Listening/reading log #21 (July 2021)

Another month has passed. Two months in this case, since I skipped June. But I guess I picked a good time to return. Since many of us are once again confined to quarters thanks to this shitty mutation of the coronavirus that’s ravaging the Earth, you might have time to listen to all this music and read all these excellent posts from around our communities.

First to the music, as usual. Next month, I plan to cover some very modern music, but this time around I’ll be going way back and listening to two old classics that I remember hearing in my childhood and high school years — but they’re not from my childhood, rather from my parents’. I’d actually quit listening to all of these guys years ago because I’d heard their music so much, but lately I’ve been going back, and it’s been an interesting experience. On to it:

Rubber Soul (The Beatles, 1965)

Highlights: Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Girl, In My Life

Yeah, these guys really don’t need me talking them up, do they? Everyone knows about the Beatles already. But that doesn’t mean their music isn’t still worth talking about. These four dudes from Liverpool, England were massively influential and changed popular music with their work, which spread throughout the decade of the 60s, moving from somewhat sugary pop/rock in the early part of that decade to artsy and even experimental pop/rock by the end.

I like both of these well-known early and late periods of the Beatles’ music, but what happened between them? These guys started shifting their tone in 1965, most noticeably with Rubber Soul, widely known as their “transitional album” and sometimes as their first “serious” album. At first, it might be hard to spot the difference, since the album is still full of short catchy songs that are mostly about love and relationships and all that old stuff. However, the tone is very different and often darker here than you’ll find on something like A Hard Day’s Night. You still have peppy upbeat songs like the opener “Drive My Car”, which I’ll forever remember from my childhood as the song the local morning news played over the traffic report. And there are still fairly straightforward love songs like Paul McCartney’s Michelle, just the thing for playing under some girl’s window to win her affections (you know, as long as she’s named Michelle — if she’s not, you might just piss her off even more than you have already.)

But then there are songs about disappointment and wrecked and even toxic relationships, starting with John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood”, maybe the most famous song about blue balls ever recorded, and ending with a pretty big overreaction from the protagonist (at least according to the popular reading of the lyrics.) Lennon’s “Girl” is even darker in a way, describing a bad relationship that’s hard to escape, and Run For Your Life goes so far as to have the singer promising his girl won’t escape their relationship alive. What the fuck, guys. It’s hard to imagine all those girls screaming over the Beatles playing that song, isn’t it? And now there’s even a non-love song with “Nowhere Man”, which is just kind of depressing as shit, but still excellent of course.

Rubber Soul is an interesting look at how the Beatles changed their sound and approach, capturing that sound right in the middle of its shift — with Revolver in 1966 they’d be almost completely in that later “art” period. But aside from the historical interest it holds, it’s also just a really good album in its own right. Also yeah, George Harrison plays a sitar for the first time on “Norwegian Wood”; there’s your bar trivia fact for this post.

Live at Leeds (The Who, 1970)

Highlights: the whole thing really, but listen to Heaven and HellAmazing Journey/Sparks, Young Man Blues

Another band that doesn’t need a lot of talking up. But I listened to this thing so much in high school that I damn near wore the CD out (yeah, dating myself here once again.) The Who were another one of the British Invasion groups back in the 60s along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — like the Stones, they had a harder edge, playing their take on old American RnB and blues, but like the Beatles they also delved into some more artsy/ambitious work later on, writing the famous rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

The Who were also by all accounts an amazing live band, one that I regret I was never around to actually see play. But at least we have great live albums like Live at Leeds. This album captures these guys at a high point, just coming off of the success of Tommy, and it gives us a listen to the wide range of their work — from short singles from their earlier days like Substitute to medleys of their then-recent work with “Amazing Journey/Sparks”. Most of these are originals, but they also cover a few old classics; see “Young Man Blues” and Summertime Blues, which most people probably know better in its original Eddie Cochran version.

It’s easy to tell from this album alone why this band was and still is so revered. All four of these guys were excellent performers: Roger Daltrey’s vocals, Pete Townshend’s guitar (and writing, since he did write most of their music/lyrics), John Entwistle’s bass, and Keith Moon’s drumming, all of it. Moon famously used to go nuts on his drumkit (and in his life generally speaking) but it fits well with the band’s style — it’s easier if you actually see them in action as you can here, playing “Heaven and Hell” live one year later.

But even without the visuals, there’s a lot of energy and talent on this album and it all comes through. The Who also recorded some great studio albums that I might get around to looking at later on.

And now on to the featured posts:

Catherine: Full Body Review (WCRobinson) — Catherine is a PS3 puzzle game classic that started a few debates back in the day over its frank depiction of relationships and both their emotional and sexual aspects. The PS4 remake Full Body adds a new character to the story along with some other interesting features. Be sure to read WCRobinson’s review for an in-depth look at the game.

The Awesome Combo Trainer of Them’s Fightin’ Herds (Frostilyte Writes) — I am absolute trash at fighting games, but I still like reading Frostilyte’s thoughts on them. The animal-themed fighting game Them’s Fightin’ Herds certainly seems like an interesting one to check out if you’re into the genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru (Lost to the Aether) — Dipping back into June for this one, but it’s well worth the trip back for another of Aether’s visual novel reviews. Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru might sound like it’s not made for manly men, but Aether absolutely destroys that misguided idea in his review of the game. Also, the art on that title screen is familiar — I’m positive I know that artist, but I can’t place the name and it’s driving me a bit crazy.

Donkey Kong Country (Extra Life) — Red Metal gives his thoughts on the classic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country in this extremely in-depth review. How does it hold up after all these years? Check his post out to find out.

AILBHTAY: Kino’s Journey (2003) (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott reviews the classic Kino’s Journey, one that I somehow haven’t watched yet. Now I have yet another old series to add to my backlog, because Kino seems to be well worth a look.

3 Episode Rule – The Aquatope on White Sand (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m watching the currently airing anime The Aquatope on White Sand, and it’s promising so far, with very high production values and an interesting premise. See this post for more on why you might want to pick it up as well.

Full Dive: This Ultimate Next-Gen Full Dive RPG Is Even Shittier than Real Life! – Well this name is quite the mouth full. (Natural Degeneracy) — Normally I’m down for a good ecchi/fanservice-filled series; you know me. This one doesn’t sound like it quite lives up to its potential, but you might find something to like — see this review for more. Also, one of the characters looks a lot like Etna from Disgaea.

Hyouka – Review (KSBlogs) — Hyouka is an anime I’ve been thinking of picking up just because of how damn good it looks, and this detailed review of the series has gotten me even more interested in it.

Trying Out My New “Positivity” – Pomu’roll at the End (The Unlit Cigarette) — From Valsisms, an account of trying to be positive even in the face of absurdity. If you’ve ever had a bad or bizarre job interview, and who hasn’t, you will likely be able to relate. (I also want to second her plug of Nijisanji EN at the end — I’ve already admitted to falling down the VTuber hole long ago, and since writing that post back in December mostly about Hololive talents, rival agency Nijisanji has introduced two sets of new English-language VTubers. And they’re all entertaining, so be sure to check them out if you’re into that. (I 100% simp for Rosemi Lovelock and I’m not ashamed to say it. But God, what’s happened to my life.))

The VTuber Bachelorette: Mori Calliope (Pinkie’s Paradise) — Speaking of VTubers, Pinkie is putting a select few in the spotlight on her blog, including everyone’s favorite rapping grim reaper Mori Calliope. I like Mori’s down to Earth attitude, and while I’m not much for rap she’s obviously a talented singer/musician as well. But how would she make for a girlfriend? An interesting question, but there are some serious complications involved that Pinkie gets into (and it’s not just the fact that she’s a 2D anime girl — not that that stops some people!)

