A review of Super Cub

High school student Koguma lives alone in a small, nearly empty apartment. She wakes up early in the morning, makes breakfast, and goes to school on her bicycle. After school she returns to her apartment and isn’t greeted by anyone — she doesn’t have parents or any family at all. She doesn’t even seem to have any friends to spend time with.

On her way to school one morning, while pushing herself on her bike from her faraway apartment, Koguma notices someone riding a small motorcycle. Tired of having to pedal everywhere, Koguma goes after school to a local bike shop to see whether she can afford a motorbike herself. She’s discouraged after looking at some of the price tags, but the shopkeeper brings out a model just for her, and right in her low price range: a used Honda Super Cub.

After getting a helmet, riding gloves, and a basic lesson in motorcycle maintenance, Koguma is off on her Super Cub. Daily life is now a little easier and more convenient for her, but her life is about to change in ways she couldn’t have imagined thanks to her motorbike.

Trying out the new bike at the shop. In every other shot Koguma is wearing her gear, and aside from one massive and very weird exception near the end that I will get into, Super Cub emphasizes this sort of practical safety advice.

Super Cub aired just last year, but it totally passed me by until about a month ago when I saw it recommended because I’d watched Yuru Camp. I’d seen it recommended a lot for that reason, actually, but I didn’t know what a super cub was and kept putting off finding out for a while until finally giving in. If it were airing this year I’d probably have watched it as it aired, but I wasn’t yet on the extremely slow-paced slice of life anime train last year, not before I watched and loved Yuru Camp.

These two series do have some elements in common, so I get why I was recommended this. They are both relaxed slice-of-life series about high school girls (of course, it’s anime and that’s 90% of the slice-of-life genre at least) setting out on the road and learning about themselves. They even both take place in Yamanashi Prefecture, one of Japan’s few landlocked states and the home of Mount Fuji. Between these two series, Yamanashi looks like a great place to visit — both depict a lot of beautiful countryside and wilderness, even though the prefecture isn’t too far from Tokyo. Maybe this is one of the places Tokyoites go to get out of town when they’re able.

It really does look nice in spring. We get these cherry blossoms blooming in certain parts here, too. If you’re in the eastern US, go to DC to see it one April if you ever get the chance.

That slow pace is also important to note. If anything, Super Cub feels even slower-paced than Yuru Camp, with plenty of shots of Koguma and other characters riding around town, making lunch, and carrying out other daily tasks. The pace feels very deliberate — I don’t know if this is reading too much into it, but I get the feeling it’s meant to really pull you into this setting and especially into the slow pace of life in the Yamanashi countryside and how it all plays out for Koguma in particular. If that wasn’t the intention, it’s all right, because it still had that effect on me. I think watching Yuru Camp and Akebi’s Sailor Uniform softened me up a lot towards these slow slice-of-life series.

Super Cub makes plenty of room for these lengthy scenes since the plot itself is pretty thin: Koguma buys her Super Cub and learns to ride it, making two close friends along the way and becoming not quite as depressed as she used to be. I’d say those are spoilers, but they’re really not since you can gather all of it from the OP. (There will be spoilers following, but this is another not very plot-heavy series, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.)

Koguma is an interesting protagonist. She might not seem that way at first, though. As she narrates herself, she has no friends, no family, no hobbies, no money, nothing at all. That’s not quite true — Koguma has an apartment and enough money at least to pay for her room and board and to eat. She refers to scholarship money she receives every so often, but it’s clearly not all that much considering she can’t afford more than a roughly hundred dollar used motorcycle and rice with some kind of flavor sauce packet for lunch every day. So it’s an extremely spare life for Koguma at first.

Depression life

However, once she gets her Super Cub, she starts to take a real interest in it, learning how to ride and maintain it properly. Even just cruising around the local roads without having to constantly pedal her bike is a nice enough feeling to bring her a little happiness. And her motorcycle soon gets her her first friend, her classmate and fellow Super Cub owner Reiko, who overhears her answering someone else’s question about her bike followed by their dismissal that it’s not a real motorcycle but more of a moped.

Reiko doesn’t feel that way. She’s so damn proud of her own modified Super Cub that she won’t shut up about it, and since she knows Koguma is part of the club now she has someone else at their school to talk to about it.

Man, I have no idea what you’re talking about but that sounds cool

Though she still doesn’t talk much and is extremely soft-spoken when she does, Koguma gets along with the far chattier Reiko, and the two build a solid friendship with their shared love for motorcycles, eating lunch down by their bikes every day and eventually visiting each other after school hours. And soon enough the third character in their group makes her entrance when Koguma and Reiko volunteer their bikes to carry an espresso-maker from a nearby high school to their own for an Italian café at their cultural festival. Shii, another of their classmates with a love of everything Italian, appreciates their help and invites them over to her family’s weirdly clashing western-themed restaurant, her father being obsessed with Germany and her mother with the US.

***

Now I’m going to break a rule of good blog-writing (at least I guess it is.) I wrote all of the above months ago. I should probably rewrite it and start over clean at this point, but I feel like I summed up the show’s characters and events pretty well, or at least that I wouldn’t be able to do better at this point. But Super Cub was a rare one for me. Usually when I watch an anime, play a game, listen to an album or whatever else, I have at least some idea of what I want to say about it, even if it might take a minute to get those thoughts together.

It took months for me to keep writing about Super Cub past the basic “here’s what happened” stuff you read above. Maybe because it’s an unusual series, a show about motorbikes full of product placement, which you’d probably expect to be full of excitement and speed Fast and Furious-style, but no — it’s very deliberately slow, so slow and dreamlike that it’s impossible to believe it was made to capture mass appeal. Super Cub is based on a light novel series that I haven’t read and that likely hasn’t been translated anyway, so I can’t say how this anime compares to the original work, but it certainly seems like there wasn’t a lot of concern about getting the blood flowing in the way you might expect from a motorbike-based series.

That aspect of Super Cub really worked for me when I watched it, and upon a very partial rewatch it still does. Some viewers might feel watching Koguma make her depression meals in her empty apartment or riding through the same sleepy countryside intersection for the fifth time is a waste or filler, but I’d disagree. Part of the appeal of Super Cub seems to be this replaying of her routine, and watching how it gradually changes for the better and somewhat less depressing as Koguma expands her personal horizons. As someone who used to live in a deep rut, I like how Koguma’s rise out into a brighter world plays out. And the show has a more literal way of depcting this “brightening” of her life, with an occasional shift away from its usually muted colors to a brighter look (like when she drinks the coffee, seen above — good coffee really can almost have that effect.)

An example of the goodness of coffee — the brighter colors in this screenshot are no accident.

