece that seems to fit very well out of its four tracks is the opening “1/1” with its pleasant repeating piano loop — that one really makes me feel like I’m walking through one of those extremely long hallways with the massive windows looking out to the planes taking off and pulling in. But the following “2/1” features a vocal tone that makes me think of a synthesized chorus of angels, which is not a mental connection I want to be making at an airport, and especially not before boarding an airplane. “1/2” contains the same vocal synth tone but has more going on, though it still doesn’t relax me. The closing piece “2/2” is all right, but “1/1” is the only standout here in my opinion.

Still, again, Music for Airports is considered a classic in the ambient genre, so check it out yourself — maybe you’ll like it more than I did if you’re more inclined towards ambient. It’s also historically important, so if you’re deep into 70s and 80s musical movements beyond the most obvious pop/punk/disco/etc stuff this is an album you have to hear in any case. Eno made a whole series of these albums as that Ambient 1 title suggests, though the later volumes of Ambient seem a little vaguer in their purposes (like his following album Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, which I don’t even know the meaning of. The Plateaux of Mirror just sounds like a James Bond movie to me.)

That’s all for the music. Yeah, both albums were bizarre progressive/experimental stuff this time, but if you want some more potentially satisfying music, check out my last post in which I went on at length about my favorite Touhou tracks. Now for the featured posts from around the communities:

While My First Impressions Were Tepid, I’m Warming Up to Night in the Woods (Adventure Rules) — I started Night in the Woods a few years back and only got an hour or two in before being annoyed out of the entire experience by the protagonist and her college freshman-ness, for lack of a better term. But I think I wasn’t being fair. For one, I was kind of like that when I was that age, so she might have just been reminding me of myself too much, but it looks like her attitude and the hometown she’s returned to are all tied into a pretty interesting story. Read Robert’s post for more insight on all that. I might have to give this one another shot one day.

Anime Review #77: Chuunibyou – Take On Me! (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb brings his usual depth of analysis to the film Take On Me!, which is not about the 80s synth-pop group A-ha as you might think but rather a followup to the first two seasons of the anime Love, Chunnibyou & Other Delusions. I liked the first season back when I watched it last year, but not quite enough to watch the rest, so I can’t make any comment on this movie myself. But be sure to check out the above review if you’re interested (and I agree that Nibutani is the best girl in the series — her fighting with Dekomori was also a highlight of that first season.)

Winter Anime 2022 That Froze Over For Me (LitaKino Anime Corner) — With so many anime series airing every season, some of them just aren’t going to stick with you. Lita here gets into some of the less impressive anime of the past season and why they didn’t work for her so well.

Slow Loop Finale Impressions, Whole-Series Review and Recommendation (The Infinite Zenith) — After my extremely positive experience with Yuru Camp (and more on that soon once I finish the second season — I’ll also be checking out the film once it’s out/available!) I’ve been thinking I shouldn’t be so closed to the slice of life genre. I don’t know whether Slow Loop would necessarily be my thing (I was bored by the first episode of the extremely acclaimed slice of life Non Non Biyori if that tells you anything) but as with many of these series, there seems to be more to it than just “several girls hang out and do things together/shoot the breeze/etc.” Though a show just about that could be all right as long as it’s done well. I liked all the endless conversations in Monogatari after all, so I can’t just count a show all about banter out either.

Anime Corner: The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! Review (Never Argue With a Fish) — From Chris Joynson, a review of The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, a comedy that I thought was a bit overlooked last season and the season before (or was it before that even? Time is moving too quickly.) His take on the series is pretty different from mine, but it’s always interesting to see different angles on anime and other sorts of works.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Sweets & Psychedelia (Professional Moron) — Mr. Wapojif sets out his thoughts on the classic children’s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I say children’s film, but though I haven’t seen the whole thing in a while I suspect it would still completely hold up today, maybe even better than it used to for me, thanks in part to Gene Wilder’s excellent performance as the title character. It’s a good thing no one ever made an updated film version that didn’t live up to the first or the original novel at all, isn’t it?

Day Sixteen: Don’t Look Up (March of the Movies 2022) (The Visualist’s Veranda) — Kapodaco spent the month watching and writing about films, but unfortunately one of them was Don’t Look Up, a film that seems to have pissed a whole lot of people off with its general approach. I agree with Adam McKay’s message and agenda and all that, being someone who doesn’t want to see all of human civilization burn itself to fucking ashes. But I don’t get the impression that this sort of movie is going to help the situation.

There’s More to Dress-Up Darling Than Marin (Side of Fiction) — A look at last season’s big romantic comedy hit My Dress-Up Darling, focusing on the perhaps less noticed part of the central pair in that series, the male lead Gojo. He’s an interesting guy for sure (I say only four episodes in now, but I’ll probably be writing about him and the series in general at some point too.)

The 94th Academy Awards’ “Best Picture” Nominees Ranked from Worst to Best (Extra Life) — I really, really don’t give a fuck about the Oscars — the most I’ve cared about it ever was when Will Smith famously slapped Chris Rock in a move that made the ceremony relevant again for a lot of people, at least for a while. But Red Metal’s film analyses are always worth reading. There are at least a few on this list I should make an effort to see.

Look at these Preposterously Long Videogame Titles! (Arcadia Pod) — Some game titles are stupidly long for no reason at all, and Stephen K. gives us some of his favorite examples here. I thought that Summertime High School one was a joke, but knowing how lengthy some light novel titles can get I can believe it. My own favorite is still Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army for its double colon title (though of course that “Shin Megami Tensei” was only shoved into the NA and I think EU titles for us westerners who didn’t know what Devil Summoner was, but they only ended up confusing us more — that’s just the way with these poorly localized titles.)

Two Years in Japan Review (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu expresses his feelings about leaving Japan after two years spent there teaching. It sounds like it was a moving experience, and certainly one worth reading about.

Politics, as Usual, and My HOT Take on Rushia (The Unlit Cigarette) — This is yet another big case of VTuber drama, but one that says a lot about the whole performer-fan dynamic (that I got into purely by chance in my Needy Streamer Overload review about a week before this story came out.) The short version is that a popular Japanese VTuber named Uruha Rushia was exposed for potentially having a boyfriend, maybe, possibly, during a stream in which she received a message from a fellow online performer — a male one. Truly a horrible thing, isn’t it? If you’re wondering what the big deal about that is, you’re certainly not alone, but despite a lot of support from her fans, Rushia ended up terminated from the agency Hololive after its company Cover claimed she’d broken her contract by exposing certain information she was legally bound to keep quiet about.

It sounds like Cover is probably on solid ground with that claim, at least judging by the reaction from Rushia’s now-former colleagues (though Rushia’s role in that is up for debate too considering a possible betrayal of confidence made against her that led to the breach this post also gets into.) But this mess also raises a lot of questions about where the boundary lies between a VTuber’s online persona and their private self. The Unlit Cigarette featured a look at the Rushia situation last month that’s well worth a read, even if you don’t have a general interest in VTubers. There are plenty of weird social implications to get into here, after all, and those are relevant to a lot more people than just us weebs.

That’s all for last month. Almost nothing about games this time. Usually I try to keep a balance going there, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. But I’ve got a couple of games I’m probably going to finish soon that I’ll certainly be writing about, not this month but maybe in May, along with some anime I’ve got lined up, and maybe even the start of another deep reads series depending on how things shake out. My sense of impending doom isn’t going anywhere in any case, no matter what I do, so I may as well do whatever I want within reasonable boundaries, right?

On that note, I’ve started writing fiction again and have two short stories done in extremely rough draft form. I think I’ll be sticking to this format, at least until I retire in one hundred years assuming I live that long. A novel is just out of the question with my schedule. But I’m finding the short story format to be a pretty interesting and rewarding one, even if everything I’m writing is still terrible fucking hackwork. It will probably never see the light of day unless a relative finds them all on a hard drive one day after I’m dead and bothers to try publishing them. But until then, they’re safe and hidden where they belong (for now, at least.) Until next time, anyway.

 

My favorite Touhou themes

No, it’s still not the end-of-month post, but that’s still on the way. By contrast — this post probably should have been written years ago, and here it is now. Talk about a post with niche appeal, anyway; a lot of readers might not know what the fuck I’m even talking about this time without some background. So let me briefly introduce you to Touhou (which I’ve done before on the site once or twice, but once more won’t hurt.)

Touhou Project is a bullet hell/danmaku shmup series created by Japanese indie game designer/music composer/beer enthusiast ZUN. Touhou is primarily about shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei and mischievous witch Marisa Kirisame along with a few other recurring main characters fighting a bunch of youkai who are also all cute girls who fire lasers and make puns at each other. This all takes place in Gensokyo, a part of rural Japan that was cut off from the rest of the world with a magical barrier in the 1880s, the result being that it now exists in its own dimension.

Touhou has been going strong for nearly three decades now, getting its start on the PC-98 in the 90s when ZUN was still a designer working at Taito. However, his work apparently didn’t get much notice until the release of Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which came out for the PC in 2002. With EoSD and its followups Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night, Touhou exploded in popularity on the indie scene in Japan and among the Western niche weeb weirdo circles that I moved in back in the mid-2000s (and that I still do today, of course.)

If you’ve played or seen gameplay of an original Touhou game, a few aspects of it probably jumped out at you, like the intricate, colorful, and often extremely difficult to dodge bullet patterns or ZUN’s famously not-so-great character portraits (which have been long beloved in the community anyway, a lot like Ryukishi07’s slightly scuffed character art in the Higurashi and Umineko VNs.)

But to me and many other past and current fans, the most standout aspect of Touhou is its music. Each of ZUN’s games come with an excellent soundtrack, with pieces generally sorted into one stage and boss theme each over six stages, along with a few extra boss themes and a main theme. As it plays in sync with all that colorful bullet hell going on, the music adds to the effect, and it’s no exaggeration at all to say the games wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable to play muted.

That said, here are seventeen themes from Touhou 6 through 8 and 10 that I rank as my favorites. Yeah, seventeen, that’s right. I couldn’t possibly have reduced this list any more than I have. In fact, I still feel bad about leaving a ton of excellent themes out of it; that seventeen could just as easily have been seventy. The only reason I’m even limiting the selection to four out of the now 20+ original ZUN-made Touhou games is that these are the ones I played when I was really into the series way back before I kind of fell out of it for a while. So if you’re wondering where your favorite DDC or LoLK track is, I’m not putting those down at all — it’s just that I’m not as familiar with those soundtracks and games in general. I’ll also be listing these by order of play if you were playing through the series chronologically, since I can’t bring myself to rank them in quality either. But that also means you get to see some of the evolution in ZUN’s sound, which is pretty interesting in itself.