MY TAKE ON MOST FAMOUS ANIME WAIFUS – Thiccness Alert (FreakSenpai) — And speaking of waifus, FreakSenpai gives us some personal thoughts on a few popular anime characters that many fans pine for. All I have to say is: good taste!

How Square Enix Ripped Out My Heart & Then Stomped On It: Final Fantasy XV (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — I lost track of Final Fantasy many years ago, so I can’t comment personally on the subject, but Trailing Sleeves gives a personal account of the Final Fantasy XV experience here, along with some thoughts about how effectively (or ineffectively) it tells its story.

Summoning Salt: Ode to Speedrunning Docu Excellence (Professional Moron) — Summoning Salt runs an interesting YouTube channel, producing documentary-style pieces about the history of speedrunning. His videos usually focus on one game each, or even on an aspect of a particular game, and how their challenges are taken on by the most skilled speedrunners in the world. Mr. Wapojif highly recommends this channel, and so do I!

Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens) (Resurface to Reality) — I love the visual novel series Umineko no Naku Koro ni. But what I didn’t know for a long time was that the Ushiromiya mansion featured in the game is based on a real place, and apparently you can have a tea party there, just like Beatrice the Golden Witch sometimes did while she was tormenting Battler in the meta-world or however that went (it’s complicated.) A good idea if you can make it when things open up a bit once again.

What’s (In My Opinion) the Worst Parts About Anime (Side of Fiction) — Our friendly overlord Jacob loves anime, but he also has a few problems with the medium as it stands today. I’m partly but not totally on board with him, though I do get his reasoning, and he raises some issues that are worth talking about.

I’m Having Trouble Adapting to the Anime Community off WordPress (I drink and watch anime) — Irina brings up a new trend among anime bloggers of shifting off of WordPress and onto other platforms, talking about what she sees as the pros and cons of this shift. I do use Twitter sometimes, but I’m more or less of the same mind — WordPress is where I’ll stay, even if/when Automattic forces us to use their new extra-shitty text editor. I’m just waiting for that axe to fall.

Anonymity on the Internet is Slowly Dying (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Anonymity on the internet is indeed dying, and Yomu gets into detail in this post about how that’s happening and how we might fight against this trend and protect our own privacy online.

Nestle and Cargill financing child slavery for their chocolate industries, yet SCOTUS rejects a lawsuit to stop them from getting sued by those formally enslaved. (Ospreyshire’s Realm) — Finally, apologies for getting heavy here at the very end, but this is an important subject that hasn’t gotten much talk. Nestle is well known for being one of the evilest companies on Earth, even worse than Activision-Blizzard (which yes, I am following that case, and possibly more on it later.) So it’s not a great surprise that major food-producing corporations Nestle and Cargill were sued in the US over allegations of using child labor and essentially promoting slavery in Cote D’Ivoire for the purpose of chocolate production. The lawsuit was thrown out by the US Supreme Court on jurisdictional grounds, which basically means that the case might have merit but still can’t be heard for technical reasons. Ospreyshire here writes about how this was a bad ruling and why these companies should be held to account for their actions.

And that’s all for this month. I hope I’ve acquitted myself for skipping the last one. As for what you can expect from me moving forward — more anime reviews are certainly on their way, and I have a couple of other features I’m planning, including the next deep read post (probably up next unless I decide to revise it a whole lot.) Until then, all the best.

A review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions

On a moonlit night, just before returning to school, newly minted high school student Yuta Togashi steps out onto the balcony of his family’s apartment to put out boxes of trash, a bunch of “magical” trinkets he collected as a kid that he’s grown out of. While he’s outside, a rope suddenly drops from the balcony above, and a girl Yuta doesn’t recognize climbs down it — a girl wearing a frilly dress and a patch over one eye.

The next morning, Yuta goes to school, putting this strange occurrence behind him, only to run into the same girl in his homeroom class. The girl, Rikka Takanashi, is now wearing the standard school uniform but still has that eyepatch on. She addresses Yuta dramatically, proclaiming that her covered eye is pounding and falling to the floor. In shock, Yuta realizes that this girl is suffering from the condition known as chunibyo.

If you’ve played Fire Emblem: Awakening, Rikka is basically doing Owain’s “my cursed sword hand” routine here

So begins Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, the first season of a comedy/drama/slice-of-life/romance anime produced by Kyoto Animation. KyoAni as it’s commonly known is very well-regarded, famous for its high-quality work. And Chunibyo is one of its more popular properties — the series has had at least two cours aired on TV along with several OVAs and a film. This series has almost as confusing a watch order as fucking Monogatari from what I’ve seen, but this post only covers the 12 episodes of the first season from 2012, so hopefully that will keep things simple.

But just what is a chunibyo? This is something I wondered for a while after seeing the title of the anime come up again and again in discussions online. Chunibyo (or more properly chuunibyou, with those long vowels written out, but for consistency I’ll stick to the series’ English transliteration) translates as “second year of middle school disease.” In a broad sense, it refers to the “cringy” behavior of eighth-grade-aged students who are just gaining a sense of self as adults and are desperate to distinguish themselves — for example, by insisting on drinking “adult” beverages like black coffee or writing fancy-sounding poetry.

Cool jacket!

Chunibyo focuses on a more dramatic version of this “disease”, in which the student believes they are different from others and have special powers. Yuta immediately recognizes Rikka’s advanced case of chunibyo because he had it bad for a while himself, dressing up in a black jacket with a high collar, wielding a wooden sword, and calling himself Dark Flame Master.

Of course, Yuta is past all that now. After being a prime chunibyo kid at his old middle school and then snapping out of his delusions, he purposely chose to attend a high school across town to ensure none of his classmates would know him. But this fresh start that Yuta wanted is pretty much ruined when Rikka (who witnessed Yuta performing his dramatic chunibyo routine in a self-mocking way when he thought he was alone) identifies him as Dark Flame Master and tells him that he has to join forces with her, the avatar of the “Wicked Lord Shingan.”

Yuta tells Rikka to cut that shit out — he’s done with all that delusional behavior, and he advises her to drop the act as well. But Rikka firmly insists that she has real powers, revealing her covered magical right eye to Yuta (the magical look provided by a gold-colored contact lens.) She also insists on having Yuta’s help in “finding the invisible boundary lines”, whatever those are, and to that end she starts a school club called the Far Eastern Magic Society.

It changes its name after absorbing the one-member Napping Club. I don’t know why this club only has one member, because it sounds pretty good to me.

Despite his annoyance, Yuta is dragged along by events in just the way you’d expect from a high school comedy/drama/SOL/romance anime protagonist. So he joins Rikka’s club along with their senior Kumin and the extra-chunibyo middle schooler Sanae Dekomori, who joins her “master” Rikka and wields her long twintail hairstyle like whips to beat her enemies with.

Initially, Yuta is pretty down about all this, but he gets more enthusiastic when his crush, the popular sporty cheerleader Shinka Nibutani, asks if she can join as well. Shinka is just about the last person Yuta would have expected to have any interest in a club like this, but Yuta certainly has an interest in Shinka, so he brings her along to the club in the hopes that she’s joining because he’s a member.

Will Yuta be able to finally get away from all this chunibyo business, despite seemingly not doing very much to get away from it by joining Rikka’s club? And will he find love with his crush Shinka? Spoilers regarding that and related plot matters follow, because it’s not possible to talk about Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions without getting into the love part of the story further down — it’s just as much a part as the chunibyo and the other delusions are.

Pictured: Shinka, confessing her love to Yuta… in his dreams.

But first, some points about the presentation, because that was the first aspect of Chunibyo that really struck me. As expected of KyoAni, this show looks beautiful, with nice, smooth animation and a lot of detail. I would never claim to be an expert in animation, but I know what looks good to me, and Chunibyo does. The same goes for the characters themselves — they’re all distinctive-looking without standing out too much, except in the ways they should when they’re acting out their fantasy magic-using selves.