Super Cub also features a lot of the usual “power of friendship” stuff you’ll also find in your Yuru Camp, K-On!, etc. sorts of slice-of-life shows, with the protagonist and her newfound companions helping each other out and supporting each other when necessary. The friendship theme is nothing new, it’s just the subject matter it’s attached to. I know nothing about motorcycles, motorbikes, or mopeds, and I certainly don’t know anything about Super Cubs, but I thought the show, for the most part, did a good job weaving Koguma’s growing bonds with Reiko and Shii into their shared love for Honda motorbikes and coffee.

While I enjoyed a lot of the slow-paced and relaxed feel of Super Cub and the growing friendship between the central trio, the series did hit a few bumps for me (sorry.) One of these was just how weirdly poetic Koguma sometimes gets about her Super Cub, especially in the inner monologues we sometimes get from her at the beginnings or ends of episodes. Clearly learning how to ride and maintain her bike has had a great and positive impact on her life, and the show depicts that well enough, but on occasion it gets a little over the top for me. I can take a lot of this in the right context, but in connection with the constant Honda product placement, it does feel strange.

To be clear, I’m not accusing Honda of having anything to do with this anime or with the original light novel series — as far as I know, it had nothing at all to do with either. But imagine a series about how soda truly brings characters together with its great, refreshing taste, and that soda just happens to be Coke or Pepsi. No matter how genuine the characters, their relationships and struggles, come off otherwise, we’re all so bombarded with product placement and advertisements in every other part of our lives that it would be impossible not to notice.

I promise this has nothing to do with the fact that the god damn AC condenser in my Civic broke completely out of nowhere last summer and that I had to pay well over one thousand dollars to get it fixed. And yeah, there is a settlement available… for the AC compressor, not the condenser. Assholes, they just fucked the whole AC unit design up apparently. I’m not still angry, no.

My other issue with Super Cub had to do with the turn it took near the very end, and specifically in its second-to-last episode (and here are the actual spoilers, though they’re not really much.) Shii joins the informal motorbike club near the end of the series, which is to be expected, but I guess the writer or writers felt she needed a dramatic moment to connect more closely with Koguma, or simply because they thought the second-to-last episode of a series needs a lot of drama to be a real climax. Because something really dramatic does happen: while riding her bicycle at night along a dangerous path in the woods, Shii falls into a ditch and can’t get out. She calls Koguma, telling her in a weak voice that she’s freezing and stuck and needs help, so off Koguma races on her Super Cub to save her friend.

That’s all fine, but what follows isn’t. Koguma gets to the scene, immediately starts moving Shii around (which I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do in case something is actually broken.) Then, instead of calling emergency services or a doctor or anyone like that, Koguma places Shii in the basket in front of her motorbike’s windshield and drives her to her apartment to warm up and recover. That’s keeping in mind that Shii is freezing and exposed to the cold wind, now hitting her even harder since they’re driving.

No, I’m not a medical professional or a biker, but I’m pretty sure none of this is right.

I normally wouldn’t nitpick the events of one episode like this, especially since I’m an expert in exactly none of the topics Super Cub is about. However, I’d like to think I have at least a small amount of common sense — common sense that Koguma for whatever reason doesn’t exercise in this one episode. The place they live out in Yamanashi is remote and it’s late, sure, but it hasn’t been established that Koguma doesn’t have a hospital to call to get Shii and handle her properly in case she’s really messed up. Thankfully she isn’t, but this episode builds up the tension as though she might be.

And if you want to argue that this is still too much of a nitpick, here’s my answer: Super Cub otherwise seems to take a practical approach, almost teaching the viewer along with Koguma how to maintain a motorbike, with lessons built into the story about changing your own oil, modifying your bike to handle winter weather, and buying essential gear and accessories. A series like this can’t just take a vacation from reality for one episode, leaving behind this practical approach to give what seems like really terrible advice. And maybe all for the purpose of letting Koguma say to Shii near the end of the episode: Don’t thank me for saving you, thank my Super Cub. Yeah, thanks, Super Cub.

Maybe all of the above makes more sense in the novel series, or maybe it was an anime-only addition. And maybe I really am picking too much at this episode, but on top of the poetics about how wonderful the Super Cub is, this felt like way too much for me to take. If you happen to know the area this place is based on (if it is a real part of the prefecture) let me know if I’m really off here. I just don’t think Super Cub needed the drama this episode was trying to inject — it was at its best when it was doing its slice-of-life thing, which is thankfully almost the rest of the series.

Maybe if it were a talking motorbike like the car from Knight Rider (voice provided by the guy who played John Adams in 1776 and Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World, fun fact) then I might feel this “thank my Super Cub” line was less cheesy and stupid.

All that considered, episode 11 feels so strangely out of place that it doesn’t actually ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the series. I didn’t want to go without addressing it, because it is there and it does stick out horribly, but in the end, I still have positive feelings about Super Cub. Even if I don’t have such positive feelings about Honda right now, feelings that won’t improve until they pay me back for that fucking broken AC condenser, the assholes.

But that’s not the fault of Koguma, Reiko, or Shii, and it’s not the fault of whoever was responsible for designing the various Super Cub models. I can’t say watching Super Cub motivated me to buy one — I’m old now and need a proper car, and there are hardly any motorbikes or mopeds around in the near-urban/dense suburban area of car-addicted America I live in. But I can see why it might have that effect, especially on a viewer in Koguma’s place in life. If you’re looking for another series in the vein of Yuru Camp, or probably of Yama no Susume (which I haven’t seen, but it’s also on the list) I’d recommend it.

In the end, Super Cub did win me over, all while getting away with some bullshit that wouldn’t have flown for me in lesser series. Nice job to author Tone Kouken and Studio Kai.

To my American friends and readers, happy bird-eating day and happy insane shopping day (both of which I sat out. I had dinner at Waffle House last night. I know, but I don’t care either.) I have no idea what’s coming next, but see you next time.

Post #400, fantasy, and reality

I didn’t even realize this milestone had come up, but hey, this is the 400th post I’ve put up. Seems strange to think after nine years and over half a million words that I’ve spent so much time on a project — it really doesn’t feel like I have. When you’re doing something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work, even if it requires real effort (which writing certainly does, as my fellow writers can attest to.)

This isn’t a celebratory post, however. Not because I’m unhappy with my work here — at least my work starting from 2019, which in terms of post and word count and effort spent is by far the bulk of the site. I just feel myself slipping deeper into some kind of void. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m doing all right at work, making decent enough progress in my career, to the point that even if I were to be downsized in the supposedly coming and/or present recession I now have enough skills and resources to continue making a living for myself. A lot of that required me to get rid of old feelings of pride and conventional modes of thinking that were holding me back. But more likely I’ll continue to climb the ladder, with all the horrible stress and bullshit that comes with that.