1) Shanghai Alice of Meiji 17Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Hong Meiling’s theme

Starting with one of the first hard hitters in the PC-era series. I’m not sure who “Shanghai Alice” is, aside from being the name of ZUN’s doujin circle — there’s an Alice who shows up not here but in Touhou 5 and again in 7 and ends up sticking as a major character in the series — but Hong Meiling is Chinese as the “Shanghai” suggests. But then the song sounds not Chinese but western. According to ZUN, he was thinking more about the 19th century Shanghai French concession, which would explain the western sound and the “Meiji 17” in the title, i.e. 1884.

More importantly, this theme fits Meiling’s character — she’s usually considered comic relief as early stage bosses sometimes are, but she’s no joke in combat, and the fast pace of “Shanghai Alice” reflects that.

2) Locked Girl ~ The Girl’s Secret RoomTouhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Patchouli Knowledge’s theme

“Locked Girl” takes a much more somber tone than the last boss theme, again fitting for its character. I admit Patchouli is my favorite Touhou character — she’s a shut-in who lives in a library reading all day and never even bothers to change out of her nightgown, what’s not to like about that? Very relatable; I’d do that too if I could get away with it. But it’s not just favoritism working here, because Patchouli’s theme is excellent too, and a nice showcase of ZUN’s skills at different sounds and styles.

3) Septette for the Dead PrincessTouhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Remilia Scarlet’s theme

And it turns out the big bad boss of Touhou 6 is a small vampire girl. Remilia might not look intimidating at first, but like a lot of the other girls in Touhou she has serious magical ability and can fuck you up with it. Remilia also claims to be the daughter of Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes, aka Dracula, the 15th century ruler of Wallachia in modern-day Romania. She’s confirmed to be over 500 years old, but her claim of descent from Dracula is a lie according to the Touhou wiki.

Even so, she’s powerful, and her stately theme fits her character perfectly. “Septette” is famously based on the third movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. They diverge pretty quickly, but the beginning of “Septette” is very similar, showing some of ZUN’s western classical influence.

4) U.N. Owen was her?Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Flandre Scarlet’s theme

Of course I couldn’t leave out this iconic piece. “U.N. Owen” is the theme of Flandre, Remilia’s younger sister they keep locked in her room because anyone having contact with her other than Remilia and a select few others ends extremely badly, usually as a splatter of blood and guts on her wall. Flandre’s theme is appropriately chaotic compared to her sister’s, and her fight is hard as hell. Even getting there requires you to beat the game at least on normal mode to unlock the extra stage, which is no small feat itself. I do like how Flandre’s theme is a little playful as well, though — she really just wants someone to play deadly danmaku laser games with and doesn’t seem to fully appreciate her own power.

The “U.N. Owen” in the song’s title is also a reference to an Agatha Christie novel, though I still don’t get the connection there. Maybe it’s all just meant to fit the generally western theme of the game.

5) The Doll Maker of BucurestiTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Stage 3 theme

Continuing the more western, European sound with “Doll Maker of Bucuresti”, my first pick from Touhou 7. The stage themes in these games are often considered character themes by the fans, even if they technically aren’t meant to be, and when the stage is dominated by one enemy character she ends up with two of them in a game (and sometimes more if she comes back to fight later on.) “Doll Maker” perfectly fits Alice Margatroid, pictured above, a returning character from the PC-98 era who ended up becoming one of the most prominent usually non-player characters in the series (maybe thanks in part to a remix of the next song on the list by IOSYS that got insanely popular in the mid-2000s.)

6) Doll Judgment ~ The Girl Who Played With People’s ShapesTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Alice Margatroid’s theme

And here’s Alice’s other PCB theme, the proper boss battle one this time, and it also fits with her character very well. Alice is one of my favorite characters in the series, usually depicted as somewhat of a loner who lives in a house in the woods with all the autonomous dolls she makes for a living. Despite the ominous sound to her PCB themes, Alice after this game is usually a friend to the protagonists, especially Marisa (though that relationship is sometimes depicted as more than just friendly, and sometimes extremely complicated. It’s been long accepted that the fandom makes up most Touhou lore.)

7) Border of LifeTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Yuyuko Saigyouji’s theme

One of my favorite final boss themes from Touhou, Yuyuko’s theme is a great mix of beauty and power that the series is known for. It fits especially well considering Yuyuko has an extra-tragic story, even if the fandom has made her into a bit of a joke character thanks to some of her lines during her appearance as a player character in Touhou 8. Well, that’s on ZUN, isn’t it? But this is still one of my favorite themes of his.

8) Song of the Night Sparrow ~ Night BirdTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Stage 2 theme

Sometimes early stage themes aren’t quite as impressive as the mid- and late-stage ones, even according to ZUN himself, who writes notes for each of his songs he puts out with the games. But “Night Bird” stands up very well to a lot of the other pieces in Touhou 8, with plenty of tension building the player up to what’s coming next. And it’s no good scoffing at early stage bosses anyway — Mystia Lorelei, the stage boss and night sparrow of the title, doesn’t put up much of a fight on the Touhou scale, but she does have an interesting gimmick that can really annoy you your first play through. My favorite section starts at 1:27, which is perfectly synced up to Mystia’s appearance (where she starts shooting at you before her fight proper even begins — pretty common in Touhou games to have bosses drop in on you during the stage itself.)

9) Plain AsiaTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Keine Kamishirasawa’s theme

Keine has one of the more interesting jobs in the Touhou series, even if she doesn’t show up so much these days — she protects the human village of Gensokyo from youkai threats through her power of hiding/erasing history so they can’t find it. Or eating history, which she can do in her animalistic form that she turns into during a full moon, which just happens to occur during Imperishable Night, so you’ll be seeing her again later on. I’m still not sure exactly what “eating history” involves, but there are a lot of weird concepts in the Touhou universe that you just have to accept.

No matter what pair of characters you’re playing as (these team-ups being another unique aspect of 8, at least at the time) Keine presents a fair challenge. But trying to play “Plain Asia” is way more of a challenge. ZUN really went nuts on the piano for Touhou 8; might be part of why it features probably my favorite Touhou soundtrack.

10) Love-colored Master SparkTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Marisa Kirisame’s theme

In Touhou, sometimes you have to fight your friends, and so it is in stage 4 of Imperishable Night. If you’re playing as Marisa and Alice, you have to fight Reimu, and if you’re playing as Reimu and Yukari, you have to fight Marisa (and you still have to fight one of them if you’re playing as Sakuya/Remilia or Youmu/Yuyuko, but I forget how that breaks down.) I think Marisa might have had a few different themes throughout the series, but “Love-colored Master Spark” seems to be the most associated with her, and I can hear why. It has more of a rock sound, maybe thanks to the electric guitar-sounding synth in there, and fitting with Marisa’s somewhat wild and carefree attitude.

Now that I think about it, Marisa is sort of the Sonic the Hedgehog of Touhou in that sense, making the rock-sounding theme even more appropriate. I don’t know if anyone else has made that comparison, but it feels right to me. Does that make Reimu a non-oblivious version of Knuckles, then? I’m not sure. Maybe this character match-up doesn’t actually work so well.

11) Cinderella Cage ~ Kagome-KagomeTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Stage 5 theme (or Tewi Inaba’s theme, why not)

“Kagome-Kagome” is another great stage theme that builds up the excitement as you approach the final parts of the game and hope to any and all gods or spirits or whatever else you like that you don’t run into a stray bullet or get boxed in by a pattern without a bomb to clear the screen. The title might be familiar — the main melody is based on a song that accompanies an old Japanese children’s game of the same name.

No idea what that has to do with moon rabbits or Princess Kaguya or anything else that Imperishable Night is about, but the piece works really well here anyway. “Kagome-Kagome” is also the closest thing stage mid-boss Tewi Inaba has to a theme as far as I know unless she received one later on. Usually these mid-boss-only characters don’t get much popularity, but Tewi is a pretty big deal in Touhou, even being featured on the Wikipedia page for the obsolete kana that’s part of her name. Do you have the distinction of being featured on the Wikipedia page for a dead letter? I certainly don’t, but if I had the chance I’d want to get on the page for ȝ.

12) Reach for the Moon, Immortal SmokeTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Fujiwara no Mokou’s theme

Apologies to true final boss Kaguya for not including her theme Flight of the Bamboo Cutter ~ Lunatic Princess in this list (there’s her honorable mention anyway) but I like this extra boss theme more. Mokou is hell to fight, and her theme reflects that. If I ever got to be a boss in a game, I’d also want a theme with as cool a name as “Reach for the Moon, Immortal Smoke.” This one is the badass sort of piece that brings out the edgy 13 year-old in me, though I’m pretty sure that’s not what ZUN was going for.

13) The Road of the Apotropaic God ~ Dark RoadTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Stage 2 theme

Another excellent stage 2 theme with great build-up. The Mountain of Faith soundtrack feels like it has a lot more organ in it, which I like. Not much else to say about this one except I still don’t get the deal with Hina and why she’s constantly spinning.

14) The Gensokyo the Gods LovedTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Stage 3 theme

Now here’s a fucking song. “The Gensokyo the Gods Loved” is so iconic in the series that a lot of fans refer to it as the Gensokyo national anthem. A lot of them also say it has a nostalgic feel, which I agree with. Maybe it’s partly the fact that I’d gotten used to those synth trumpets ZUN loves so much (aka the ZUNpets, if you’ve heard that term — that’s what those refer to.)

I partly love this theme as well because of its contrast with the stage boss theme:

15) Candid FriendTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Nitori Kawashiro’s theme

Again, what a piece. More organ, with a slightly rock sound this time. I’m a big fan of Nitori as well, a kappa engineer who invents all sorts of strange machines some of which show up in later non-mainline games like Touhou Luna Nights (which I own, but I’m way too horrible at — I need to try it again.)

16) Faith is for the Transient PeopleTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Sanae Kochiya’s theme

If I don’t have as much to say about the Mountain of Faith pieces, it’s not because I like them less — I just wasn’t quite as hooked on Touhou by the time 10 came out and didn’t engage with it in quite the same way. I never stopped listening to the music, though. Sanae is another interesting character, a natural rival to Reimu as a fellow shrine maiden, though they eventually end up pretty cordial with each other. However, Sanae’s theme is appropriately fierce in Touhou 10, reflecting the fact that she doesn’t let up in combat either.