Speaking of that, I also liked how Chunibyo uses its action sequences. When Rikka and Dekomori (the two serious-business chunibyo types throughout most of the series) get into their fantasy fights and start casting spells, this actually plays out on the screen in magical battle sequences complete with giant weapons and explosions.

Rikka doing battle with her older sister Toka, who also wants her to cut this chunibyo shit out.

Of course, none of this is actually happening, and the show uses this fact for comedic effect when it switches away from the magic battle between Rikka and her older sister to show them sparring with a metal spoon and a wooden stick.

This approach fits well with the general feel of the series. Chunibyo is not magical realism or anything like it — there’s never any doubt that these magical powers are completely made up, just imagined by the students pretending to use them. But the difference between fantasy and reality is still a major theme of the series.

At first, this difference is played for comedy, with Yuta having to deal with Rikka’s dramatics and Dekomori’s even more dramatic dramatics. Plenty of typical anime high school hijinks occur, including the usual beach trip and school festival, and there’s some slice-of-life messing around with Dekomori and Shinka constantly locking horns and Yuta’s goofy best friend Makoto trying and failing to confess his love to their equally goofy senior Kumin. Nothing too unusual in that sense.

Are girls you don’t know crawling through your bedroom window and waking you up in the morning? That’s how you know you’re a high school anime protagonist.

However, the core of Chunibyo is that love story and the emotional attachments that form between our two leads. And it’s pretty damn obvious that Shinka isn’t the female lead opposite Yuta in this tale. Yuta’s interest in her fizzles out pretty quickly when he realizes that she has no interest in him and that her outwardly sweet personality is something of a put-on — though she does turn out to be a solid friend to both him and his true love interest later on.

And of course, Yuta’s true love interest is Rikka, the embarrassingly dramatic girl who dragged him out of his short “normal” high school life and back into chunibyo land. At first, one might wonder why the hell Yuta goes along with any of Rikka’s nonsense, but the show does a good job at creating a convincing emotional bond between these two, and one that leads to a believable romance between them.

What Rikka calls exchanging contact info

Considering all this, I think there are two ways Chunibyo could have easily gone astray and ruined itself, at least for me. One would have been building a story where Rikka’s chunibyo delusions are depicted completely as a positive, especially with regard to their effect on Yuta. I can easily see a path where Yuta’s rejection of his old childlike wonder about the world is shown as a more or less bad thing, and where he’s saved by Rikka and her magical eye and invisible boundary line hunt and all that.

Thankfully, Chunibyo avoids this kind of simplistic approach. It also avoids the opposite approach where Yuta has to save Rikka and make her into a “normal” person, though near the end the story it looks like they’re headed that way. But in getting close to Rikka, Yuta realizes that her delusions are not just a game to her but rather her way of coping with a massive loss she suffered early in her life. In dealing with the situation, Yuta has to consider both her feelings and what he knows to be true, and the ending plays this out in a pretty mature and realistic way.

The other wrong turn that Chunibyo might have taken was to get really melodramatic with a long stretch of misunderstandings between Yuta and Rikka. I feel it’s too easy for series like this one to indulge in a lot of drama that ends up feeling manufactured just to stretch the story out, with characters failing to communicate well beyond the point of reason or acting in uncharacteristically stupid ways. Like someone pretending not to see something right in front of them, this is never very convincing.

But Chunibyo again avoids this pitfall. There are some misunderstandings near the end between the leads, but thankfully they’re resolved in a pretty natural-feeling way once Yuta realizes how to properly express himself to and connect with Rikka. It also helps that this first season is 12 episodes long — just long enough to fit all those slice-of-life and comedy shenanigans in along with the more serious dramatic material, and without any need for filler. With the arguable exception of one episode in the middle that focuses on Makoto and doesn’t really connect to the main storyline, but at least it doesn’t involve any especially stupid plot turns. And one such episode out of 12 isn’t bad.

The slice-of-life stuff is a nice break from the dramatic parts anyway.

On the whole, I liked Chunibyo. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d get going in, especially with the hyper, headache-inducing OP. But KyoAni has a strong reputation for a reason. They clearly don’t just take any old crap to adapt into an anime and put serious effort into their work, and that’s all reflected in this first season of Chunibyo. Its mix of light comedy and serious romance/drama works well and its characters are pretty fun and charming. Though the hyperactive Dekomori came close to getting on my nerves at times, but that also felt intentional, and in the end I liked her as well.

Once again, my past self is amazed that I’m recommending my third school-setting anime in a row, since I used to be part of that crowd that groaned about how common this setting is in anime (or at least was — now I guess the trend is isekai fantasy.) But hell, if the story is good, what does the setting matter? High school is the most fitting setting for a coming-of-age story like this anyway. A time in your life when you can still afford to indulge in some fantasies, but when you’re also learning about who you are and what’s important to you.

I haven’t watched any of the rest of Chunibyo, so I can’t say how well it carries on, but this first season does have an actual ending and stands on its own well for that reason. The next season, subtitled Heart Throb, seems to pick up with and continue the story of Yuta and Rikka’s relationship. I have a lot of other series I have to get through, but maybe I’ll return for more Chunibyo some day I feel like feeling that nice secondhand embarrassment remembering my own cringy middle/high school self.

What I can say is that this first season of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is worth checking out as long as a romantic comedy/drama with a dash of slice-of-life sounds like your thing. Not a dish I thought I’d like, but apparently I’m into it, or at least when it’s done right.

 

* And thankfully it seems to be coming back strong from the murderous attack on its headquarters two years ago, with a new run of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid airing this summer — all the more significant because the original director of that series, Yasuhiro Takemoto, was one of the victims of the attack. Maybe I’ll try to pick that one up again.

Summer cleaning game review (?) special #7: Super Radical Solitaire / ART SQOOL

It’s time for still another double feature, because I don’t have enough to say about either of these games for as full a post as I’d like. I did manage to fit them into a theme, however, so you can’t say I’m not trying here at least. This particular post also doesn’t have any proper reviews because I didn’t play enough of the games to actually review them, but said games are also weird enough for me to want to write about them, if only to relieve my annoyance. Maybe you’ll see something you like, or if you’ve played these maybe you can tell me if I’m missing something here.

Super Radical Solitaire

Remember Radical Solitaire? Developer Vector Hat has created a new version of its bizarre Klondike/Breakout hybrid, and it’s even weirder than before.

If you haven’t played the first one, the idea behind it was that you could win any game of Solitaire you started by dragging a useless card to a pile called “GET RAD”. GETTING RAD entailed playing a game of Breakout in which you attempt to hit the card behind the blocks to flip it, changing it to a hopefully useful card before your Breakout game ends. It was a novel concept, at least to me, though the presumably intentionally eye-destroying color palette gave me a headache.

Breakout, but this game calls it something else. It’s Breakout though.

Super Radical Solitaire features the same old Klondike Solitaire game, but now with two new mini-games added: a version of the extremely addictive Japanese gambling game Pachinko, and a Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move clone.

The image saved as a jpg and the colors were muted; it’s actually brighter than this.

There seem to be other, secret mini-games according to the game’s itch.io page, but I didn’t play long enough to find them. Because this game is even more eye-scraping than before, with flashing bright colors (which it does warn you about in the opening screen — the photosensitive should stay far away from this game) and the addition of a screeching robot voice that reads out each new card you play and makes a few other announcements. So now it’s ear-destroying too!

In the plus column, unlike its predecessor, Super Radical Solitaire is free. So credit to these guys for not charging for this game, but I still question what the fuck they’re thinking with these design decisions. I think this game is a meme or something, but I don’t even want to guess. Try it for yourself as long as you’re not prone to seizures from flashing lights. It’s certainly unique — I can’t accuse Vector Hat of making generic-looking games at least.