I do have anxieties about money and work. Who doesn’t — who among us is really secure outside of that top 1%? And even for them, security is relative. But that’s not really what keeps me awake at night. It’s rather this sense of emptiness, like something vital in my life is missing. I’m not sure whether that’s a partner who I’m actually compatible with (i.e. the only kind worth having and the kind I’ve never had once in my life, which I’ve gone through a lot of probably unnecessary heartache and headache for thanks in part to my terrible life decisions) or just dissatisfaction with my career. More than once I’ve noted that dissatisfaction, so I guess it’s no secret — I’ve even written an overlong post about why you almost certainly should not attend law school. So I won’t pile onto what I’ve already written.

However, I do want to expand on another matter I’ve written about before. It’s one that I find endlessly fascinating, but also one that I can’t just observe from a detached perspective, since it so strongly affects my own personality and way of life. What else can it be but escapist fantasy? Of course, I’m not just talking about the fantasy genre, though that’s tied to this matter as well. Any art in any medium that allows for such an escape from the miserable realities of life, that’s what I’m concerned with.

I’m going to take yet another left turn here, but I promise it connects back to my main point. SCP is one of the longest-running and most interesting collaborative fiction-writing projects online, a large collection of accounts of various magical, cursed, and/or interdimensional items/persons/phenomena. These are sorted into official-looking entries compiled by the secretive “SCP Foundation” complete with clinical descriptions of the items in question and instructions about how to effectively contain them (if possible) and usually with reports of incidents caused by or related to the items attached.

Not every one of these entries is a winner. Granted, I haven’t read anywhere close to all of them (numbered in the high thousands now from what I understand) but I’ve read a decent number, and admittedly some of these tend to be a little too silly or over the top to have much effect. But there are some excellent entries as well, my favorite of which is SCP-1230, a book that’s nearly blank when opened but that causes the reader to enter an extremely deep and realistic dream state when they next sleep. This dream is presided over by a supervisor figure connected with the book (sort of “inside” the book) who helps the reader/dreamer live out a fantasy of their choosing. The perception of time in this dream is extremely warped, and the dreamer might go through months or an entire year in this fantasy in the span of a mere nap.

All this is very interesting, but the reason 1230 earns the title of best SCP for me is its account of an SCP Foundation scientist who opens the book and enters the dream supposedly for the purpose of conducting research, but who instead uses the book as a complete escape from his everyday life. This scientist ends up sleeping for 15 hours but spending 200 in-dream years living out his fantasies. When he’s finally forced out of his fantasy world, he excuses himself to the bathroom and hangs himself there with his own belt, leaving a note behind that he just can’t return to this life.

A little dramatic maybe, but the message hit me in a personal way. One of the aspects of SCP I like, and that I imagine a lot of readers enjoy, is thinking about what I’d do if I were faced with one of these amazing and/or terrifying objects and its effects. If I had access to this magical dream book, would I use it to live out my fantasies? I can honestly say I would. The fact that so little time apparently passes in the real world as you live out this realistic but fantastic dream makes it a pretty easy and consequence-free choice, though that’s also maybe assuming you can actually use the thing more than once and that you can keep enough perspective to avoid the fate of that poor scientist.

But how about a more realistic sort of total escape? Let’s assume for the sake of this scenario that some kind of full-dive VR complete with all the senses simulated is feasible and within reach of regular non-rich customers (i.e. me) soon. Everything you might do in a dream you control is theoretically possible, but time is naturally moving 1-to-1 with the outside world, so every second, minute, and hour spent in this VR fantasy is lost to your “real life.”

If I had such a tool available to me, I think I’d still use it. I’d like to think I wouldn’t overuse it; after all, I’d still have vital obligations to fulfill in the real world between my professional and personal lives. But I think I would certainly use it at least to blow off some steam. Something like an open-ended video game, maybe. Whether any of this is actually possible is beside the point here — see the utter fucking joke that is Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, a bizarrely tone-deaf project for how crusty, limited, and terrible it looks. The point is rather that assuming such an escape is possible, I’m positive that I’d use it.

Being totally honest about this point, now I have to examine whether it’s a problem for me. More and more, as I get older and have to take on more responsibilities, I feel their weight. One massive weight on my back is my family’s expectation of me to start my own family, something I’m not exactly against but that I also don’t have any special desire for myself. If I were actually left to myself, I’d most likely keep to myself and lose myself in fantasy — I say this knowing what sort of person I am, someone who’s used dangerous means to escape from reality in the past and to “treat” my depression. But there are also outside factors influencing my decision, the most serious of which is a very close relative who may not have a long time left in this world and who really wants to see my family before they go. That weight is especially heavy as an only child. Naturally, I didn’t choose any of this for myself, but it’s the situation I face. That drive to live an entirely “normal life” is strong, even if it’s an entirely external drive.

All that said, if I have any desire to change my life, I believe it needs to actually be my own desire. One lesson I’ve learned over the last several years, yet another lesson that I probably should have learned long ago, is that there’s a great difference between bitter resignation and willing acceptance. I’m resigned to my fate, but I haven’t truly accepted it. Not yet, anyway. I wonder if I can ever get rid of this bitter feeling I carry around. For practical purposes I can bury it, but I don’t want to have a complete mental breakdown one day either. But then actually addressing the matter with the people I’d need to address it with is damn near impossible, so I feel stuck.

All this might be why I connected with Call of the Night so easily after a few episodes. Was it a sometimes silly vampire romance with a few strange issues? Sure, but it also nicely depicted that feeling of isolation and that lack of desire for a “normal life” that you’re supposed to want.

I’m sure this all says a lot more about me and my deficiencies than about the society around me. I’m still only half an adult, with one leg in reality and the other still in fantasy. It’s clear I can’t keep living like this, but it’s not clear how I can proceed in a healthy way.

One thing I can say for sure: I’ll never abandon writing. As I’ve moved away from games simply out of necessity (just no god damned time anymore, I have to accept that now) and towards the far less time- and energy-consuming anime I’ve been filling the site up with this year, I’ve also been picking up the pace of my fiction-writing. I’m not participating in that annual November novel-writing business, partly because I don’t have time for a novel either (now at least) and partly because I might not have a full novel in me, but I’ve found the short story to be a rewarding format. Whether any of these trash stories I’ve been writing ever see the light of day I can’t say, but they’re helping me cope with my situation, at least. Writing is the best therapy for me, far more effective than any of the advice I’ve received from actual counselors over the years.

That’s just been my experience, anyway. Next post, I promise I won’t be dumping these personal confessions onto you. This entire project is the product of a depressive mind, but that doesn’t mean every post has to reflect that fact. So until next time.