17) Native FaithTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Suwako Moriya’s theme

Of course. How could I not end this list with “Native Faith”? It’s another piece I don’t have a lot else to say about except how good it is. All of Mountain of Faith feels like it has an earthy feel to it, the music included, sort of like how Imperishable Night has a spacy one. Frog goddess Suwako’s theme caps that off nicely, though once again, as an extra stage boss she takes some effort to reach.

And that’s my list of favorite Touhou themes, again, with a lot of excellent music necessarily left out, otherwise this post would be even longer than 3,000 words, which is probably already too long. If you’ve made it this far, I hope I’ve been able to show just how special the music in this series is. Touhou is well worth picking up and trying out, though unfortunately most of the games on this list aren’t available to play legally very easily. I’m pretty sure the games from Mountain of Faith on are all on Steam now, but for practical purposes 6 through 9 are only playable as downloads unless you can track down physical copies. The PC-98 games take more work to play, since they require an emulator to run, but they’re available out there as well if you don’t have qualms about less than legal methods (and I was going to link to the fansite Moriya Shrine here and say ZUN apparently doesn’t have an issue with piracy of practically unavailable games, but maybe he does, since just last month it seems to have been hit with DMCA notices, so never mind? I own copies of EoSD, PCB, and IN but I got them at anime cons back when Touhou had more of a presence in those circles than it does now. Maybe go check the subreddit instead.)

Whatever path you choose, whether you’re already a fan or you decide to check the series out or leave it, I hope you at least enjoyed the music. If you did, there’s an unimaginably massive amount of fan-created Touhou albums out there in every style for you to explore, a few of which I’ve looked at here on the site, specifically the jazz stuff by Tokyo Active NEETs and DDBY, so be sure to check on those as well. Next post, I really will be getting to the featured articles from March and a couple of album reviews, so until then.

Talking shop #3: Get in the pot

One day in the year 691, in Tang dynasty China, two men sat down to lunch. These two were Lai Junchen and Zhou Xing, the chiefs of Empress Wu Zetian’s widespread network of secret police and informants. Lai and Zhou were infamous and widely hated for heading up an officially sanctioned reign of terror against the empire’s bureaucratic and military elites, even having produced a book on “advanced interrogation techniques” that’s survived to the present day.

Over lunch, Lai asked Zhou his opinion on the most effective way to get a suspect to confess to a crime. Zhou replied that he would place his suspect in a large pot of water with a fire lit under it. At that point, he said, the man would spill everything.

Lai agreed with his colleague. Then he called for his servants, who brought out a massive pot full of water that they began heating up. Lai explained that Zhou had been placed under suspicion of plotting against Empress Wu and invited him into the pot. No need: Zhou immediately confessed to his plotting, knowing what was in store for him otherwise. This story is the origin of a Mandarin phrase that translates as “to invite the gentleman into the urn” — to trap someone using their own cruel method. Maybe a stronger version of our own English saying, to give someone a taste of their own medicine.

Why am I telling you this? It is one of my favorite historical anecdotes — whether it all happened in exactly that way or not, it makes for a good story — but there’s another reason I’m bringing it up that relates directly to writing, social media, and accountability. Writers have various tools we can use, some sharper than others. For as much as I harp here on the importance of preserving and respecting freedom of speech, it’s also important to recognize this simple fact: we have the power through our words to influence society for the better or the worse.1 Even if the effect of one person’s words is microscopic (like most of ours, including mine — I’m not going to pretend my basic as hell plan WordPress blog has that much impact on the world) I believe every writer has their part to play in this.

Which brings me to this dumbass tweet I saw a while back:

Name cut out partly because I’m not interested in calling particular people out and partly because I don’t want to give this person any more undeserved attention than they already received.

Now sure, some people might think: “Ah, AK is mad because he likes video game soundtracks.” But that’s not exactly the case here. I don’t even see the above tweet as a slap against me, since I listen to a lot of types of music, of which game soundtracks are just one. But calling a game soundtrack a “type of music” is inaccurate in itself, considering the amazing diversity of musical styles you can find in games. I can’t read this person’s mind, naturally, so I don’t know whether they have misconceptions about what “game music” consists of, whether they think it’s all either beeps and bloops or Sonic Adventure butt rock.

But even if that were the case, it doesn’t matter to me. The reason I’m highlighting this tweet is not what it might imply about the quality of video game music, but its nature as a personal attack over a matter of taste. Sure, maybe it was meant as a joke. But even then, looking at this statement in the most favorable light possible, it was a mean-spirited one, and not nearly a clever enough joke to come close to justifying such a tone.2

Anyone who’s spent a few minutes on Twitter will know that this tweet isn’t out of the ordinary. The platform hosts a constant flood of insults of this sort. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with all personal insults, though I think they should be avoided as much as possible — only that when I see insults lobbed at people who are actively and intentionally hurting others or making the world a measurably worse place (like say certain politicians and executives) I can’t blame those lobbing the insults, and sometimes I’m happy to see them posted.

Insults over disagreements in taste are another matter entirely. Even I, as bitter as I am, don’t have the energy for that level of constant negativity.

I also saw an unkind implication a few days back about the social skills and habits of people who like NagatoroUzaki, My Dress-Up Darling, and similar series, and that initial tweet in the thread got a hundred thousand likes or something, so maybe I’m just an idiot. But it also raises an actually interesting argument against these series that I want to take on in a later post.

Naturally, social media is set up to encourage this kind of inflammatory talk since it thrives on engagement, both positive and negative. This connection has been so well understood for so long that I don’t even need to bring it up, but it’s always worth talking about considering how much social media has been woven into all our lives. Even if we don’t think about it much ourselves — my own engagement with it is pretty minimal; I only use Twitter and then under my pseudonymous initials, nothing using my real name, yet I have almost 3,000 tweets a little over three years into my presence there, which is probably far too many.

And on occasion I do read some boneheaded shit someone wrote in retweets or replies to tweets from people I don’t know, and though I don’t do it, I might at least have the urge to get into it with them. Over those three years I’ve even joined in a couple of those common ratio pile-ons as I noted back in this self-flagellation post, though in these cases I make sure to address the contents of whatever was posted and not to attack the person making them, a distinction not everyone makes. But I’m still not happy about it afterwards.

Yeah, Udon-chan from Aquatope would love Twitter I bet.

Looking back on my now 25 years online, starting when we got our first dial-up connection at home, I’ve probably done about as much of this dumb shit as the average user has. I’ve always been not much more than a bystander in these situations, even when I frequented 4chan way back in the day (and really 95% or more of that site’s users are bystanders too, despite whatever nonsense the news back at the time would have had you believe about an elite team of megahackers — though good on those actual rogue expert types for taking on Mr. Putin’s criminal regime right now.)

So maybe I’m not the best person to address this matter, but even as a bystander, I’ve seen enough bad consequences happen to other people that I have at least a basic understanding of how things work. Which as I see it goes like this: if you make a habit of insulting people and gain a following for that, be prepared to take serious hits at some point yourself. At the very least, insult people who really do deserve it, like those aforementioned asshole politicians and executives. Otherwise, it takes a very special sort to insulate yourself from blowback: even a few famously untouchable internet personalities who got into drama talk ended up pulled off their pedestals. So sure, none of this bullshit comes anywhere close to the horrific antics of Lai and Zhou above, but it’s still worth remembering that story if only for instructive purposes.

And in our own game/anime/etc. circles here and on YouTube, it’s vital to keep in mind that you can express dislike and even hatred for certain works and types of works without insulting those who enjoy them. I don’t think I ever do that, and I also don’t follow anyone here on WordPress who does — there’s no quicker way to get me to hit “unfollow” than to jump into the mud like that.

And it’s generally just a bad idea to make a spectacle of yourself unless you’re at least as entertaining as Mr. Libido here. This guy also mainly minded his own business in spite of appearances. Yakuza 0 is full of great life lessons, isn’t it?

My intention here isn’t to shake my finger at anyone. I don’t think any of the excellent people reading this site need this lesson from me anyway. Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t care to tell people what to do, but merely to give a warning, and partly to myself. Plenty of us can dish it out, but how many of us can take it in return? Best to worry about yourself and leave others to their own business. God knows I have enough to worry about.

Anyway, I didn’t expect to write another one of these posts so soon, but that’s how it is sometimes: I’ll read something that sets me off (this time the anime Twitter scuffle) and I can’t rest until I’ve addressed it. As usual, I’m interested in hearing about how other writers and readers think of these situations. Next up will be the regular end-of-month post, I promise.

 

1 There’s an important distinction here between what I see as the social responsibility of the writer who takes on real-life issues and addresses real-life people, on one hand, and the contrasting lack of responsibility of a writer or any kind of artist who deals purely in fiction and fantasy on the other. I have far more respect for a writer who produces vile stories but acts respectfully and honorably towards others than for one who claims to be upstanding but uses their pen to recklessly destroy others’ lives and livelihoods, or even just to generally make the world a more miserable place to live. Life doesn’t need any help being miserable, does it? On the other hand, a vile story can just be critically torn up and ignored without further harm. At least that’s how I feel — again, I know a lot of people disagree with me on this point.

2 And following up on the above point, I don’t think it’s even justified to attack people based on objectionable contents of the artistic works they enjoy. What counts as “objectionable” is usually pretty subjective, but even setting that argument aside, even objectionable fiction is still just fiction. To use a fairly common example I’ve seen from anime, Monogatari is a divisive series, and while I completely understand why someone would have serious problems with it based on what I’ve watched so far (though I still think the first scene of Bakemonogatari should filter a lot of them out) I draw the line at insults directed at the fans. The same goes for fans of any other ethically and morally produced artistic work.

I’ve already addressed this subject a few times (you can see those in that “commentaries” tab above along with a link to this nonsense I’ve just written) so I won’t beat that particular dead horse again too much, but it does keep coming back up. I just don’t think I have anything else to say about it.

Talking shop #2: Two types of success in online writing

Go to Google and run a search with the terms “how to blog”, “blogging guide [fill in current year]” or similar, and you’ll find yourself tripping over ten thousand nearly identical blog posts about how to blog successfully. But what exactly does it mean to be a successful blogger?

If you’re new to the site and don’t know my style, then don’t worry — this post isn’t one of those “guides” that starts out pretending to criticize such courses and ends up trying to sell you on one of its very own, and one that mostly likely upsells you on a far more expensive one. There are so many of these interchangeable online courses available now that if they were put in box form like how they used to sell PC games, they’d likely reach beyond the orbit of fucking Jupiter.