ART SQOOL

And now for a game that’s very different in style but equally confusing in execution.

And also just as hard on the eyes!

This is ART SQOOL. All in caps, apparently — fair enough. The gameplay in this one consists of walking around this school’s “campus” consisting of floating, mostly disconnected platforms while collecting art supplies, including different colors of paint and tools, and then drawing something that hopefully makes your AI professor happy enough to give you a decent grade. FROSHMIN as your character is called has their damn work cut out for them, because it’s not that easy to get a good grade. Or else I’m way too shit at drawing (this is the real reason, I’m sure.)

I didn’t know what “something wiggly” might involve, so I tried a sandwich, but I didn’t really have the tools or paint for it. Mustard is my favorite condiment. I deserved an F, but the professor was too nice to fail me.

Among the many games in the itch.io bundles (ART SQOOL was featured in both the racial justice and Palestine relief ones, so you have it if you bought either) this one was talked up quite a lot. Developer Julian Glander seems to be a known quantity, because one of the reviews on the itch.io page calls ART SQOOL “characteristically Glander.” It also mentions a lot of references to other artists in the game. If you’re deep into the visual arts then you’ll probably get some of them — if I even came across them, I’m sure I didn’t recognize them myself.

I do appreciate the use of Wingdings though; we had a lot of fun fucking around with this crazy Word font when we were kids. Can anyone translate these signs?

This game also hurt my eyes because the whole damn thing is a pastel nightmare (there’s the theme I mentioned at the top — it’s “eye-destroying” this post.) But some people really seem to like it, and maybe you’d be one of them? Feels a little too “lol random” for me, but then I wouldn’t get the inside art jokes anyway, whatever they are.

ART SQOOL promises five or six hours of gameplay, so there’s probably a lot more here than I found in my approximate 45 minutes of dicking around in it. If you own either last year’s or this year’s bundle, anyway, you own this game, so try it out and either enjoy it or be utterly baffled and annoyed by it like I was. Just like Super Radical Solitaire, this game gets the “unique” stamp, but with the qualification that it’s not my kind of unique.

That’s all for now. Next time in this series, I’ll look at something better suited to my uncultured dumb ass. Until then!

 

Anime short double feature: Are You Lost? / Magical Sempai

It’s more anime, though not what I actually had on my list next to watch. A couple of series I’ve been watching have been emotionally taxing (but good so far, but still — even I’m not completely cold and dead inside) and I felt I could use a break. So I decided to pull out two other series I’d heard a bit about from a year or two ago, before the year+ of quarantine started. Both consist of 12 half-length episodes each, about 12½ minutes per episode, though really more like 10 to 11 if you cut out the openings and endings.

Neither of these were acclaimed as great masterpieces or anything, but being shorts, they also wouldn’t be much of a time commitment if they turned out to be disappointing. But were they disappointing or not?

I’ll do my best to maintain the suspense here and not give the answer away early. On to the first entry:

Are You Lost?

Okay, so the first thing that caught my eye about this series was the poster. I admit it. It’s eye-catching, isn’t it? I guess that’s the point of a promotional poster.

But it does express the basic idea behind the show. Are You Lost?* is about four girls who are somehow thrown from their plane (or boat/other method of transportation; I don’t know if that’s specified) during a school trip and wash up on a desert island. Luckily for the lot, one of them, Homare, is an experienced survivalist, having traveled the world with her grizzled explorer father as a child.

Thanks to Homare’s training, the four are able to not just survive on this island while awaiting rescue but to do pretty well for themselves, building an effective shelter, rigging up ways to collect potable water, and gathering edible plants and catching animals for food. The show also goes into some depth about survival methods, using Homare’s knowledge taken from her father to teach both the other girls and the viewer about making it out in the wilderness.

This fire-making method seems pretty basic, I think I could pull this off at least

I don’t know the first thing about surviving in the wild. If I were left to my own wits, I’d definitely die within a few days, probably as a result of eating something poisonous. So I can’t say the tips in Are You Lost? aren’t legitimate (though I still doubt that fresh urine is sterile enough to drink safely — and I hope in all my life I never have to find out the answer.)

However, for me the appeal of Are You Lost? is more in the interaction between these four very different characters, and especially between the three much more “normal” girls (smart nerdy girl Mutsu, sporty but lazy Asuka, and sheltered princess Shion) and Homare, who straightforwardly tells the others what they need to do to survive, even if it means doing normally disgusting things like eating insects or embarrassing things like stripping to their underwear.

Yeah there are good reasons for the characters being half-naked half the time, but I still see what they’re doing here

And speaking of underwear, Are You Lost? is big on the fanservice — in fact, that seems to be just as much the point of the show as the survivalist stuff. It’s easy enough to judge from the poster, but for a story about four girls stuck on a desert island, a lot of what happens in the show doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch. Well, maybe aside from what happens in the final episode. I won’t spoil it, but it felt like an avoidable problem solved in a bit of a weird way. Then again, as I said I’m no survivalist, not even a camper, so who am I to judge?

But if you know my taste, you know I have a very high fanservice tolerance, especially when the anime or whatever it is I’m taking in doesn’t make any bones about it (so to speak I guess.) And this one doesn’t. I liked Are You Lost? — it made comedy work in the context of a harsh situation, and it had a cast completely composed of girls who were often just in their underwear, and really what more can I ask for than that.

Magical Sempai

Now to a more typical high school setting, but with just as much if not more comedy/fanservice. Magical Sempai (yeah, the “sempai” spelling does poke at my obsessive-compulsive side, but that’s how they officially transliterate it so whatever, I’ll go with it) is about a do-nothing new guy at school who’s required to join a school club. He’s not excited about the prospect and just wants a quiet place to play his 3DS lookalike.

Unfortunately for him, he drops in on the Magic Club, headed up by its sole member, known only throughout the show as Sempai. Dude finds Sempai to be cute but extremely irritating, especially since she 1) is awful at doing magic tricks and gets terrible stage fright and 2) insists he join the club, going so far as to immediately call him “Assistant”. She’s also constantly turned up to 11 in terms of both volume and personality, fitting nicely with Assistant’s usually deadpan demeanor.

Assistant has no respect for his annoying senior but still sticks around to help her with her failed attempts at magic.

A few other colorful characters show up, but these two are the core of the show. Each episode of Magical Sempai consists of a series of two to three-minute comedy skits, many of which I think are supposed follow that old Japanese comedy tradition with one boke or idiot character and one tsukkomi or straight man. I say I think because I’m no expert, but there is definitely an idiot/straight man dynamic between these two, though it’s nicely mixed up with those new additions (chemistry girl is best girl by the way, no argument.)

Magical Sempai also mixes things up by throwing in a big dash of… what else but fanservice! Sempai is extremely confident without any reason whatsoever in her magic skills, and she somehow ends up screwing up her tricks in ways that put her in compromising positions.

Like this failed rope escape trick. I left out the pantyshot in this screenshot, but it is there.

As with Are You Lost?, Magical Sempai makes no secret of what it’s aiming for. But also like Are You Lost?, it isn’t content with just giving you some anime girl boobs and underwear and calling it a day: the comedy in this show is snappy and fast-paced and most of it lands well enough. I don’t actually have much else to say about Magical Sempai, except that if you want a laugh and are not averse to some anime tiddies you should check it out. And I look forward to seeing what kind of traffic the SEO in this paragraph brings me.

I might also take this new post format up as an occasional feature to break up the longer reviews. There are some other short-format anime series I’d like to have a look at. And just as with games, I need a break from the massive epics sometimes (not that a one-cour anime series is actually much to get through, but hell, I am lazy after all. How the fuck did I manage to watch all of Legend of the Galactic Heroes anyway?)