A look at some obscure punctuation marks

Did I mention this would be a lazy month on the site? That’s how it’s turning out, though maybe my overwork at my job is contributing to that. I’m actually working on an anime review right now, though I’m still at a loss about how to finish it — I set it aside for months before returning to it and rewatching a few key parts, but I’m not sure my feelings have changed much about it. Maybe you’ll see what I mean when I finally do post that review.

That should be coming soon, anyway (I hope.) For now, here’s some talk about weird punctuation marks. Back in the day when typesetting was still a pretty new concept (in the West anyway; China already had it down) punctuation wasn’t quite standardized. Even the use of the comma and period wasn’t settled for a long while. Language in general being a pretty fluid thing, then, it’s only natural that new punctuation was invented by typesetters and scholars to better perform certain functions. Like say the semicolon, a mark that isn’t that necessary to use often but that I use too often because I am a pretentious jerk. Or the ampersand, &, existing more as a sort of very specialized letter than a mark, resulting from the natural combination of the Latin et (and) into a distinct character.

What about a star? Does that count as proper punctuation?

Not all of these newly proposed marks stuck, however. Some fell out of use after a while and more simply never stuck. Yet they still exist in a sort of semi-death, still floating around available to be used for those brave enough to not care whether they confuse their readers.

Interrobang

If you know any of these marks, it’s probably this one:

This is the interrobang, a ligature or combination of a question mark and an exclamation point, the latter also known as a bang hence the name. The purpose of the interrobang is just what it seems: to mark a question asked in a surprised, angry, or agitated way (ex: “You ate the reuben I was saving‽” Truly a crime worthy of a ‽.)

The interrobang is a newer mark, proposed in the 1960s, and despite its being pretty well known among nerds like me it’s never really caught on. I can’t remember a single time I’ve seen a ‽ used in print media, and it barely ever makes an appearance online either. In fact, the only times I remember ‽ ever being used is in articles about the interrobang itself. In that sense, it’s absolutely failed as a punctuation mark — people for whatever reason just decided they’d prefer to use a ?! (or a !?, which Stack Exchange claims is different, but don’t listen to those jerks. It might mean something different in chess terminology but not in general use.) And ?! is so rarely used anyway that there’s really no need at all for ‽. The interrobang is an interesting concept, but it’s just far too specialized to be of any real use to anyone except weirdos who want to make their writing stand out for the wrong reasons.

Irony mark

Man do I hate this one. I get why someone came up with it — in fact, the idea is a lot older than the interrobang concept. But it just so completely kills the point of what it’s supposed to be achieving that it’s amazing. Maybe even ironic? Maybe not (I’m not getting into that Alanis Morissette bullshit here.)

The irony mark is meant to mark an ironic statement. Seems pretty obvious from the name, and the reason for it is obvious too. It’s a well known problem that irony can be hard to distinguish in writing, especially if you’re not familiar with the writer, their character, and the unspoken context of a statement that may or may not be ironic depending.

The trouble is that marking an ironic statement as ironic is like putting the statement this is a joke at the end of every joke you make — it kills the effect. That might be part of why ⸮ never caught on in writing despite having a far longer life than ‽. Though maybe not, since the “sarcasm tag” /s serves pretty much the same purpose and I’ve seen that used fairly often online. And if anyone reading has ever been in or seen a Twitch stream, the same is true of the Kappa emote, which gets pulled out when chat wants to make some biting comments. Even Kappa on its own can be effective at teasing the streamer (hopefully in a friendly way, but knowing Twitch, that’s not always the case.)

So maybe the real problem with ⸮ isn’t its function but its look, because a backwards question mark doesn’t really scream “irony”, at least to me. I think I’d just read it as a question mark in text. It was a lazy choice anyway — imagine having an excuse to create a new punctuation mark and just reversing an existing mark. I’m happy this mark never caught on. (Note: I’ve seen ⸮ also called a “percontation point” meant to mark a rhetorical question, but the same criticisms apply here — a rhetorical question should be obvious from context. Though to the percontation point’s credit, at least it makes sense that it looks like a question mark. Edit: also note that the irony mark is sometimes cited as having a slightly different shape than the “reversed question mark”, but fuck, that is just what it looks like to me. It’s close enough that my brain still reads it as a reversed question mark anyway.

Any of the marks created by Hervé Bazin

Hervé Bazin was a French author who in the 60s proposed a set of new punctuation to express various feelings, like his “love mark”, two mirrored question marks over a single dot in the shape of a heart, or his “acclamation mark”, a similarly doubled exclamation point, or his own version of the irony mark. I’m not sure whether any of this ever caught on in French, but I doubt it, and I know it didn’t in English. Bazin’s punctuation marks are so rarely used that they don’t even exist in Unicode. Even the interrobang has a Unicode entry, meaning you can place it into your own text if you feel like it, but these don’t. Sorry, Mr. Bazin, though credit where it’s due for actually bothering to make up new marks instead of repurposing or reversing old ones.

Looking back, though, it’s pretty obvious why none of these caught on. In formal/published text, their functions were far too specific to establish new characters for them. You might ask why not just throw them in anyway, but for centuries, printers and typesetters were the ones who would have had to deal with that extra type, and if they didn’t deem new characters necessary, they sure as hell weren’t going to bother with them. They’ve exerted a surprising amount of influence on modern English for that reason, creating new letters and dropping old ones through decades and centuries of custom. So why mess around with a new mark like ‽ when the old ?! or !? do just as well?

And in casual text, we already have a far superior alternative (at least in terms of range of emotion and function): emojis. These might not be “formal” parts of our languages, but they’ve become actual parts of our written communication over the last few decades starting with the old 90s mostly sideways emoticons, and they’ve made any new punctuation that expresses particular emotions unnecessary. You might not like them — hell, I don’t really care for them myself and barely ever use them except when it feels absolutely necessary. But they’ve caught on, and if you can’t call these pictographs language because they don’t usually have sounds attached to them, then at least you can say they function as a kind of informal punctuation. Maybe. I’m not a linguist, I don’t know. What’s your opinion?

Finally, just a note on some of the articles I’ve seen about these marks while looking them up: almost all of them are titled “13 rarely used punctuation marks you should use/never knew you needed” or similar. I know that’s just how these titles are always written, but as long as words have meanings I can criticize them, so here: I’ve gotten along fine without interrobangs or irony marks, and even without emojis. I never knew I needed them because I don’t need them. None of this is to dump on their creators — they had some clever and interesting concepts, but again, there are good reasons those concepts never caught on. As for the authors of those articles, I get the game there too. I guess I’m playing it as well, though not quite as well as they do. Just adding my own commentary here if anyone cares.