No, this post is just the opposite: yet another opportunity for me to complain, this time about the often soulless approach you’ll find towards online writing (and crossing over into other forms of creative work, poking my nose into areas of art I might have no business talking about. But I’ll do it anyway. And if I ever end up trying to sell you an online course, please unfollow this site and cancel me from the internet forever.)

Also, to make it clear: I like money. Of course I do — I’m a good American capitalist after all. I’d also like to make a lot more money than I make right now, though naturally I have ethical and moral limits to what I’d do to get more, just as most of us do (aside from the ones selling bullshit courses, of course.)

As much as I’d like to afford the good meat, I still wouldn’t do that. Also yeah, I’m using unused anime and game screenshots I had lying around like I usually do in these kinds of posts; this is part of how I economize. (Also, watch Yuru Camp.)

I also recognize that writing, and more broadly speaking any creative/artistic pursuit, very often has a commercial element to it. Criticism of any kind of creation merely on the grounds that it’s “commercial” is meaningless, since almost everything exposed to a public audience has that commercial aspect — the creator and/or publishers trying to find said audience, to market the writing, painting, music, film, or whatever other medium you’re dealing with. And there’s plenty of great art out there that has a strong commercial element, however you’d measure that.

That said, there’s also plenty of creative work that can’t find an audience, maybe because it never gets noticed in the massive sea of similar-looking work, or because it’s too bizarre and obtuse or in too small a niche to have much appeal to most people. It is entirely possible to successfully market bizarre art and make massive amounts of money doing so (as two guys in particular have who I’ll bring up later, and not in the most favorable terms.) But generally speaking, the vast majority of both that and even of more “normal” work never finds much of an audience, beyond maybe the creator’s family and friends, if even that.

How is this connected to blogging? There are tons of experts out there ready to tell you what exactly you need to do to be a success at writing online, but without acknowledging that there are different kinds of success in online writing. You might be able to divide this form of “success” into several categories, but here I’ll stick to just two broad types.

I won’t let my obsessive nature entirely take over this post.

One type of success, and the only one that I believe many of these guides acknowledge, is what I’d call the business-oriented or profit-driven type. Monetize and go for the clicks by writing about only what’s hot and trending and optimize all your posts with search engine optimization tactics (and search engine meaning Google, because that’s the only one people use.) Don’t worry about the longevity of your posts or the fact that almost none of them will be relevant to anyone months or years from now — that’s not your goal anyway. It’s clicks now, money now.

This sort of writing is naturally appropriate for those writing online for marketing/commercial purposes. If you provide goods or services that you want to advertise, or more likely you’re a freelancer writing posts for someone else providing said goods/services, getting eyes on your work is your chief concern. There’s a reason requests for articles written purely with SEO in mind demand a bunch of very specific phrases and terms be used, typically frontloaded for maximum effect — the crawlers1 that scan sites for new information look for such phrases to match with what people are searching for in the present and recent past, and matching your posts with the relevant searches is one of your primary goals.

And of course, if you’re trying to get more eyes on your writing in general, it’s a good idea to use these tools. Mandatory, even, because this is how Google selects what sites and posts to put on page 1 of its search results. It doesn’t give a damn how much work you might have put into a post — arguably, aside from judging effort by word count which is not the only indicator of effort anyway, it can’t even tell how much you put into it. You simply have to learn how to game the system while still writing articles that people will actually want to read and that you actually care about writing. That’s the tightrope you have to walk if you want to make a real impact writing online for yourself without burning out on it.

And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Except there actually is; don’t let people say otherwise. This is an old cliché that I wish would die.

But there’s the rub: do you actually care about what you’re writing? If you’re writing purely for money, the likely answer is no. When I worked as a freelancer, I wrote for all sorts of small businesses, and most of the work I produced was on subjects I didn’t really give a damn about. Very occasionally I’d get a request for something touching on geography or history somehow, usually in connection with travel, but I never managed to get anywhere near writing about games, anime, or music as I do here. I knew that work was out there, but my path never took me in that direction. Yet as long as I was being paid, I didn’t care.

Now imagine you don’t have a profit motive in writing. Or maybe you do, but you’d like to balance that with your desire to write what you want (which as noted above can be a difficult balance to achieve.) Or maybe you just want to increase your visibility so you can get more people reading your short stories or your novel or playing your indie game or whatever you might have created. In these cases, I think the above monetization advice doesn’t work so well. Aside from the use of SEO tactics, which I’m too lazy to bother with on this site but I know can be very effective, I believe the conventional wisdom about online writing only takes you so far if your primary goal in writing is personal satisfaction.

Here I want to dump on two artists in particular, two who have made careers out of being flashy and extremely divisive: Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. These two have found great commercial success, selling their work at auction for insane amounts of money. They are both undoubtedly master marketers — if that’s your business, you’d do well to study how they operate.

Their artistic work also has absolutely no emotional effect on me. It’s all a complete dead end as far as I can tell. I don’t want to go so far as to call these guys talentless hacks as some people do, since they absolutely have some kind of talent; otherwise they wouldn’t have the art world by the balls. I just think their artistic work is pretty close to worthless from that emotional angle.2

Maybe they’re simply not going for that effect — both have emphasized the importance of profit in the art industry, and I’d be a hypocrite to argue with that, since as I’ve said I’m interested in making money too. But then, I’m not a professional artist. I’m an attorney, and I get my money by providing clients with legal services. You could say there’s maybe some art in that work, but it’s not the kind of art that anyone outside our niche would give a shit about (and I’m not the type of attorney who goes into court and makes dramatic speeches either, so that’s definitely not true of my work.)

It’s great if you can make massive amounts of money doing what you love, but that’s hard as hell to pull off.

There’s a reason I’m picking on Hirst and Koons in particular: I’ve seen online writers cite them as examples of how we should approach our craft. Granted, I have the luxury of keeping this blog purely as a hobby, so I can really write whatever the fuck I want here (and I can use as many fucks as I like without fear as well.) But unless your goal is to make Hirst or Koons money, which God bless you and good luck if it is, this seems to me like terrible advice. It’s the same sort of advice I see from people who take a completely cynical attitude towards artistic work, who harp on the importance of timely and trendy “content creation”3 above all else without regard to its emotional impact or its longevity, and who are probably also on the goddamn NFT train. It’s all money, all profit, all fucking soulless.

Now again, I have to emphasize that it is absolutely possible to be both commercially and artistically successful (however you’d define the latter — though technical skill is important, I also pin it on that “emotional impact” element that is admittedly going to vary from person to person.) There isn’t a starving artist dead or alive who actually wished to be starving, and I doubt any of those “died penniless and were discovered after their deaths” types like Van Gogh and Lovecraft and so many others wouldn’t have preferred success during their own lives.

I only question this purely profit-driven approach to creative endeavors. I write here because I like expressing my views on art I enjoy and occasionally on art-related legal matters.4 If I were a professional artist, I think I’d be working first to express myself as I wished and only then hoping to get recognition for it. Because of personal circumstances, I don’t have the ability to take that gamble, so to make sure money I became a lawyer. And sure, being a lawyer isn’t the most conducive thing to leading a happy and healthy life. But the alternative as I see it is worse. I’m not sure why I’d want to try to become a writer by only writing what I thought other people wanted to read, following trends without any regard to my own feelings. That sounds like a truly miserable life to me.

Honestly, I’d rather sit on this “power source” than do that — it’s probably more comfortable. Don’t tell me the people who made Ryza didn’t realize what this looked like; I’ll never believe it.

But then, I don’t know why people do a lot of things. I’m not the one to listen to about how to make money online. Go buy one of those bullshit courses if you want to know about that, or far better still, dig up some actually free advice on that. Maybe the good people at Automattic can provide some free advice as well; I think WordPress might provide some free seminars on SEO or whatever, though not having taken them I can’t speak to their quality.

As usual, it’s probably best to ignore my advice, since I’m not exactly the happiest person on Earth anyway. I can only speak for myself. I will probably be writing more utter bullshit about writing at some point, though, so please look forward to that.

 

1 Am I the only one who thinks of weird robotic spiders or squids feeling around websites when I hear about SEO crawlers? Like something designed by H. R. Giger.

2 I’d say I feel the same about stuff like the famed drip and color field paintings of Pollock and Rothko, but in their cases, I think there’s something there that hits other people emotionally but that just doesn’t hit me. By contrast, I don’t even see that in the work of Hirst and Koons. The fact that people have paid millions for their art says more about the quality of humanity in general than it does about the quality of their work in my opinion.

This isn’t an issue of my disliking “weird art” either, since a few of my favorite artists are early 20th century surrealists like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst, and they painted some weird as fuck stuff. Yet I always at least thought their paintings were fascinating, and often emotionally powerful even if they were more on the abstract side. Maybe this really is just another matter of taste that can’t be argued over.

3 The constant use of the term “content” for what we do is also something I have a problem with. It just feels to me like reducing all our work to the creation of something samey and bland. “Content” in this context makes me think of tasteless paste people 300 years in the future might eat out of tubes to sustain themselves, maybe on a colony ship flying to a new star because humanity has somehow managed to nuke the entire Solar System. I won’t push too hard on this, though, because there are plenty of excellent writers and video makers whose work I enjoy who also use the term.

4 And just in case — I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this site would disagree with me on this point, but yes, games and anime absolutely count as art. I might dump on Hirst and Koons above, but I also don’t like to draw a distinction between “fine art” and “popular art”, or between low and high art or any of that shit. Same with genre fiction like fantasy and sci-fi vs. “literary fiction” — there are good and bad examples of both, and one type is not inherently better than the other.

Games for broke people: Digital analog edition

It’s been a few years since I wrote once of these short free game review posts after digging around on itch.io, but it’s never too late to dig an old concept up again, and there are always broke people around looking for games to play (assuming they don’t want to turn pirate.)

I’ve also been watching some videos on YouTube in the “analog horror” category. This is a fairly new genre that from what I can tell is based on taking early 90s aesthetics and putting them into a psychological horror context. Kind of like a creepy version of vaporwave, I guess. It’s a strange concept, but some of it works pretty well. I’ve already talked up the series Gemini Home Entertainment, which I thought made great use of the old home video format to put together an interesting horror story. On the other hand, I also watched the wildly popular analog horror series Mandela Catalogue and wasn’t impressed with it, despite how much it’s talked up online — it even got a few eye rolls out of me, which is death when it comes to horror unless you’re going for a comedic effect, and it definitely wasn’t.