 

* You might have noticed the title on the poster is Sounan desu ka?, which doesn’t mean “Are you lost?” but rather “Is that so?” Though it may seem like a strange title, it fits pretty well — it’s what the girls say to each other, normally when Homare is telling them that squeezing fish blood into their mouths using their shirts can help preserve their energy — with an added flavor of “seriously, you want us to do that?” But I can see why they changed the English title instead of just translating it directly, because I don’t know whether the English phrase “is that so?” carries the same connotation.

Eight years on, a few thoughts

Hey, it’s time for another deeply personal post, so if you only want to read about games/anime/music/etc. feel free to skip this one. I won’t be offended. Hell, I won’t even know, really, so it doesn’t make a difference. However, there are a few thoughts I’ve had recently about writing, and specifically about my writing here, and these tie in with the subjects I write about and with my life as a whole. So it is relevant, but still, a warning: I complain a whole lot this time, so if you don’t want to read that, please wait for my next post. Also some stuff about depression and other problems probably. But it doesn’t have such a bad ending, I promise.

Still have to admit that his image is relevant to most of my waking hours, and even to some of the sleeping ones.

This month marks eight years I’ve had this site. When I started it in 2013, I was a different person in many ways. At the time, I was just starting my final degree program, whereas now I’m a working and licensed professional. I also didn’t have much of the responsibility — or sense of responsibility — that I feel now.

Without getting into too many specifics about my life, I can’t live the way I’d prefer for reasons that have to do with family and culture.* This has caused me a lot of stress over the last few years, stress that I haven’t even been able to express — at least not as myself, in my offline life. When I hear people talking about living for yourself, doing what’s best for you, I’m reminded that I can’t do that, and moreover that a lot of people don’t understand why I can’t do that, why I feel so constrained.

This is partly a result of being brought up in (or caught between, maybe) two cultures with very different concepts about tradition and family. I’m very much an American culturally, but the traditional culture of one side of my family has also had a massive impact on me, and one that I can’t avoid. This is partly what constrains me. If I were a more naturally generous and selfless person, I probably wouldn’t feel so constrained, but I have no illusions about myself. I’m actually selfish in the sense that I really want to live the way I like, but since I can’t, I pretend to be a better person than I am. Partly in an effort to actually be that better person, maybe. I don’t know if that’s working, but I still feel bitter about it sometimes.

I’m sorry to be so vague here, but I hope my feelings come across at least. This site is one of the only ways I have to express myself in the way I’d like. And that’s where all the bullshit I write about games and anime and music comes in. I have a few offline friends who share my weeb interests, but most of them don’t. The same is true of my professional colleagues. There are certainly other lawyers out there somewhere with my interests, but aside from one who I’ve more or less lost contact with (though the contact’s not broken at least; it’s really a matter of physical distance) I can’t get into these subjects with them.

That’s not unique to law, certainly — I get the impression that the same is true of almost any professional/corporate American setting. At least when fucking Game of Thrones was running I could relate to people about that, even when it really went bad. By contrast, Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro and similar stuff I write about here obviously doesn’t work as around the water cooler talk, even if it is popular in the fringe circles I and other writers get into here on WordPress.*

And I won’t even get into visual novels. At least not some of them.

This is doubly, triply true of family. Maybe it’s a cliché to say so, but they really wouldn’t understand my interests if they knew about them. I don’t think I’m jumping to conclusions here, either — the few times I’ve tested the waters in that sense, I’ve gotten burned, so I have good reason to believe as I do.

This brings me to the main point. A few years ago, I asked myself why I was keeping up a blog. When I asked myself that question, I had been pushed out of my last job, which I was naturally pretty distressed about. Technically I’d quit to save face, but I have to be honest about it — the axe was about to fall on my neck, and I knew it. And money was an issue for me as it is for almost everyone on Earth.

In fact, leaving that job and ending the daily misery associated with it was one of the best things that’s happened in my life to this point, but at the time, I had no idea where or how I’d end up. But thankfully, I’m in a much better place now. My health and mentality aren’t perfect, but certainly better than they were before, thanks in part to my new work situation over the last few years and to certain lifestyle changes I’ve made. I’ve also become resigned to some unavoidable constraints on my personal life — agonizing over them is useless, and as depressing as it might sound, giving up has helped me come to terms with that. Hope can be a good thing, but a pointless and worthless hope can eat at you and drive you insane — this is my feeling about it, anyway.

Because of all this, I’ve found that I can’t stop writing here. At the end of June, I took what I meant to be a hiatus to deal with certain matters that were causing me issues, and I’m still dealing with them, but I’ve found that writing actually helps keep me balanced. Ever since returning to writing on a regular basis here a few years ago, I haven’t been able to stop or slow down very much. It might have to do with my obsessive-compulsive personality — I don’t use that term lightly, because I do have some actual issues with OCD, though thankfully they’re minor and manageable. So maybe writing here is a kind of obsession as well.

I’m not qualified to say anything at all about psychology, so that might be total bullshit. But if it’s true, I don’t mind having this obsession. I enjoy writing here, even or maybe especially through harder-than-usual times, and so unless I happen to just fall over one day (a real possibility given the old “fast living” habits that I’ve gotten away from, but I don’t worry about that anymore) I’ll keep going here.

Semi-related: Chiri from SZS is a pretty good example of one of the ways OCD can play out.

Maybe this long rambling load of garbage I just wrote was completely unnecessary to express this feeling, but I have a lot I’m carrying around right now, and I felt I had to unload a bit. I’m well aware that I don’t have it so bad, especially compared to at least 95% of the rest of humanity, so I don’t want to say I’ve gone through hardships — I have plenty of family who have gone through truly serious hardships, and I know friends who have been through more than I have besides. But it’s all relative, and it’s hard to keep that kind of perspective when you’re wondering about the point of your life in itself. I hope I’ve at least gotten enough perspective to resolve that sort of existential crisis stuff, at least enough that I can go on living more or less productively.

And if you’ve stuck around for all my bullshit, dear reader, I want to thank you as well for helping me with that. I am really grateful for it. Next time, I’ll post something at least marginally less self-indulgent than this post was. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be leaning towards the anime reviews since I’ve been watching so much of it lately (and a reminder to check out Asobi Asobase! Weird in a good way.) But I won’t be neglecting games either — I just happen to be stuck in the middle of a few massive ones at the moment. There are still those itch.io indie games to get through, and some of them are pretty interesting, so I’ll be taking those on in the meantime as well. Along with one game in particular that’s extremely overdue for a review. Until then!

 

* Except to note that it has nothing to do with having a kid or a wife or anything. If that were the case, I’d dive into all that headfirst without complaint.

** Not that I really expect it to make for water cooler talk. Still, this is an issue that someone could write a book about. Maybe someone already has. The fact that I’m expected to give a fuck about pro and college football and the NBA, yet my fringe interests are just that: fringe. I know “nerd culture” is supposedly mainstream now, but it feels like only a narrow band of works are actually included in that. Namely the ones that are put out by major studios and publishers.

But I don’t want to have “nerd rage” here or whatever people who complain about nerds complaining about things call it. This is a subject for a different post, really, and one that I’ve written before and might write again later. I’m nothing if not repetitive.

A review of Asobi Asobase

I’m back! More or less, anyway. The hiatus I planned was much shorter than expected for various reasons. These mainly have to do with changes to my life that I can’t really ignore anymore, though thankfully they won’t prevent me from writing here or anything like that. Just the opposite, in fact, but it’s a bit complicated. I might get into it later. And I will be posting an extra-long month-end post for July to make up for skipping the last month’s, I promise.

For now, though, I have anime to write about. Because I spent the time in between work and dealing with other unpleasant business this last week and weekend binging the fuck out of anime series, one of which was Asobi Asobase.