Anyway that’s my nerd rant about language, and maybe not my only one. I guess this counts as talking shop for a writer, doesn’t it? Until next time‽⸮

A look at two more artbooks (Eshi 100 Generation 2, Ganbare Douki-chan PIN-UPS)

Well man this is what this site is now. Why not? This is yet another lazy “look at some artbooks/photobooks/doujins I have” post, only a little more adult-themed this time (though technically not 18+, but calling the second of these books safe for work — you be the judge when you read about it. Unless you’d rather not see it, in which case please be sure to check back in next post.)

Eshi 100 Generation 2: New Masterpieces of 100 Eshi

When I wrote about my most recent artbook purchase a week ago, I didn’t make the obvious connection with another similar artbook I’ve had for years now. Eshi 100 or 100 Eshi is another running series of compilation-style artbooks, though not annually but rather once every four years. I’m not sure who organizes this series, but they all feature beautiful covers by the eminent Range Murata, so it’s immediately obvious that the publishers have good taste. There’s a reason Mr. Murata draws so many covers — they really catch the eye, don’t they? I especially like this sunflower-themed one.

Having an eye-catching cover is great, but it’s not sufficient to make the book worth buying (I’ve gotten a few doujins on the strength of their covers alone, and that’s backfired more often than not.) Thankfully, this book is full of excellent art from 100 top Japanese illustrators from back in 2013 when this book was released, each getting two pages with a listing of artist profiles in the front. And good news for me and other readers who aren’t fluent in Japanese: all the text in 100 Eshi Generation 2 is in both Japanese and English. (Not such good news: a lot of the links provided in the book to artists’ online profiles are probably broken since the book is almost ten years old, but that couldn’t be avoided.)

More of that slice-of-life vibe, wholesome fun with music and cooking from the artist Takashi Shiwasu.

Of course, the actual art is what you’ll probably be most interested in, and that’s all well worth seeing. There’s an even stronger emphasis on the cute girl/heroine theme in this than in Visions 2021 — in that book it was maybe 70%; here it’s more like 99%. Works for me, though. The book includes the work of such masters as Sayori, the woman behind Nekopara; and VOFAN, the Monogatari cover illustrator/character designer. Murata naturally gets a couple of pages as well, and one of his pieces is a girl eating a hamburger for some reason. Maybe McDonald’s should hire him to make their food look more appealing than it actually is.

So if you’re into the theme and aesthetic, this book is worth checking out. Like Visions, it’s on the smaller side, and some of the pieces are sadly resized to fit into quarters of pages, but what can you do with these size and page constraints? I’d just look these guys’ profiles up online for their higher res work. Just one practical note: I think this book has been out of print for a while, so it can be a bit expensive (say $60 or more) unless you dig around for a good deal. They are out there.

Ganbare Douki-chan PIN-UPS

I said it would get spicier the further you read, and I’m fulfilling that promise now. Not that this book is especially spicy all things considered — it’s just a jalapeño compared to some of the stuff I have.

But Pin-ups is a special case, a doujin by Yom, another one of my very favorite artists online. I’ve already written about the Douki-chan series and its unique light romantic comedy manga/artbook format (and also its anime short adaptation that was pretty decent.) Pin-ups isn’t part of that story, but is rather a small doujin-sized artbook full of exactly what you’d hope from the title: pin-up illustrations of the four main ladies from the series.

And damn it’s good. Yom is an excellent artist, and he likes drawing this kind of old-fashioned cheesecake, so that’s what you’ll get in Pin-ups. As with his main Twitter manga/art series, you won’t get any actual nudity or technically explicit content here (otherwise the cover would bear an 18+ or Adults Only stamp.) Instead, Yom’s work seems to take more from an older erotic art style similar to those 50s and 60s pin-ups. The only magazine from that time I’m familiar with is Playboy, so maybe something like that but with a modern look and coming as close to nudity as possible in some places without going over that line.

I have to say my heart is with Douki-chan, but Kouhai-chan… I just don’t know. Maybe it’s the eyebrows.

I don’t know if I’m thinking too much about this. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were, but I believe “not quite showing everything” adds to the appeal of art like this. Going back to my stupid hot pepper analogy, I actually like jalapeños more than any other type — spicier doesn’t necessarily mean better.

This “not showing everything” idea is an old one, but Yom uses it to excellent effect. And for those who might argue as I’ve sometimes seen on social media that this stuff is a little objectionable, or even objectifying, I say 1) I’m looking respectfully* and 2) I’d be happy to see a similar work full of guys. In fact, I’m positive such books exist considering how much pretty guy anime art is out there (and see also those old firefighter calendars that apparently used to be popular, though I’m still not sure if that wasn’t just something invented by 90s sitcom writers to put their characters in wacky situations.) I like this cheesecake style in any case and hope it has a revival, and if anyone can help drive that it’s Yom.**

Well, I guess I’m a pervert for knowing this much about this sphere of the internet, but you certainly knew that already. I really like this small artbook and recommend it for those who are into such subjects. Just keep in mind that this is a doujin, a self-published work. It has no bar code or ISBN, and like other doujins it’s not sold in regular bookstores, not even in Japan — you have to visit a hobby or specialist store to find these. Or if you’re in Burgerland like me you have to either buy at a con probably at a high markup, from an online hobbyist/specialist doujin/manga/anime goods retailer, or from Japan through a proxy buyer. Not even the few anime goods shops around here sell these, though that might be because a lot of, maybe even most, doujin books are just plain pornography.

Next time, will I write about still more artbooks? Maybe another visual novel review, or a complete surprise? I’m not sure yet, but I hope I’ll see you then.

 

* Okay, this is a common joke now, but it’s at least partially true this time.

** You thought you’d escape without an unnecessarily lengthy endnote section? Of course not. Since I used the term twice, I wondered about why these old-fashioned pin-up photos were called “cheesecake”, its literal definition being a cake made with a few particular kinds of soft cheese — where’s the connection? Apparently the story is that a New York photographer in 1950 asked his subject to hike her skirt up a little for a photo, and when the editor saw it he said it was “better than cheesecake!”

Just like that New York editor, I love cheesecake, but I was hoping for a more interesting origin than that. If the editor had said “this is better than fettuccine alfredo” would we be calling this style fettuccine alfredo? Probably not, but who can say? But really, this story feels like one of those bullshit backwards explanations for an existing term that nobody truly knows the origin of.

Currently watching: Do It Yourself!!

I’m doing my best to keep up with several anime series this season. The second cour of Spy x Family goes without saying, and so does Chainsaw Man, which I’ve just now started. But though I’m watching them, I don’t feel like writing about these two right now — yeah they’re great, certainly, but they’re also getting such massive buzz that it feels unnecessary for me to add my dumb opinions to the mountain of talk.