So maybe this is just a hit-and-miss genre for me. Or maybe I just need to play some games in the same genre instead? So I picked one free analog horror game, and then another game on itch.io after searching for “analog” when I couldn’t find any other analog horror stuff that didn’t look like a takeoff of Gemini or Mandela or Local 58. I also searched for “analogue” to include the non-American works as well, since the rest of the world thinks we spell that word incorrectly. But that didn’t yield anything too interesting aside from a free pdf tribute to Laika, the dog who died after being launched into space on Sputnik 2. I thought I was fucking depressed, but some of these people on itch.io, man.

Finally, just to get a third game in, I typed “aaa”, hit enter, and played the first game that didn’t look like complete tossed-off garbage from the thumbnail and description. Maybe there was a reason I retired this post format.

No Players Online

Starting with one that apparently just about every big horror jumpscare spooky game let’s player YouTuber already covered two years ago, the ones who used to dramatically scream at every shadow they saw until people finally got tired of that irritating shit.

No Players Online simulates an early 90s-looking capture the flag FPS, a beta multiplayer game with up to 16 players able to join each server, presumably in teams of up to 8 each. However, checking the server list reveals a column of 0/16s. Mysteriously, some of these servers are still online. Joining one of these drops you into an empty FPS map, a brutalist-style concrete structure with a couple of courtyards and trees and a central chasm that I tried to jump into but couldn’t.

I always wondered what other possible function the weird structures in these old FPSes could serve aside from being deathmatch arenas.

You have a gun that shoots a random number of bullets before you have to reload, but that’s not a problem since you’re the only player in the game. What follows is the easiest capture the flag game in history — at least until the creepy stuff starts happening, which doesn’t take long. No Players Online doesn’t let on about how you’re supposed to deal with said creepy stuff, but getting close to your goal of getting 3 out of 3 points does reveal a bit of what’s going on, and you’ll have a choice at that point between completing and not completing your mission. If you choose not to complete it, you can always quit and try another server.

There doesn’t seem to be much of an ending to the game at first, but after a little digging, I found that there is some kind of ARG thing going on with it featuring encoded messages and clues outside the game, and naturally people have already used those to solve its mysteries. Apparently it can’t be fully solved independently any longer, but that’s just how it is with these kinds of projects that rely on other media — sometimes you end up hitting a wall with a broken link or a disconnected phone number.

There’s a good chance this guy is a fan of the Caretaker too

I found the empty server pretty creepy, at least the first time I played through a “match” in it, so good on the developer for getting that atmosphere down. However, it also leans a little too much on the kind of “spooky distorted face man oh no” bullshit that made me dislike Mandela. There’s also just not that much game in this game, at least in the traditional sense. No Players Online is not exactly what I was looking for, but at least it’s an original concept, and there is more here than it might seem like at first glance, so it might still be worth a look for players who are into such projects.

TASCAR

One of the nice things about hunting for games on itch.io is that some of them are playable on your browser, no messing around with installation. These tend to be smaller/shorter games of course, but it’s possible to have fun with even a five minute-long game, so why discriminate in that sense?

While searching for “analog”, I found TASCAR, one of these browser games that promises a top-quality racing experience in the form of a text adventure. It’s not a horror game, though — at least not in the traditional sense.

Yeah, it’s one of these.

I believe TASCAR was created by someone who hates both stock car racing and text adventures, because this game seems to be purposely nearly unplayable. I was curious about how the hell someone managed to depict a car race in text form, but the point of it rather seems to be purely to piss the player off.

Oh yeah, you might be saying “hey, there’s a help option, try that out!” So I started a new game and decided to ask for directions for once.

thanks asshole

Eventually I managed to enter the fucking race and drive after the game refused to understand the commands drive, proceed, and step on the gas pedal, but this was the ultimate result:

what fun

I was wondering how aggressively hateful towards its players a game would have to be for me to still dump on it even when it’s free, and I think I’ve found a good example in TASCAR. I guess it’s just meant as a joke, but if so, it’s the Takeshi’s Challenge kind of joke where you basically end up kicked in the balls if you bother with it. If you’re a real masochist, then, you might enjoy this more than I did.

aaaaAAAAA

There’s a title that accurately describes how I felt after playing the above game. Despite its strange name, aaaaAAAAA is actually playable. It’s also frustrating and obtuse, though this time I can blame myself in part for just not being very good at such games.

aaaaAAAAA is a platformer that requires the player to jump on falling blocks to get as high up as possible. There are two gimmicks to it that complicate matters: the controls change every minute, and the player has to constantly hold down the a key at the same time to replenish their HP.

This is what the kids call “a mood” I guess

I’m not the most coordinated person on the planet. There’s a reason I mostly play JRPGs and avoid a lot of action games and platformers that require extreme timing and precision. That said, aaaaAAAAA seems like a nice free game to check out if you like to challenge yourself.

The spiked bricks falling on your character’s head and the constant screaming also make this game feel a lot like living life, which if that was the point was very well executed in my opinion! Congratulations to the developer Mewore for really getting that feeling down well if that was their intention. And even if it wasn’t, I still can’t help but think of the game as a metaphor for life. The fact that I suck at it makes that metaphor all the more accurate.

On that sunny note, as usual, that’s it for this round of free itch.io games. Next time I try out this feature, I’ll probably drop the themed aspect of it, because it clearly isn’t working out for me anymore.

A review of Yuru Camp (S1)

Looks like my new, “original” anime roulette post feature was more successful than I’d first hoped at finding me new stuff to watch, because just four days after landing on Yuru Camp, aka Laid-Back Camp,* I finished the first season. Granted, it was only 12 episodes long, and I still have to watch the second season (along with the upcoming movie whenever we get that) but considering how long I usually take to get through even a one-cour run of anime, this is lightning speed for me.

Maybe I tore through it so quickly because Yuru Camp was something I badly needed to watch. When its first season aired in 2018, it totally passed me by. I wasn’t watching any currently-airing anime at the time, and even if I had been, I’ve always had a bit of a bias against these pure slice-of-life shows featuring “cute girls doing x,” where x is whatever theme the show focuses on (for example, playing music in K-On!, or more usually just living their school lives.) That x in Yuru Camp is camping, which didn’t increase the odds that I’d bother checking it out — I appreciate the natural beauty of the Earth, but I prefer to do that through my monitor in 1080p. I have absolutely no interest in camping myself, so even if it featured plenty of natural beauty, a show about camping wasn’t likely to attract me.

Considering all that, I probably never would have watched Yuru Camp if VRV hadn’t recommended it to me and I hadn’t then landed on its short spinoff Room Camp in my last post. And though VRV is still kind of a piece of shit, I have to thank them, because this is a case where my biases were completely stupid. I loved this first season of Yuru Camp. You know I don’t use that word lightly either, so I’ll explain myself below (and also spoilers, I guess, but the show kind of “spoils” the ending of this season in its very first scene, where I got the above screenshot from, so it’s not as big as deal as it would normally be. This isn’t the most plot-heavy series ever anyway.)

Yuru Camp opens with Rin Shima, a dedicated solo camper heading out to a lake near Mt. Fuji on her bike. Despite still being in high school, Rin already has serious experience going out on her own on extended trips away from home, setting up camp in the woods, by rivers, and on scenic lakes and hills. Even the fact that it’s nearly winter and cold out doesn’t bother her — in fact, she prefers camping during the off-season, when she can feel truly alone in the outdoors.

As Rin approaches the campsite, she sees a pink-haired girl sleeping on a bench at a rest area nearby. She doesn’t think much of this, but after night falls and she returns to the main campsite complex to use the bathroom, she’s frightened by the same girl, who suddenly appears behind her crying for help. After a brief chase back to her tent by the lake, Rin discovers that this girl, Nadeshiko Kagamihara, is new to the area and came up to the campsite on her own bike to see Mt. Fuji up close for the first time. Since she doesn’t have any food with her, Rin shares her fire and a cup of instant ramen with Nadeshiko, who happy accepts.

I only ever ate instant ramen in a shitty dorm room, looks better eating it by Mt. Fuji. Also, the ramen we ate in college didn’t have actual beef in it. Can’t expect much from those 30 cent Maruchan Cup Noodles I guess.

Nadeshiko is eventually rescued by getting a lift from her older sister, but not before giving Rin her number so they can go camping together. Rin isn’t necessarily too hot on the idea, since she’s a dedicated solo camper, but she doesn’t seem very against the idea either. However, she still needs to warm up to that idea a bit. And before she can get that time she runs into Nadeshiko again, far sooner than she’d anticipated, when Rin notices her at school and realizes they’re classmates.

Excited by the prospect of more camping, Nadeshiko has just joined the Outdoor Activities Club or the “Outclub”, a less intense version of the school’s Hiking Club. This Outclub is also dedicated to camping, but without the kind of physical exertion required to go hiking — just nice, laid-back camping.

They’re also headquartered in an extremely cramped, narrow room and don’t have much in the way of funds because there’s only three of them including their new recruit, and good winter sleeping bags are expensive.

When Nadeshiko sees Rin at their school for the first time, she excitedly asks Rin to join the club, thinking she’d be perfect for it given her interests. But no luck: she’s a true solo camper and has no interest in joining up.

Despite this refusal, Rin establishes a friendship with Nadeshiko and starts talking with her more about camping. And on her next solo outing, when Rin tells her old friend Ena where she’s camping over text as she often does, Nadeshiko unexpectedly shows up at the same campsite with her older sister. Rin is surprised, but far from being put out by it, she welcomes Nadeshiko over.

Ena at home with her dog, working behind the scenes to get Rin out of her shell/comfort zone.

As Rin gets to know Nadeshiko better, she also gets a bit closer to Chiaki Oogaki and Aoi Inuyama, the other two members of her club, and eventually after a few more solo outings of her own during which she texts and shares photos with them, she finally caves in. Not to join the club, no — that’s still way too far for her. But she does agree to join them for an overnight Christmas campout along with their newly roped-in club advisor, the new teacher Miss Toba, who takes the opportunity to get wasted (her other name being “Miss Chug” as it’s translated in the subtitles, which is applied in probably the most favorable way possible here.)

It’s not real cocoa without rum in it

That’s all this first season of Yuru Camp has in terms of plot. It’s not much — the actual events of this 12-episode run are pretty thin and there’s no conflict at all to speak of. Unless you count Rin not really wanting to join Nadeshiko in the Outclub, and nobody’s actually bothered by that, so I don’t even count it as a conflict. In that sense, this is very much the expected slice-of-life series.