Back in the mid-2000s, there was a spate of anime series released that fell into a newly created genre titled “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things.” Sometimes just shortened to CGDCT, this is a widely recognized genre among anime fans, and one that I don’t think really exists outside of anime and manga. And it’s just what it sounds like: a CGDCT series involves a cast of cute girls, and they’re doing cute things. Like playing games, for one example.

From looking at its poster and synopsis, I thought Asobi Asobase fell into this category, so I passed it by. Cute is fine and all, but these shows tend to be a bit boring to me. But something about this show in particular drew me back. Not sure what exactly did it; maybe I was curious about it because it came out in 2018, long after that CGDCT craze died down, or maybe it was a few of the strange-looking thumbnails in the episode list. In any case, I decided to watch the first episode.

And then I realized I’d been tricked. At first, I wasn’t sure whether what I got was better or worse than what I’d expected, but then I ended up watching the rest of the 12-episode series over the course of two days, so there’s the answer to that question I suppose.

Wait, this wasn’t what I expected at all! Help!

The creators did a great job of hiding the show’s true nature, at least until a few minutes into episode 1. The OP is charming and cute with a slight yuri vibe, giving the impression of just the kind of CGDCT show I was expecting. Right away, however, we’re introduced to our main cast, and it’s obvious that something is off here. We open on Kasumi Nomura (right w/ glasses), a student at an all-girls middle school, explaining why she hates playing games with a flashback involving her shitty older sister forcing her to buy ice cream when she loses at a board game.

Much to her irritation, this flashback is interrupted by two of her classmates, Hanako Honda and the blonde transfer student Olivia. The pair are playing a game that involves slapping your opponent (at least according to Olivia it does) if they look in the direction you’re pointing.

Kasumi is dragged into their game by Hanako out of a desire to avoid further beatings, and Olivia gives Kasumi a good slap when she loses (or doesn’t lose? Because I think Olivia is slapping all her opponents no matter what they do.) However, Olivia screws her aim up, slapping Kasumi slightly lower than intended in a more sensitive area, and pissing her off to the maximum. So when Kasumi wins the next round, she decides to teach this new girl how to play this game properly.

Not the smoothest introduction. However, Kasumi approaches Olivia soon after to try to get her help with English, which she’s terrible at. Olivia’s parents are from overseas, and her Japanese so far has been pretty slow and broken, so everyone assumes at this point that she’s fluent in English.

This puts Olivia in a tight spot, because the opposite is true: she’s actually fluent in Japanese, having been born and raised in Japan, and she can barely speak English. She’s just been fucking with Hanako and the rest of the class because she thought it was funny. Now that she’s actually being asked to help with English, she’s afraid to drop the act she started, so she agrees to help Kasumi — as long as Kasumi teaches her about more games and pastimes. Olivia’s picked up on the fact that Kasumi hates games, so she thinks her demand will be refused, but to her shock, Kasumi accepts the deal. And before the end of the episode, the three decide to start a school club dedicated to playing games (and/or studying English?) called the Pastimers’ Club.

A few minutes past the OP of the first episode, then, it’s already obvious that Asobi Asobase isn’t quite what it claims to be at first. On the cover, it pretends to be one of those old CGDCT shows, but it’s actually a surreal comedy with a dirty streak. What follows is a 12-episode run full of mind games, revenge, blackmail, power struggles with the student council and rival clubs, competitions ending in humiliation and severe injury, and a man who shoots laser beams out of his ass. The series adds an entire cast of bizarre supporting characters to help play these bits out (including ass laser man; you’ll see how he fits into the equation if you watch.) But the focus is always on the main three Kasumi, Hanako, and Olivia and their games, which too often turn into larger, usually idiotic, schemes.

School clubs are serious business

This kind of bizarre stuff doesn’t always work for me, but as I’ve already more or less given away, Asobi Asobase did very much work for me, and I think a lot of that had to do with this central cast. Kasumi, Hanako, and Olivia quickly become friends, but they also have to deal with each other’s strange quirks. That’s where most of the comedy here comes from for me. Kasumi is studious, neurotic, and usually shy and quiet except when she gets pissed off (see above), and Olivia is carefree and generally out of it except when her public image might be at risk, in which case she panics.

But the most out-there character is Hanako. So out there that she might be the one who either pulls you into or shuts you out of Asobi Asobase. At first, I found her to be a bit much, but she quickly grew on me even if I’m still not sure why. Hanako is subdued (relatively at least) in the very beginning of the show, but we soon see how much of a weirdo she is — so much so that despite making high grades and being from a rich family with such a privileged upbringing that she has a butler, she’s shunned by the popular girls.

Stuff like this is probably part of the reason for her outcast status

This is a serious problem for Hanako, who desperately wants a boyfriend and both envies and hates the popular girls at her school for getting to go to mixers while she’s shut out of the fun. She’s also a bit of a complete and utter nutbar, though judging from my own middle school experience and my blessedly brief time as a sort-of-teacher she’s not actually that unusual for a kid her age.

Unfortunately for Hanako, both she and her clubmates are sort of weirdo misfits — the difference between them and Hanako is that Kasumi doesn’t really care and Olivia is seemingly too oblivious to even notice. So Hanako lets herself go around them, resulting in some of the strangest (and loudest) sequences in the show. I’ll admit she screams a little bit too much for me, but I enjoyed some of her freakouts, and especially her friends’ reactions to them.

The other two also have plenty of moments.

There isn’t much of a plot to Asobi Asobase. There are a few running storylines that come up now and then, but each episode is broken into four segments that are usually not connected to each other, which I think fits the type of fast-paced weirdo surreal comedy it’s going for well. The show as a whole is crazy, but there’s enough sense left in it to prevent things from going off the rails completely, which is where it would probably lose me, and I think this quick four-part format has something to do with that. These segments often end with a punchline and occasionally with a character breaking the fourth wall, but thankfully the fourth-wall-breaking doesn’t happen so often that it gets irritating.

The show is just as weird as it needs to be while remaining funny

There isn’t a type of humor that works for everyone, and that’s just as true of comedy anime series as it is of western TV comedies. Asobi Asobase is sometimes loud and often insane, but it fits really well with some of the sort of comedy I like. It feels stupid but at the same time clever and thoughtfully put together if that makes any sense. Something like Beavis and Butthead or South Park. The presentation is similar in the sense that it can be a bit shocking at times (and serious credit to the voice actors as well, because they contribute a lot to that) and the tone is pretty similar.

Or maybe I’m going way too far out on a limb with these comparisons, but this is just the vibe I got watching this. I think if you’re into the above shows, you’ll probably enjoy this series as well. And if you can’t stand Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, don’t worry, because that’s not really what Asobi Asobase is — at most it’s a surrealist take on that genre. So maybe people who are into CGDCT can appreciate Asobi Asobase even more than I can in that sense.

And as a look into the pure chaos and terror that is middle school, Asobi Asobase might be the most realistic anime ever created.

So I guess that’s a recommendation too. This currently one-season show didn’t have a proper finale really, simply ending on yet another weird joke, but the manga it’s based on is still running, and there’s talk about a second season possibly, maybe, who knows. I’m hoping for a second season myself, because I can use more of this strange brew, but anime watchers know how these things can go. I’m not holding my breath, but I’ll keep an eye out.

A short hiatus

Sorry, no end of the month post here as usual. Things are not going fantastically for me at the moment — I don’t know if it’s just a temporary dip or what, probably is. It’s nothing serious or urgent or anything, so no worries there, but I may be off for a couple of weeks or longer, and after doing my best to maintain at least a weekly schedule and these end-of-month posts both, I didn’t just want to take off without saying anything. I have some things I need to sort out between work and personal/family matters (which can’t be separated after all) before I can give writing here the attention it deserves.