Yua Seruru from from Do It Yourself!!

Do It Yua Serufu

Instead, I’ll write about an anime that seems to be flying under the radar a bit this season. Do It Yourself!!, as of this writing four episodes into a 12-episode cour, is an original anime produced by the studio Pine Jam. I’d never heard of these guys before, but I have a positive impression of them so far, because Do It Yourself!! is at this point yet another nice, relaxing antidepressant slice-of-life anime about a school club involving the learning of practical skills. (It’s an entire genre in itself at this point, isn’t it?)

The story so far: main character Yua Serufu (a nice pun there) is just starting as a student at Gatagata Girls’ High School, which is weirdly entirely surrounded by the more elite Yuyu Girls’ Vocational High School, where Serufu’s next-door neighbor and childhood friend Suride Miku is an incoming student. Miku and Serufu could not be more different: Miku is diligent, neat, and serious, while Serufu is extremely easygoing, reflected partly by their admissions results.

Suride Miku aka Purin from Do It Yourself!!

Serufu’s friend and neighbor Miku aka Purin. Why Serufu calls her Purin (pudding) has yet to be explained.

Purin is annoyed at Serufu not being able to attend Yuyu as well, though she naturally shows it a little aggressively because she’s ultra-tsundere about her friend. Serufu amusingly seems to be able to see through all of that and finds her tsundere-ness funny, however. Nothing seems to get to Serufu really, being a very go with the flow type.

Serufu heads off to Gatagata for her first day on her bike, but since she’s constantly accident-prone she crashes along the way, getting a hand with repairs from a fellow student who races off before she can be properly thanked. However, Serufu finds her new acquaintance later that day in the school’s DIY clubhouse, an old workshop out in the school’s yard. Rei (or Kurei — almost everyone gets a nickname in this show) is the club president and sole member, and if she doesn’t get at least a few more members, the DIY club will be forced to dissolve.

Kurei and Serufu in the DIY clubhouse.

Just how many anime series have I watched with either a “save our school club from disbanding” or a “increase our school club’s profile” premise? This, K-On!Yuru Camp, arguably Asobi Asobase, and I’m sure others are slipping my mind right now.

Even though she’s so accident-prone, Serufu decides to join the club that involves handling sharp objects and power tools and starts to help her new president hunt for members. The next few episodes predictably build up the club’s membership and central cast of friends, who we know will all join because they’re all featured in the appropriately cute and chirpy opening:

I guess I’ve already given it away, but my first impressions of the show a third of the way through are very positive. I’ve really taken to this slice-of-life style — even if it doesn’t always quite hit the mark for me, it hits more often than not, and up until now Do It Yourself!! is working for me with its charming characters and fun premise. Though it might seem unbelievable based on what else I’ve written here, I’m not bad with tools myself. Or at least I wasn’t back in high school when I helped build sets for our plays, so I can’t say whether I’m any good at this stuff anymore, but there is at least a little nostalgic connection with this show and the camaraderie that comes from building something with your classmates.

I also like the show’s bizarre double school setup, with Yuyu both figuratively and literally towering over the less prestigious Gatagata. Strange and not very realistic, maybe, but it also works in helping advance what looks like the most central friendship in the story between Serufu and Purin. One of my favorite moments so far comes when Serufu tells Purin during their first week that she’s learning about Marcus Aurelius — Purin scoffs at that ancient history, saying both that and her DIY interests are useless and antiquated (and hurting my soul because I always loved history the most of all my classes.) Meanwhile, Purin is learning about cutting-edge technology and design.

Despite all that, it’s clear that Purin isn’t actually arrogant or condescending towards her friend — they just have some fundamental disagreements. I expect Serufu and her new friends will convince Purin of the value of building stuff with your hands and tools soon. I hope she learns the value of history too, but that probably won’t happen in this series. Where’s the anime about a school history club? I’d watch the fuck out of that.

I like Purin’s (bio?)luminescent robot jellyfish though. Maybe my favorite character so far, even if he does seem way too eager to prepare hot baths for his owner. Maybe the OS update will make him a little less of a weirdo.

That’s a recommendation so far, then. I know how extremely promising this season is already, but if you’re looking for a lighter sort of show to balance out your Mob Psycho 100 and your Chainsaw Man, don’t pass Do It Yourself!! by.

I’m just hoping for Serufu’s sake she starts paying slightly more attention to her surroundings, but I guess that’s part of the joke.

A review of Conway’s Game of Life

Okay, it’s not actually a “review” this time. But then Conway’s Game of Life isn’t quite a “game” in the regular sense.

A virtual machine running Windows 95, showing programs including LifeGenesis

The subject of today’s post, sort of. And yes, that is Anime Pin-Up Beauties ’99 lower in the menu. When you see a gem like that on the Internet Archive you have to get it, you know.

Strangely enough I’ve already written about this thing on the site without realizing it. Three years plus ago, I reviewed the entire Windows Entertainment Pack, a set of early 90s games and programs contained on four different releases. One of these was a game titled LifeGenesis, which I tried out again after reinstalling my virtual machine with Windows 95:

Windows 95, running LifeGenesis

WHAT the fuck is going on

When I played LifeGenesis, I didn’t really understand what I was looking at and assumed it was a broken two-player Go or Reversi spinoff of some kind. Granted, it was represented as a two-player game that I thought would be set up as player vs. computer like most of the other such games in these packs, but that doesn’t change the fact that I just didn’t get what was going on and didn’t read the game’s documentation, which actually explains what it is: a very limited Windows-based version of Conway’s Game of Life, a sort of program (or cellular automaton as he called it) created by mathematician John Conway in 1970. I’d explain the rules, but better to let the man himself do that:

The gist is that on a potentially infinite grid, you can place “live” cells as you would pieces on a board, and their status changes based on their position and their neighbors. Since the game continues tracking these changes from step to step, you’ll end up with a morphing pattern that might either die out completely, get frozen in a certain position, or bloom out into a progressively larger pattern.

Throwing down random clumps of blocks like I did the first time I played LifeGenesis can be pretty amusing for a few minutes, but the most interesting patterns to me are the symmetrical kind, easily produced by a symmetrical starting pattern of live cells. While some of these patterns die out or freeze in place after several rounds, others have surprising properties. Take a row of 10 live cells, which you might not expect anything interesting from: you’ll end up with a changing pattern going through several cycles that repeat infinitely:

Part of the repeating pattern

There’s a lot more you can do with the Game of Life, but LifeGenesis, as interesting as it must have been to people who knew about this in the early 90s, is unfortunately restricted with a finite game board. This board is meant to be used in matches against other human opponents I guess, even if there is a difficulty option featured (though the computer opponent still seems to be absent, so I have no idea what you’d do with this game’s difficulty setting.)