But what it does have is so good that the lack of conflict or plot or any of that other standard story stuff is made into a positive. Yuru Camp is pure relaxation and comfort, and watching it had almost a healing effect on me. It’s even placed into another category of anime, iyashikei, a term I hadn’t heard before that refers to the healing qualities of a series like this. Healing for the psyche and the soul, I guess, and if that’s the point of Yuru Camp, it worked. Normally, as I’ve said before, I don’t go for this sort of slice-of-life stuff, but there’s something special about this series in particular that made it work for me.

The characters are a big part of this appeal. Even though she loves camping and I don’t, I can extremely relate to Rin’s desire for solitude. However, her contrast with the excitable, outgoing Nadeshiko does a lot to make this show interesting. Yeah, it is the standard “opposite leads” thing (I don’t know if there’s another name for it; I never took any bullshit creative writing courses so it has a proper one for all I know) but done really well. Rin and Nadeshiko’s interactions with their other friends were also always entertaining — I especially liked Aoi’s dry responses to Chiaki and Nadeshiko’s occasionally freaking out, and especially to Toba’s crying over forgetting to bring the proper kinds of booze for their trip. There’s plenty of good comedy in those back-and-forth bits.

There’s also some nice light commentary on weird social stuff, like bringing food over for your sick friend and then being roped into making dinner for everyone when you don’t really know how to cook just because you’re a local and are supposed to know the cuisine by heart. Of course, it all works out somehow.

The fact that the series in this season focuses almost entirely on camping also helps, I think, even though I have no interest in it myself. It was easy to forget at times that it’s sort of technically another school-setting series. Not that that’s always bad; I’ve praised quite a few school setting shows here on the site myself.

But Yuru Camp is something different. Aside from a bit of time spent in the club’s cramped room at school and talk about their final exams before their Christmas excursion, almost all the show takes place out in various campgrounds or on the way to them — at a rest stop, a restaurant, or a hot springs to refresh from the road. The few hot springs scenes throughout especially make me wish I were over there to try them out, since I don’t live on a volcanic island and don’t have easy access to such a thing, and a hot shower doesn’t feel like much of a substitute.

Yuru Camp features a lot of actual camping advice as well. I don’t think I’ll ever find any of it useful myself, but it will probably help out other viewers, especially if this series motivates them to try out camping for themselves.

Another major theme of Yuru Camp I didn’t expect to find was food. This show obsesses over food — it’s almost as much of a cooking series as Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, with dishes drawn and animated in just as lovingly a fashion. And the effect in this series is about the same: it emphasizes the power of shared meals to bring people together, as it does all the members of the club, Ena, and Rin. And even the drunk as hell Toba-sensei, who at least sobers up enough during the end-of-season Christmas camping trip to praise everyone’s cooking.

Also like Today’s Menu, all the food in Yuru Camp made me hungry for dishes I couldn’t make or easily get. I’m not sure how “healing” that was exactly, but I was happy at least to see Rin, Nadeshiko and company enjoying them.

Aside from all the great-looking barbecue and hot pot stuff, they pay tribute to the American classic s’mores, which I wasn’t expecting. I might not be much of a camper, but even I’ve had a few of these over a fire when I was a kid. Also Nadeshiko is a god damn cinnamon roll, more than any other character I’ve seen, and there are a few other contenders for sure.

Aside from all the new and growing friendships going on in Yuru Camp, I liked how the series dealt with Rin’s preference for solitude in general. Ena does push her a bit to get out and bond with Nadeshiko, and then later with Chiaki and Aoi, though always in a subtle way. At the same time, it’s never stated or even implied that Rin’s solo camping is a bad thing in itself, or that it’s a sign of her self-isolation or any such thing.

This is an important distinction, and one that isn’t always made. As much as I liked and still like a series like Nagatoro, for example, the “getting the lead out of his shell” story was almost always put in the context of a budding romance with the girl pulling him out of that self-imposed solitude. That setup works for that sort of series, since it is a romance and we naturally want to see the two romantic interests interact, but I think that approach just would have annoyed me in Yuru Camp (well, maybe you could make the same argument against Nagatoro and similar series, but those have different expectations for their characters.)

Even when you’re physically far from friends, it’s possible to be close.

All of the above helped make Yuru Camp into a real healing experience for me, or at least as close as watching anime can get to comforting the soul or however you want to put it. It might also be useful to you as a bit of camping advice, or even as a travel guide if you live in or are headed to Yamanashi Prefecture, where its characters live and where most of the series’ action takes place.

That doesn’t apply to me, but I still really enjoyed Yuru Camp. I haven’t given out numerical scores for a few years now, and I won’t start again — it works well for some other excellent writers and reviewers, but for some reason it doesn’t for me. However, I’ll give this series a rating in qualitative form: watching Yuru Camp made me hate life a little less. That’s my version of an A+, for what it’s worth.

And who knows, maybe I’ll bother going outside one day.

I’m not sure what I’ll watch next, but it may well be Yuru Camp season 2. I don’t normally break up established series like this, but I’ve heard the second season has a different feel than the first. It also sounds like a third season might be on its way at some point since a film is coming out this year, so I may as well go season by season while I have the time. Whatever I happen to watch and finish next, see you next time.

 

* I’m using the Japanese title now instead because it’s fewer letters to type and I don’t have to fuck with that irritating hyphen, and also because Yuru Camp seems to be how most people here refer to it anyway. Technically there’s also a Unicode triangle △ at the end of that title representing a tent, but I’m not messing with that either.

The anime roulette: part 2

I didn’t expect to be back with the second part of this anime roulette feature so soon. But the first part was a bit of a disappointment, giving me not one series that I felt very much like continuing (aside from Sorairo Utility, but at 15 minutes including the ending it didn’t give anything else to watch.) So I felt like trying again to see if I could get more promising results. I’ve also had a few unexpected days off from work, but since I’m on constant standby, I can’t go anywhere — I’m still chained to my desk waiting for the inevitable flood of documents that will hit sooner or later. Maybe even as I write this sentence… but no, still nothing.

So thank God there’s plenty of other things to do at my desk, all involving looking at a screen just like my job does (I’m sure my eyes will give out before I reach 40; I’ve just accepted this.) The original list of anime recommendations give to me by the assholes at VRV is down from 17 to 12 following the first post in this series. Since that post, my recommendation list has been updated with some new series — it’s specifically filling up with school-setting slice of life-looking stuff now, which is annoying.

But never mind, because I won’t be adding anything new to this roulette. Not today, at least. Maybe I’ll throw in a few new series once I’ve gotten down to seven or eight left to keep things interesting. But I also don’t feel like watering down the original results with new recommendations affected by what I’ve watched in the last week. In other words, I don’t really want to watch more school slice of life series, though YuruYuri honestly looks like it might be all right. Sounds like Asobi Asobase from the description.

Anyway, there’s still enough on the roulette to not have to think about that for a while, so I’ll put the decision off to later. The rules I made up for this feature are set down in that first post, but to recap: if I land on something, I watch at least one episode of it. So more like “the rule” since there’s only one. Here’s what I’ve got to deal with now:

And as before, the full list:

CUE!
DENKI-GAI
Flying Witch
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu
Is the Order a Rabbit?
Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House
Laid-Back Camp
Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department
ROOM CAMP
Salaryman’s Club
Servant x Service
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

Now for the first spin (or the sixth — I’ll be counting from where we left off.)

Hey, it’s Salaryman’s Club! Nice! Or not nice. I have no idea yet. This is another currently airing full-length series, but that’s all I know about it. Let’s check it out:

Spin 6: Salaryman’s Club

Trains in Japan look so much nicer than the shitty ones we have in my country. Amtrak’s not giving you three fucking bentos on your trip.

Of all the series VRV could have recommended me, “anime about badminton with an all-male cast” is about as far as possible from what I would have expected. I generally don’t watch sports anime (aside from Sorairo Utility last post, and another one I have pending that’s such an unusual case I don’t think it exactly counts as the typical sports series.) And I can’t remember the last anime I’ve watched with an all-male cast since seeing Kaiji well over a decade ago. Maybe an episode of Golgo 13, I think?

But that’s okay, because the first episode of Salaryman’s Club was pretty decent. The protagonist is one Mikoto Shiratori, a young professional badminton player who loses his spot on a big Kyoto bank’s corporate team after failing to perform up to expectations. Shiratori seems to be held back by the memory of his partner on a doubles team sustaining a terrible injury, which still causes him to sometimes freeze up while playing.

Pictured: youthful tragedy

Despite this setback, Shiratori quickly gets picked up by another team representing a drink company, where he’s hired on as a hybrid salesman/badminton player (?) He meets his new colleagues, including a guy he played badminton with in high school and Tatsuru Miyazumi, the other lead of the show and Shiratori’s doubles partner. Shiratori is dead-set against playing doubles because of his old partner’s tragic accident, however, and he has to face up against Miyazumi in a one-on-one match to prove that he can play singles instead.

The most interesting aspect of Salaryman’s Club to me was the “corporate team” setup. Here in the States some big companies do have sports clubs, but nobody outside of the company gives a shit about them. It’s just a team-building thing to do on the occasional Saturday maybe. But the badminton club in this show seems far more serious, like regular people actually watch these matches and cheer on their favorite corporate teams. Is that a thing in Japan? I guess it must be, unless this series is making up a completely fantastic sports-related situation like Keijo!!!!!!!! does (if you were wondering what the non-typical sports series I was talking about above was, it’s that.)

Otherwise, Salaryman’s Club seems like a pretty standard sort of sports anime. Protagonist is a skilled player but has issues related to past trauma, and he needs help to reach his greatest potential through teamwork and friendship. Based on just this first episode, I’d say this series is starting that story off well enough, and with some comedy mixed up to keep things light. Of course, Shiratori also has a near-magical “special skill” of foresight where his eyes glow red (this might just be an artistic flair, sure) and he can instantly tell where his opponent is about to hit the shuttlecock with the accuracy of a computer. From what I’ve seen, it’s also normal to add this kind of “special move/trait” stuff into sports anime.

All that said, I probably won’t watch more of Salaryman’s Club. I’ll just say there’s a reason I started watching Keijo!!!!!!!!, though that series does have more to it than just the obvious appeal (you’ll see what I mean if I get around to it soon.) But that appeal is honestly a big part of the otherwise limited appeal of sports-related shows to me. It’s also an appeal that a sports series full of guys just doesn’t hold for me.

I think this red-haired lady might have had one line, but that’s about it aside from Mikoto’s mom.