I shouldn’t be long, anyway, and I’ll have plenty to get back into once I return. Games, anime, music, all the usual stuff you’ve come to expect here. And I hope I can drop in on other blogs around here in the meantime. Until then, I wish you all the best.

A review of Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro

No, I haven’t gotten so lazy now that I’m just reposting old posts — this is different from my other Nagatoro review, which was of the first four officially released English volumes of the manga (as of this writing now up to seven and soon to be eight, so I may have to revisit that at some point.) For now, though, we’re having a look at the recently completed anime adaptation, more or less covering the first six manga volumes.

Since I’ve already written about most of the source material this season of Nagatoro was based on, I might not have as much to say about it as I would otherwise. A lot of what I wrote about before pretty much applies to the anime, since it’s extremely faithful to the manga, only making a few changes to the pacing and the order of a few key events. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to say about the adaptation, though — in fact, watching the anime brought up a few connections I hadn’t quite made before in my mind, but here they are now, and even if they’re the product of a poorly socially adjusted mind like mine I’ll still go over them, because that’s part of why I write here (and then, maybe a poorly socially adjusted mind is the best kind to address these matters.)

If you don’t feel like going back to that older post, a short synopsis of the series: protagonist, known only as Senpai, is a second-year high school student, a nerdy and painfully reserved guy who only really likes art. He has a run-in with popular sporty girl Nagatoro, a first-year who loves teasing and tormenting him. But hey, of course it’s a romantic comedy and they’re really into each other but they can’t bring themselves to admit it (yet) and Nagatoro’s teasing works to help Senpai find some self-confidence and to socialize somewhat.

Speaking generally, this is a premise that’s been used before — the misfit pair who fall in love is a very old love story setup. But it’s effective when done right, and Nagatoro is doing it right (and for details on how it’s doing it right, you can check out the manga review, because all of what I wrote about it there also applies to the anime — the story wasn’t fundamentally changed in the adaptation.)

This was my first time watching an anime adaptation of a manga I was already reading, as strange as it might sound. I’m really not much of a manga reader. So all this is probably very old well-worn ground to many manga readers/anime watchers. But I was impressed by how well writer/artist Nanashi’s work translated into animation. Nagatoro especially is known for her extreme expressions that often turn cartoonish (for lack of a better term?) These work in the anime just as well as in the manga as far as I can tell, in some cases even adding to the Senpai/Nagatoro dynamic, since those expressions are always directed at or related to Senpai and his own awkward reactions.

The voice acting is great as well — the VAs they got for Nagatoro and Senpai fit their characters exactly, to the point that reading the manga again, I can “hear” the dialogue in those voices now. Sort of, anyway, since the voice acting is naturally all in Japanese. For those who prefer dubs over subtitles, since the series has just finished airing, the dub option isn’t available yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an English dub is released soon on Crunchyroll. Not a personal concern since I’m firmly on the subs side of that dubs/subs divide with a few big exceptions, but it’s nice to see strong effort being put into English dubbing of anime, and there’s undoubtedly a lot of talent that goes into that as well.

There is an interesting aspect of Nagatoro that I haven’t addressed yet, and that’s the fantastic element to it. As I wrote a while back, one of the reasons I felt I took to Nagatoro so much was because of how relatable I felt the Senpai character was. Like him, I was a loner in high school who stuck to and got very deep into my own interests, shutting everything and everyone else out. When other students were a bit sad at my high school graduation, I found it to be the best day of my life — a sort of “fuck this place that I’ve had to put up with all this time” mentality (I know, for a JRPG/anime fan to have this kind of background is shocking. College was better, at least.)

The point here is that I never had my own Nagatoro to force me out of my shell. It wouldn’t have been reasonable for me to expect one, either. Nagatoro herself is a sort of godsend in disguise for Senpai, but that’s one of the things about godsends — they don’t show up all that often. I can’t say that it’s impossible that such a thing could happen in real life, or even that it’s all that unrealistic, but it seems rare enough that it might not be a stretch to file it under “wish fulfillment” (hell, just go into any thread or comment section about this series and see how many times you read something like “I wish a Nagatoro would bully me/had bullied me when I was in school.”)1

However, I still don’t think this particular kind of wish fulfillment, if that’s what Nagatoro is, is a problem. Firstly, because Nagatoro herself gets something out of her relationship with Senpai and has her own growth. I got into this a bit in my manga review, but that personal growth progresses in the fifth and sixth volumes that make up the later part of the anime run. Though we never get into her mind like we do Senpai’s, it’s implied that dealing with her senpai is making her more empathetic towards him, unlocking some new feelings within her.

A lot of that ties in with the budding romance going on, and yes, there is a ton of sexual tension between them that both the manga and anime largely play up for comedy, especially given that Nagatoro tries to tease him in that sense but can’t really do it that well since she’s just as inexperienced as he is. But there’s also a strong element of friendship there. It’s worth noting that Senpai even breaks through to Nagatoro’s tight group of friends, which consists of a few especially rowdy girls he’d never have thought of associating with before. And he eventually succeeds, because while they’re initially pretty cruel to him, they end up backing him up when they see how well he and Nagatoro connect.

Nagatoro both insulting and motivating Senpai to make him finish a 5k run.

And secondly, this isn’t any fairytale rainbows and unicorns bullshit.2 Senpai has to make serious efforts that are difficult for him to even meet Nagatoro halfway. As a result, it feels rewarding to see him gradually break out of that shell with her help. As much as I’ve come to hate the expression, he really is constantly stepping outside of his comfort zone — if that expression was made for any situation at all, it was made for this kind. And if “wish fulfillment” like this is created even in part to encourage such healthy behavior, then I have no problem with it.

All that said, none of the sex jokes have been toned down from the manga, so that aspect of the series can still be freely enjoyed or complained about depending upon your preference. I still think it’s strange that Uzaki-chan was the series that received all the fire from the usual sources, while Nagatoro from what I could tell mostly escaped it, considering that the latter is a fair bit more provocative. Maybe those usual sources simply wrote Nagatoro off immediately without any further scrutiny. Anyway, I can’t pretend to get why the hell people get pissed off about fictional works on social media to the extent that they start holy wars over them. If you’re a sociology or psychology major, there’s a good subject for you to think about.

Nagatoro’s thesis statement

But if you don’t care about any of that nonsense, my final take on the Nagatoro anime is that it lives up to the source material. Ten years ago, if you’d told me I’d be actually enjoying romantic comedies and/or school-setting anime series, I’d have laughed at you — but look at me now. I guess I’ve changed too. I’m even hoping for a second season, but whether we get it or not, I’ll continue following the manga.

 

1 To be fair, I don’t know how many of these comments are just from masochists, or more likely from people who think they’re masochists. If so, approaching Nagatoro from that perspective feels like it’s missing the point, especially since Senpai clearly isn’t a masochist — what’s going on between him and Nagatoro is more interesting than that.

2 Not that fairytales were even like this either. Go read an original from the 1,001 Nights or the Brothers Grimm and see how pleasant it is. A happy ending more often than not costs some blood to get there, which at least isn’t something you can say about Nagatoro. No blood, but there are plenty of sweat and tears to be found here.

Summer cleaning game review special #6: Baba Is You

Yes! Summer is back, the worst of all the seasons, and even worse this year because of the heat wave we’re going through. So I thought I’d drag this post series back out as well. It’s especially relevant since just like last summer, I’ve picked up a new massive batch of over a thousand games from itch.io in a bundle, so now I have — well, a lot. There’s some overlap between the two, so I’m not sure how many are in both together, but certainly more than I can ever play in my life.

In this resurrected post series, I’ll again be covering smaller games that I don’t have as much to say about as I would in a typical review. I can use the break from the massive epics I’m working through anyway. Atelier really took it out of me last spring, and I need to gather my energy again.