Today, there’s a far easier and better way to play Conway’s Game of Life than running LifeGenesis on a virtual machine: you can instead visit this site and run patterns on an effectively infinite grid, meaning you can get far more interesting and complex results than you would otherwise on that restricted game board.

Messing around with the Game of Life

Again, I went straight for the symmetrical patterns, trying out various starting positions. Most of these didn’t produce very interesting results, but a few turned out some beautiful patterns like the one above, just the 59th round (iteration? I want to use that word but I don’t know if it’s correct here) out from a pretty simple cross-shaped starting pattern. Some of these results look strangely human-created even, like these pixel art ghosts from earlier in the very same pattern progression:

A symmetrical starting pattern will always result in symmetrical results as you’d expect, but the true chaos begins when you go asymmetrical. Again, most of the patterns I placed down fizzled out pretty quickly or resulted in a few fixed live cell patterns (the 2×2 square, for example) or infinitely alternating or “spinning” ones (the 3×3 line.) A few were far more interesting, producing increasingly growing explosions of live cells that create fixed patterns and destroy them again as they keep growing and reacting to their surroundings.

Here’s a pattern that I thought was about to settle down — almost everything on the screen above is a static pattern that resulted from a pretty small and simple starting position (though one I don’t remember, honestly.) Everything except this bit:

That five-cell pattern is known as a “Glider” because unlike nearly every other pattern, it endlessly glides across the grid while maintaining its form, going through a few repeating cycles. This particular glider is headed “northwest”, or towards the upper left corner of the grid, about to run into the static six-cell pattern above it. The result:

Another explosion that “invaded” those static patterns down below and kept the game going. This is one of the interesting things about the Game of Life. From what I can gather, its outcomes can all be mapped out since it follows just a few strict rules, but for a human watching these changes play out, it all really feels chaotic, in a few situations like the above like anything might happen..

Of course, far smarter people than me have done far more interesting things with the Game of Life than I could have imagined without finding them on YouTube:

I’m not a huge fan of that overused dramatic backing track, but man these are impressive. This “game” has been around for over fifty years now, so it’s no wonder people with more mathematical minds have been coming up with such incredibly elaborate and massive patterns.

That brings me to the last point about Conway’s Game of Life and maybe the most interesting: the fact that Mr. Conway himself didn’t seem to think much of it. To Conway, the Game of Life was sort of a trifle, something to play with, that he sent to a friend to write about in a Scientific American column. After it exploded in popularity, he knew he’d be remembered by most people for this trifle, which wasn’t all that impressive to him and was greatly overshadowed by his other work as a mathematician.

Yet he also came to terms with that, and for good reason: looking through conversations about his game, I’ve found a lot of people citing it as the reason they got interested in programming. I can understand why, even if I’m a humanities major and not at all into math beyond some of the interesting concepts I’ve stumbled upon along with the other non-mathematician masses like the Mandelbrot Set. Part of the appeal of both of these concepts to me, and I think to a lot of people, is how they show complexity, and even infinite complexity, can be revealed by something so seemingly simple as John Conway’s game with just a couple of rules or Benoit Mandelbrot’s equation.

Or maybe I just like the nice patterns. I don’t think I have anything at all to add to the talk about the Game of Life, not coming from my professional background that has nothing to do with math beyond estimating potential damages and worrying about project budgets in dollar amounts.

Anyway, this is just something I’ve been messing around with lately. I hope my recent less regular posts have been interesting — I’ll be getting back to the more standard kind soon, unless I come up with more to ramble about. Until then!

A look at Visions 2021 Illustrators Book

It’s another one of these posts on the lazier side today, but I do have something to write about. When I went to the bookstore to get Sono Bisque Doll Vol. 6, I found something unexpected: an artbook. I have a nice anime and game artbook collection, about 30 or so I’ve picked up over the years, and I’m always interested in new volumes. Some of my artbooks are focused on single artists’ works rather than a particular IP (for a few examples of varied styles I own, Kantoku’s 15th Anniversary Book, Shunya Yamashita’s Wild Flower, and Ilya Kuvshinov’s Momentary, all full of interesting and beautiful work.)

This book by contrast is a collection of the works of 170 artists featured on the massive Japanese art site Pixiv.* Saying an artist has a Pixiv page isn’t saying much — anyone can create an account and post art there, and a lot of it is pretty unremarkable or even bad as you’d expect from a large site with an open door to submissions. But there are quite a few excellent artists on Pixiv, and some of these were selected presumably by some kind of panel of Pixiv employees to be featured in Visions 2021 Illustrators Book (at least going by the “supervised by Pixiv” notice on the cover.) Each of these artists gets two pages with a few selected pieces and a short profile.

The Pixiv employees responsible for artist selection did a fine job, because I really like most of the art in Visions 2021. This volume has a nice mix of realistic and fantastic, though with a big lean towards the “cute girl” art which is exactly what you’d expect from a site that focuses on manga/anime-styled/oriented art. Works for me anyway — most of my artbooks have that very same focus.

A sample of an artist profile. I’m not familiar with most of these artists, but I’ll be checking some of them out.

Visions 2021 came out in late 2020 in its original Japanese version, but nearly a year later an English edition was produced, and that’s the one I bought because like hell you’re going to find a Japanese-language artbook in anything like a regular bookstore around here. Not that I mind being able to read 100% of what’s on these pages, but I don’t generally consider that very important when it comes to artbooks, since the art is naturally the focus, and I can read at least enough Japanese to sort of sometimes get the gist of what’s being talked about.

Most of these artbooks never get translated/localized either, so it’s not like you’ll usually have a choice if you’re out hunting for them, but the translation is appreciated. Especially since there’s a full ten or twelve pages of text in the back of the book that I wouldn’t be able to make out otherwise, some observations about the future of Pixiv and of the online art world in general. None of it’s especially of interest to me, but it might be to you if you’re an artist? Though maybe not. Given that the original is two years old now, these last sections may be slightly out of date.

Not that the book’s age matters too much. Good art is good art no matter when it was created, and most of the art in Visions 2021 is better than good. The single complaint I have with it is that it’s size B5, a little smaller than the typical artbook. A lot of the pieces in this book also had to be scaled down, with some arranged in halves or quarters, three or four to a page. To compensate for that, each artist profile has their Pixiv name and link so you can find those pieces in full resolution. You might say that partly defeats the purpose of a physical artbook, but then they all seem to have this issue in the editors’ efforts to fit more works into their pages, even the “oversized” A4 books. I still don’t mind that, however — I wouldn’t buy artbooks if I did.