Maybe that’s horrifically shallow of me, but I don’t care. I also don’t care about badminton all that much — I think I played it a couple of times as a kid, but I was lousy at it, and I’ve never watched it competitively. I’m way more into tennis. However, if you’re a fan of badminton and/or good-looking anime guys, I recommend you watch Salaryman’s Club, because it seems to have some real quality to it and it’s aimed directly at you.

Now on to the next pick, let’s have a good spin:

What a title. And for the seventh time, I don’t have any idea of what to expect. This series is also currently airing, but I haven’t seen any talk about it. Is it about regular monsters, or maybe monster girls? I guess I’m about to find out.

Spin 7: Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department

Finally, after seven spins, one of VRV’s recommendations actually hits! Took it long enough. One out of seven isn’t a great record, but it’s better than zero (and sure, I liked Sorairo Utility pretty well, but again, it was just a 15-minute OVA. So maybe 1.5 out of seven, because I don’t even know if I’d want to watch a whole series about golf.)

Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department is about title character Touka Kuroitsu, a young scientist working in the R&D department of of a large corporation. Only this corporation is a front for an evil organization planning on world conquest, and Kuroitsu’s department works on developing monsters to destroy their mortal enemy, the hero of justice Divine Swordsman Blader.

Kuroitsu is smart and driven and loves her job, except when she’s forced to work overtime to meet a deadline or to cover for her genius but lazy department head. She also has to work hard to please her ultimate boss Akashic, the massively powerful leader of the corporation who’s also a small girl with a flighty personality, because that contrast seems to be common in these kinds of shows.

Sometimes you’re developing a superweapon to destroy your employer’s mortal enemy, but then your boss has different priorities.

After one episode, Miss Kuroitsu looks like much more of a workplace comedy than an action series. The workplace just happens to be an evil corporation bent on total global domination. But it doesn’t mean they don’t value diversity or the health and wellbeing of their employees. In fact, I’m positive I’ve worked at a couple of far worse places than Kuroitsu’s company. At least their second in command encourages them to take vacation days and to ask for more time on project proposals when they need it.

Communication is key in business

And hey, it looks like this series might get a little spicy in that same more comedic direction, which is fine with me. Although I’m probably not going to be thinking of the kind of Liru-looking wolf girl “Wolf Bete” Kuroitsu and her boss develop in that way, because of a reason you might see if you watch this episode.

Note: this is only happening in this guy’s very active imagination, but it also relates to a nice twist at the end of the episode.

Even though it’s currently airing, Miss Kuroitsu somehow feels like a throwback to the 2000s — maybe it’s that Liru-looking character that partly gives me that impression, or maybe it’s because the series has a bit of an older look to it. Or maybe a lower-budget look. But I’m totally fine with that as well as long as it keeps the comedy up.

I don’t have much else to say about Miss Kuroitsu, because there doesn’t really seem to be much else to it. However, it’s also the first pick I’ve landed on that I’ll definitely keep watching. It reminds me of Jahy-sama, and I liked that series a lot, so it seems like a good bet. And an extra recommendation for those who are into Super Sentai-style shows, because Miss Kuroitsu is full of that stuff. Maybe you’ll notice some references I missed.

Now for the next spin. I’m hoping to start a lucky streak here:

So I landed on ROOM CAMP. But then I noticed it’s still another series of shorts, and also that the title looked a lot like Laid-Back Camp (or Yuru Camp, if you want to be extra-weeb and use the Japanese title; they’re the same show) which is also one of the few series on this wheel that I’m at all familiar with. So I checked, and turns out it’s a spinoff of the full Laid-Back Camp series. And since that’s also on the roulette, and it would be pretty stupid to watch this without context, I decided to just watch the first episode of Laid-Back Camp instead and mark both of them off. I don’t know if this counts as a cheat, but it feels justified to me.

Spin 8: Laid-Back Camp

I know I wrote up at the top that I didn’t want more school slice of life stuff, but maybe I shouldn’t make those kinds of blanket statements about genres in the future. Because even though Laid-Back Camp looks like it might be just that, I also liked the first episode in a way I don’t have to qualify this time, so I consider this another hit. This round of spins is turning out to be a lot more successful than the last one. Maybe my karma’s improved in the last few days or something.

Rin Shima is a student living out in the countryside who makes a habit of going solo camping. While camping in the cold off-season by the shore of a lake near Mt. Fuji, Rin meets Nadeshiko Kagamihara, another girl she saw on the way to her campsite sleeping on a bench. Nadeshiko, unlike Rin, doesn’t seem to know much about camping, and it turns out she’s a new arrival to the area and got tired on her way to see Mt. Fuji, only waking up when it was pitch-black and ice-cold outside, and on top of all that missing her phone.

This show makes instant ramen look way better than the kind I’ve had

Rin takes Nadeshiko in for a while at her campsite and the two talk and bond a little over cups of ramen until Nadeshiko finally remembers her older sister’s phone number to call her for a lift. And of course, a few days later when school starts, Rin sees Nadeshiko at the entrance, because these look like the two central characters of the series (or anyway, they’re both on the cover of the manga volume I saw, which is also a good indicator.)

Laid-Back Camp might have a similar setup to other school-based slice of life shows, but two aspects set it apart from the standard kind so far for me. One of these is the fact that it’s about more than just some students hanging out and talking about whatever comes to their minds with its focus on camping as a theme. Laid-Back Camp even seems to feature some actual advice for campers (which I’ll never use myself, since I’m about as likely to go to the woods for any reason as I am to fly to the Moon.)

This advice seems more trustworthy than the survival guide stuff in Are You Lost? at least.

I also like Rin a lot so far. Any character who loves solitude this much is one I can relate to, though it does look like Rin’s solitude is about to be broken, at least sometimes. There’s a massive contrast between her and the chatty, excitable Nadeshiko, which might also make for a nice dynamic between them.

So I’m putting Laid-Back Camp in the “keep watching” list. I think I’ll save this one for those times I wake up at 2 am and can’t go back to sleep, but I’m still dazed and tired. It seems like a show for just that kind of time: watch one of these episodes, relax, then maybe return to sleep if I can. There are two seasons out so far and something like 24 or 25 episodes, so plenty to keep me going.

You might also put this show on your tablet and watch it while you’re camping for that real meta feel

And I think that’s it for this second anime roulette post. Far better results in general this time — I actually have something to watch now, though I already had plenty to watch anyway. But I was happy to discover Miss Kuroitsu and Laid-Back Camp and look forward to getting more into them. I also hope someone else can enjoy Salaryman’s Club, because it honestly seems pretty all right so far despite my stupid biases.

I also have eight series left on the wheel, and maybe I’ll add a few next time I return to this feature to get that to 10 or 12. I also reserve the right to just pull a series off of the roulette and watch it separately if I’m interested, or if someone else manages to sell me on it. I do need to figure out a better way to get recommendations, though. There’s a massive amount of anime out there, far more than anyone can probably watch in a lifetime — all the more reason to be annoyed when people generalize about it. Even my own generalization about a genre within anime were blown up in this post, as far as you can call Laid-Back Camp a “cute girls doing cute things” show. I guess it’s the same with any medium: never write a whole genre or style off completely.

The anime roulette: part 1

Look, it’s yet another stupid gimmick I came up with! Well, saying I came up with this one wouldn’t be accurate, to be honest. Even though I don’t have much interest in live-action stuff, I am subscribed to popular internet criticism/satirical comedy/etc. channel Red Letter Media, the guys most famous for making those Mr. Plinkett reviews. But my favorite episodes of theirs have always been the Wheel of the Worst, in which they stick a bunch of terrible-looking 80s/90s instructional and vanity project videos on a wooden wheel and spin it to see what they have to suffer through.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my own Rich Evans to build an actual working wheel for me, and I also don’t have any friends to make jokes with about bad VHS tapes while drinking beer and being depressed about where our lives have gone. But I do have access to one of the many wheel-spinner sites that let you make your own roulette, along with a list of anime that shitass streaming service VRV has recommended to me,1 supposedly based on what I’ve watched on their service already.

Using this list, I created the below wheel of my own, though I’m interchangeably calling it a roulette to make it seem different from similar concepts. Out of the 20 “top picks for you” VRV gave me, I picked the following 17 series — the only ones I left out were Hanasaku Iroha and March comes in like a lion, since I already have both of those near the top of my to-watch list, and another series I’ve already seen the first episode of and was pretty cold on. I have absolutely no feelings about the rest of these series. Most of them I’d never even heard of before, so unlike those hack frauds at RLM I have no reason to cheat the system I’ve created (though their cheating also gave us the pure joy of Surviving Edged Weapons, so it was justified.)

The wheel I’ve made, hopefully not of the worst. Also yeah, I typo’d salaryman. It’s early right now, fuck off

Since the wheel cuts some of these titles off, here’s the full list:

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform
CUE!
DENKI-GAI
Flying Witch
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu
I’M KODAMA KAWASHIRI
Is the Order a Rabbit?
KAGI-NADO
Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House
Laid-Back Camp
Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department
ROOM CAMP
Salaryman’s Club
Servant x Service
Slow Start
Sorairo Utility
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

The rules are simple: if I land on something, I watch at least the first episode of it. I might watch more if I like what I see, but I’ll go that far at least. So this is similar to my older “episode 1 anime roll” posts, except this time, I’m leaving the choice of series up to the algorithm and the roulette wheel I’ve generated.

Now for the first spin of the wheel:

I’ve never heard of you, Kodama Kawashiri! And why the fuck are you yelling at me? The title really is written in all caps. On to the business:

Spin 1: I’M KODAMA KAWASHIRI

I watched the first three episodes of I’m Kodama Kawashiri (all caps implied from now on) but not because I was so captivated by it — rather because it’s a short. One of the shortest shorts I’ve seen, in fact: each episode is only two and a half minutes long. Amazingly, the OP is longer than the episode itself at 1:30, leaving one single fucking minute for things to happen in the episode proper, so little time that the end credits immediately start rolling across the bottom when the OP ends. It’s hard to imagine a shorter short than this, unless someone has somehow written a show with thirty-second episodes.

So maybe it’s no surprise that there’s barely anything for me to say about Kawashiri. It’s about the titular character, a manga artist writing about her own depressing, dissolute life. We go through some of Kawashiri’s daily routines, which mainly involve working at home on her manga, eating, drinking, and sleeping.

life

Kawashiri has an unhealthy and pretty unsustainable lifestyle to say the least: all beer and greasy food, sleeping at seemingly random hours of the day. This is the kind of shit I could get away with in my 20s, but not anymore. I guess if all the fried chicken, egg rolls, and beer fuel her creativity it’s all right for a while, but you sure can’t keep it up forever.