So why not start with a game everyone’s already heard of? As usual, I’m late to the party, but for those in the same situation, here’s the puzzle game Baba Is You.

This game was released in 2019, when I first started hearing a lot about it but for whatever reason never bothered checking it out. But I should have, because it’s pretty damn close to the perfect sort of puzzle game: easy to learn but hard to master, and one that either lets you or forces you (depending on your mindset) to use unorthodox solutions. The object of each stage in Baba Is You is to reach the goal, which is initially marked by a flag, and your player character is Baba, the white rabbit-looking creature seen above.

But not always. All that can change, because in many cases the player has the power to alter the rules of a stage by moving the text blocks that create said rules. So Baba is you, except when it isn’t. Maybe something else can be you. Or maybe the flag doesn’t have to be the goal — maybe it can be something else entirely. Is a wall or some other obvious obstacle stopping you from proceeding? Maybe you can get around it — or maybe you can change the rules to break straight through that wall.

Is this the solution to this stage? I guess not.

Baba Is You encourages you to try all kinds of stuff that might seem fruitless or even silly at first — if it doesn’t work or results in failure, hitting the z key lets you rewind your actions step by step. And in some cases, an action that might seem silly or unthinkable can be exactly the solution you were looking for.

This game reminds me of nothing so much as the logic game section of the LSAT, the standardized exam that American and Canadian law schools require all applicants to take. I had to take that bullshit exam three times before I got a score I was halfway satisfied with, and those logic games were the bane of my fucking existence for months.* These games were essentially very complex word problems that operated according to logic rules, most of which you’re required to piece together yourself. Here’ are a few good examples of such games. You can see if you play with some of the rules in these problems how the different elements in it can change. The exam does this in some of the questions under each problem, forcing you to quickly factor in those rule changes to find their solutions.

I think this is where I discovered the connection in my head

While the LSAT is a hateful, miserable exam, however, Baba Is You is a fun puzzle game. Probably because it doesn’t impose a time limit upon you or grade you on a curve, and certainly because being bad at it or taking a while to solve its problems doesn’t subject you to shame among your peers and anxiety about your career prospects (unless your desired future career is as a speedrunner, maybe.) But it operates on similar principles, like understanding what rules can and can’t be changed, how multiple rules fit together to create other rules that aren’t obvious at first, and how changeable rules can be broken up or added to. Not every idea is going to work — most of mine were failures, but that’s part of the fun. Even discovering some of the bizarre ways in which you can fail these stages is interesting.

So this one comes highly recommended. Try out Baba Is You for some good brain exercise, because we can all use it.

 

* Of course, now the Law School Admissions Council is getting rid of that section, only after so many of us had to suffer through it. I support that decision, but couldn’t they have made it sooner, preferably before I took the god damn test? Thanks for nothing, assholes.

A review of Ganbare Douki-chan (Vol. 1-4)

Anyone who’s into the less safe-for-work side of art on Twitter might be familiar with Yomu. This artist has made a name for himself creating work that’s sometimes very close to the edge of being 18+ but technically doesn’t cross it. That’s to say, a lot of his art really isn’t SFW in the literal sense. (And the standard disclaimer: this is more or less adult stuff this time around so fair warning as usual.)

Yomu certainly deserves the praise he gets for all his skill, but part of his appeal probably comes from the fact that he makes no secret of what he’s into, which is a quality many people respect. If you’ve seen Miru Tights, this is pretty obvious — this is the same artist behind that series. And the same is true of his other work Ganbare Douki-chan.

I’m really not sure what category to put this one into. I chose to file this post under “manga”, but Ganbare Douki-chan is not exactly a manga; it’s really more of a series of full-page and full-color drawings with a bit of descriptive text or dialogue sometimes included punctuated by a few comic strips. It’s more like an artbook series in that sense. But unlike the other artbooks I own, these aren’t just individual pieces of art: they feature established characters and tell a running story. So Douki-chan is a strange bird, but that’s part of why I wanted to write about it.

Ganbare Douki-chan (something like Do Your Best, Co-Worker, or maybe Doing Her Best/Hardworking Co-Worker? I’m still not that great in Japanese) is about the emotional travails of the office worker Douki-chan, seen on the cover above. She doesn’t get a real name — I don’t think anyone in this series does from what I can tell; “Douki” is an equal colleague or in this case a co-hire as opposed to your senior or junior. Douki-chan and her colleagues work at an office doing some kind of office-related work that’s never specified, but that’s not important either, because this series is all about Douki-chan and her rivals vying for the affections of one guy at their office.

Vol. 2: A challenger appears!

This dude is apparently desirable as hell too, because they’re all going after him pretty hard. Unfortunately, Douki-chan isn’t quite as forward as her rivals, and she certainly can’t bring herself to confess her feelings to the guy, but she still somehow ends up getting into nice situations with him that aren’t quite intimate but close enough to spur her on more. On the other hand, she also worries about and imagines her rivals getting into sexual situations with the guy (and she imagines herself doing so as well — Douki-chan has a pretty good imagination.)

For me, a lot of the appeal to Ganbare Douki-chan comes from seeing the title character getting all flustered but then getting those small wins over her flirty co-workers. But then, of course, there’s the appeal of the art itself. Yomu is great at drawing really cute/attractive women. That seems to be about all he does, anyway, which is certainly fine with me.

He also has a few very obvious fixations, namely on women’s legs and tights/pantyhose; that was the focus of Miru Tights, and the same theme shows up a whole lot in Ganbare Douki-chan, so if that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed. However, he also branches out into other areas: there’s plenty of cleavage, some swimsuits in the fourth volume, and a few approaching-but-not-quite-naked situations throughout, even with implied sex in Douki-chan’s imagination/dreams in a few (again skirting that 18+ line! And a reminder that even though they avoid that 18+ only label on the cover, these volumes aren’t for kids.)

Finally, there’s the appeal of imagining yourself as the guy in this situation. I guess this is part of the point of Douki-chan, anyway, since a lot of the pages are drawn from the point of view of the man being fought over. Of course, as with a lot of fantasies, the situation would probably get a bit ugly if it were to become reality — there’s a reason a lot of offices discourage open co-worker relationships, and the love polygon in this series has to be causing productivity issues.

… and another one. Will there be yet another challenger added in Vol. 4? You can probably guess.

But I don’t read something like Ganbare Douki-chan because I want to think about productivity issues. I have to do that enough at my own office, which isn’t anything like the one featured in these books (otherwise I might actually look forward to going back soon despite what I just wrote above; yes I really can be that shallow sometimes.) The point to me is more to appreciate Yomu’s beautiful art and to hope Douki-chan comes out on top in the end. This isn’t a deep or serious work or anything, and there’s only so much in the way of storytelling I think you can do with this kind of format.

But I like the format Yomu uses here. It strikes a nice balance between showing off his art and telling a very light romantic story with some comedy mixed in. This is naturally one of those “this is for me but might not be for you” works again — that applies with double or even triple strength this time — but if it’s for you, you’ll like it too.

Just a few more points about Douki-chan — these are doujin (self-published) books, so they don’t have ISBNs or barcodes, and they’re not listed in a lot of the places you can typically find manga. I got mine off of eBay, because of course I had to get physical copies, but if you don’t want to go through the trouble I think there are digital copies available around as well. There also isn’t any official translation and very likely never will be — not such a big deal since you can get the gist of the whole thing without even being able to read any of the bits of text and dialogue in it, but there are sites out there that have unofficial translations, and you can find them easily if you know where to look. Finally, each volume is fairly short at about 30-36 pages each, but the quality of the art and the paper size (B5, typical doujin size; larger than a manga tankobon volume) more than make up for their relatively short lengths.