I wish I couldn’t relate to this.

Kawashiri is still airing, and though I’m not incredibly impressed with it, I might just watch the rest considering how short it is. The OP is good, too — better than the show itself, or at least it looks like more effort went into it.

So that first pick went a lot quicker than I expected. On to the second:

What the fuck is KAGI-NADO? Another short apparently. Looks like I’ll be watching a few more series this post than I’d planned.

Spin 2: KAGI-NADO

Well shit, I have even less to say about this one. After watching the first episode of Kagi-nado (just three minutes minus the ending) I understood the title: it’s kagi as in Key, the famous tearjerker visual novel developer (Clannad, Little Busters among many others most of which were also adapted into anime form.) Kagi-nado is a short series produced by Key full of comedic references to/takes on its own works.

A universe of Key VNs, unlimited tears

The only Key VN I’ve played is Planetarian, so I got the Yumemi Hoshino and planetarium stuff at the very beginning, but the rest was totally lost on me. So I won’t be continuing Kagi-nado, since it wasn’t made for me — seems like you really have to be a serious Key fan to enjoy it. I also get the feeling that it may have spoilers for some of its VNs, but I really couldn’t say, having only played one of them. All I can say for sure is that the first episode doesn’t spoil Planetarian.

I don’t get it, but I don’t think I was meant to anyway

And now on to the third spin. Hopefully I can actually say something about the next series I land on.

Finally, a series with full-length episodes. I’ve never heard of this one either, but let’s see whether the dumbass VRV algorithm did better this time.

Spin 3: Slow Start

This recommendation list is fucked, or else I’m just landing on some unusual/outlier results. Not that Slow Start is bad — in fact, it’s pretty nice if the rest of the series is much like its first episode, in which we meet protagonist Hana Ichinose, seen above, and her friends and family. It’s just not the sort of thing I’d usually have any interest in watching.

Hana is a new student at an elite all-girls private high school that she studied like hell to get into. However, as the show’s title suggests, she had to skip a year to prepare, and so she’s starting her high school career a bit late, at 17. Since she also seems to be naturally pretty shy, Hana has to steel herself to enter this new school full of kids who already know each other, both as a stranger and under unusual circumstances. Fortunately, Hana quickly meets a few other girls who befriend her right away, all three of them with starkly different personalities. Will Hana be able to have a fun time at her new school and form strong bonds with this new friend group? (My money is on yes.)

Pictured: high school students, apparently

Slow Start so far looks like the classic sort of “cute girls doing cute things” anime. You have four girls in the main cast, absentee parents (though at least loving parents, as we see in the first few minutes of the episode), an older hot lady who takes care of the adult stuff like paying bills in their apartment (Hana’s cousin) and an also hot homeroom teacher who seems to be dead inside, or at least coming off of a hangover or something. It all feels a lot like one of those older CGDCT series from the mid-2000s, only this aired in 2018, long after that genre fell off in popularity.

When I reviewed Asobi Asobase, I mentioned that I’d initially passed it by because it looked like the standard CGDCT series. I ended up returning to it and binging the whole thing after it turned out to be a crass, absurdist comedy that I really enjoyed following the first few minutes of its first episode. Slow Start feels like that, except it’s not tricking me like Asobi Asobase did: it really is a nice, cute show about four girls living their high school student lives. Though also in classic CGDCT fashion they don’t fucking look like high school students. I know it’s the style, but still.

Being in society is not easy

I’m probably not going to watch any more of Slow Start, or at least not until I dig through a whole lot more of my anime backlog. But I don’t want to dump on the show either, because it does seem like a pretty good option for fans of the CGDCT genre. The animation is nice, the music is nice, and this first episode was relaxing to watch if nothing else. Some of Hana’s social anxieties are pretty relatable too, though she’s extremely lucky to immediately find friends who recognize her value and like her for who she is and all that nice stuff.

Well, I’ve used the word “nice” at least 9,000 times in this description, but that’s the best word I can think of to describe what I’ve seen of Slow Start. Seems like a good one to check out if you’re into the style. But I still consider it a miss on VRV’s part, since I have no fucking idea how they thought I’d be into it. Maybe it really is because I watched Asobi Asobase, but that’s about as far from this series as you can get tone-wise.

Oh well, let’s have the fourth spin:

I should probably find a new way to say “I’ve never heard of this” but I can’t think of one. On to it:

Spin 4: Sorairo Utility

Here’s something I didn’t expect to say in this post: I watched all of this series. But only because this “series” is only a 13-minute or so OVA. So consider this a review of the whole thing.

Sorairo Utility is all about three friends, all high school students (again!) playing golf. Two of them are really into it and have some talent, while our central character Minami is still getting a feel for the sport. Minami is doing her best to keep up with her friends, but she’s frustrated by her relative inexperience.

Minami’s friends encourage her the whole way through, however, and tell her just to have fun while also watching her form and her swing and all that other golf stuff. By the end of the episode, Minami is still far behind the other girls, but she’s encouraged to keep working hard at the sport she loves.

And that’s really it for Sorairo Utility. There was barely anything to it, but I liked what was there. I don’t know anything at all about golf — the closest I’ve been to playing the sport was minigolf as a kid and a drunk undergraduate and going once to a driving range; I’ve never played a proper game. But that’s okay, because Sorairo Utility seems to be more about the friendship between the three characters and the drive to improve rather than about golf itself. I guess every sports anime is like that, or at least the few I’ve seen have been.

Golf! I don’t give a shit about golf, but I didn’t mind watching anime golf for 12/13 minutes.

I don’t know if this OVA is meant as a standalone thing or as a preview for a full series, but it might be nice to check out if there’s more of it coming.

Now for the fifth and final spin for this post. Praying for good luck this time.

And finally, still another series I’ve never heard of. From the title, I’m guessing this has to be another school-setting series, maybe a coming-of-age sort of thing. Sure, that might be all right. Let’s see:

Spin 5: Akebi’s Sailor Uniform

Well, I watched the first episode of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and it is definitely some sort of coming of age/slice of life/CGDCT series. Again, I don’t know why this was recommended to me — maybe it was Asobi Asobase again, or maybe there’s a “coming of age” tag and that got stuck to me when I watched all of The Aquatope on White Sand? Otherwise, I don’t understand.

I’m also slightly put off. While this first episode definitely had some good qualities that I’ll get into, it also had a moment that weirded me the fuck out, and linked to a couple of others, I get a slight vibe about the makers (or the original manga artist more likely, since this is an adaptation.) But it’s also possible that I’m being unfair or reading too much into it. More on that later.

Protagonist Komichi Akebi is entering middle school, attending an elite all-girls’ private school (again!) that her mother attended back in the day. Komichi is from way out in the middle of nowhere, and she’s amazed that her new class will have more than ten people in it. She’s also extremely excited about getting to wear a sailor uniform to school for some reason, and her expert tailor mother is happy to sew such a uniform for her.

But in an awkward moment, when they attend the opening ceremony, Komichi and her mother see that every other student is wearing a blazer. They get special permission for Komichi to wear her mother’s custom-designed sailor uniform, but does Komichi really want to stand out from the crowd by wearing a different uniform than everyone else’s? Or will she stick to the style she likes and not worry about standing out?

It’s no small matter, not even when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as the clothes you wear.

First, all the good stuff: Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is produced by Cloverworks, a studio known for doing excellent work, and as you might expect this series looks beautiful, with a lot of detail and nice shots of those countryside landscapes. That detail extends to the characters — I don’t know if I’m the biggest fan of the character design in general, but I can see why someone would like it.

The story itself is also pretty interesting so far. I didn’t think the sailor uniform in the title would be anything more than just a representation of the main character starting at a new school and entering a new phase in her life, but the uniform itself is incorporated into that coming of age aspect of her story in a way I didn’t expect.

The show does look damn nice and I like Komichi, but there’s just too much youthful optimism here, just fucking kill me please I can’t take it

So what’s the problem? From this first episode, I get the impression that someone involved in making it — I’d guess the manga artist, though I can’t say for sure — has a thing for feet, because there are quite a few unusually lingering and very detailed shots focusing mostly on Komichi’s. At first I didn’t think much of that, but near the very end of the episode when Komichi meets her first new friend at school, early in the morning when no one else is around, she walks in on her clipping her toenails and smelling the clipper afterwards in a similarly weirdly detailed scene.

A great way to make friends: walk in on them doing something weird then hold it over them as blackmail material (but note: Komichi doesn’t do this because she isn’t an asshole — in fact she smells her own feet in the same scene, maybe to put her new friend at ease or something. I really don’t know. Is this how you make friends now?)

It’s hard to describe when you get that vibe about a work, that it might have been made for more than one reason to put it nicely. I don’t actually have any problem with this fixation in general — I’m a big fan of the artist Yom, and his Ganbare Douki-chan has some of it too, though it’s probably not as obvious if you just saw the anime adaptation. But Yom’s characters are adults, and these characters aren’t, and I feel like that makes a difference (see also the difference between a Quentin Tarantino and a Dan Schneider,2 though I think that distinction is about a million times more serious when you’re dealing with live-action work.)

There’s nothing I can put my finger on definitively, but it’s just a feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it other than weirded the fuck out, as I said before. But to be completely fair, I might be overreacting, and this is just the first episode after all. Akebi is still airing, and maybe some other people around the community much more tied into current anime will have more insight into it. In any case, as with Slow Start, I don’t know if I’d have that much interest in a show like this anyway, though it does look like it might get into emotionally heavier territory to go along with the coming of age stuff.

Aside from the whole feet thing, Akebi just reminds me of the youthful hope that I’ve completely lost and how I hate myself now. Thanks again, anime

On that strange note, that’s it for this first part of my anime roulette feature. I find most of VRV’s picks “for me” to be bizarre based on what I’ve actually watched on their platform, but maybe their algorithm is fucked up. I don’t pretend to understand how these functions work. I will be back for more at some point soon, though. Until then.

 

1 I plan to cancel my subscription very soon — I’ve been planning it ever since they dumped all the Hi-Dive shows from their catalog. I wanted to watch Takagi-san S3, but it looks like I’ll have to do it somewhere else. Lousy bastards. Anyway, since Crunchyroll and Funimation have merged, that seems like the best bet to go with now, though I’m also apprehensive about the corner Sony now seems to be getting on the anime streaming market over here. Time will tell, but I don’t trust Sony at all considering their recent track record.

2 You didn’t expect a Pink Guy video this time, did you? I promise it’s the last time, aside from this McDonald’s rap that’s a legitimately really good song.