Another artist profile from the middle of the book. I swear it’s not all hot girls, these are just the ones I totally randomly chose to feature. There are quite a few interesting sci-fi cityscapes, landscapes, and surreal-ish pieces in here as well.

This got me thinking about why I buy these things. They’re not that cheap, and when they’re stacked together they’re heavy as hell. They naturally take up a lot of shelf space as well. But there’s just something about owning physical copies of these books that I like. Keeping a physical library of books, CDs, DVDs, games and so on might make me old-fashioned, but I embrace that label. I also own some very old money that hasn’t been legal tender anywhere for centuries, so I don’t consider old-fashioned an insult.

And if you doubt the practical value of owning physical, just consider where you’ll end up after the global apocalypse destroys the internet and you’re left without access to Pixiv or any other art sites. You’ll be up shit creek. Meanwhile, I’ll be just fine with my continuously growing collection of artbooks, manga, and doujin works that are largely either borderline lewd or straight up pornography.

Well, maybe forget what I wrote above. Everything I’ve seen in Visions 2021 has been safe for work, unless there were two pages stuck together that I didn’t notice, but since it wasn’t wrapped in plastic at the bookstore (unlike those Bisque Doll manga volumes!) I think you’re safe buying this if you’re not interested in the 18+ stuff. So I recommend this book to anyone who’s into that manga/anime-styled/influence art and wants to survive the end of civilization with a fully stocked library to help them pass their empty post-apocalyptic days. And hey, the English-language edition of Visions 2022 is releasing in December, and maybe I’ll get that too because I’m an obsessive.

 

* Just one warning about Pixiv: it is full to the brim with hentai, almost spilling out all over the place. But it’s not all 18+ work on the site, and I’m pretty sure you can filter it all out.

A review of Coffee Talk

Last post I wrote about my probably unhealthy coffee-drinking habits, so I may as well have a look at a game all about coffee, coffee-adjacent drinks, and the people they bring together in a small independent coffee shop in alternate fantasy universe Seattle. Coffee Talk, released on Steam in 2020, is a visual novel with a drink-mixing minigame attached in which you play a barista and coffee shop owner, serving a diverse mix of the city’s residents — humans, elves, succubi, fairies, werewolves and so on.

Latte art? I’m a coffee guy, not a damn artist. But maybe all baristas are expected to also be artists in Seattle? I’ve never been there.

As the sort-of blank slate player character, your job is to talk to patrons, both regulars and newcomers, and fill their drink orders. You’ll have an increasing stock of ingredients to choose from as the game continues, allowing you to mix dozens of different drinks for your customers.

Pictured: constant regular patron Freya, a woman after my own heart — not a long-lived heart with all the triple espressos I drink though.

Drink-making is an important part of Coffee Talk and provides the only traditional “game” element with a little extra challenge — while some of the orders your patrons make will be straightforward, others will make vague orders or just ask for whatever. You’re free to serve whatever drink you think best, but the drinks you serve at certain points will affect the course of the story. To add to the challenge, you’ll start with a blank drink reference list that fills out as you make each drink, meaning you can’t easily refer to it for clues if you haven’t made a particular order yet (or just look it up online, of course.)

Don’t give this guy milk unless you just want to be a jerk

The visual novel part of Coffee Talk is its central element, however — you’ll be spending almost all your time in this game making and listening to conversation over coffee (and tea, hot chocolate, etc.) Coffee Talk features a cast of about ten or a dozen recurring patrons, each with their own stories and challenges that they might bring up while sitting at your counter. While it might seem like a linear story at first, this game does have different endings to achieve, based not on dialogue options (the traditional branching-path VN style) but on whether you serve the right drinks to your customers and friends at the critical moments. It should be pretty obvious when these moments arise, even if the drink you have to serve at that time isn’t.

Things get heavy on occasion. I wonder how often real-life baristas see such scenes. I’ve never worked behind a counter myself, though I did unfortunately suffer through a “scene” at a sort of small bar/restaurant once that was considerably worse than this one.

Anyone who’s read this site for very long might know one of my favorite indie games is VA-11 Hall-A. If you’ve played VA-11 Hall-A yourself or have seen a playthrough of it, all of the above should sound very familiar to you, because Coffee Talk clearly took serious influence from that game — the drink-mixing, the strong social/visual novel elements, and the way the drinks you serve at certain points affects the story. One of the main reasons I picked up Coffee Talk, in fact, was because it reminded me so much of that old favorite. Also because I was getting tired of the endless “where the fuck is it” Atlus-style wait for the long-announced sequel N1RV Ann-A (still “coming soon”, haaah.)

However, it would be a mistake to think of Coffee Talk as simply a copy of VA-11 Hall-A. It’s similar in its structure and mechanics, but it has a different flavor and stands well on its own. The most obvious difference is the setting: where VA-11 Hall-A was set in a dive bar built mostly to serve alcohol, in Coffee Talk you’re running a coffee shop. That’s not a small difference, either, since for better or worse you can’t get anyone drunk and running their mouths in this game like you can in VA-11 Hall-A. That doesn’t mean your drinks don’t have significant effects on your patrons, both energizing and calming — they just won’t be getting boozed up.

Somehow alcohol was not involved with creating this situation

The broader settings of the games are also very different, with Coffee Talk set in a real-world American city known for being a unique sort of place (in a similar way to Portland and Austin, so maybe not actually “unique” but you get the idea — it’s an artsy city.) Both games deal with some pretty serious social issues through their conversations, though again somewhat different ones — you can really tell the fictional Glitch City of VA-11 Hall-A has the sorts of issues thought up more by guys from a place like Venezuela as its developers were, with the talk of government corruption and currency hyperinflation.

I can relate more personally to the complaints about insane drug prices and instability of freelancer life in Coffee Talk, though having lived in an “open corruption/government actually giving no fucks” sort of country before I understand those complaints as well, even if I’ve always had the extreme and undeserved luxury of an American passport.

Either way, I won’t accuse anyone of complaining about “first world problems” if their issues are serious and not just “I got the wrong drink order” or something that inconsequential. I always thought that criticism was bullshit when used as a blanket statement. Family problems, for example, exist everywhere — you can’t get away from them.

Both games took on their more serious subjects without coming off as preachy to me or laying it on too thick as well, which I always appreciate. I don’t like having my nice relaxing coffee or booze game interrupted by a sermon or a TED Talk jammed in out of nowhere, but when the points are made naturally in the course of an interesting story I’m all for it. That’s proper storytelling. Even if you can probably guess the politics of the people who made Coffee Talk (but then it may also help that I’m on board with them myself — and even then most of the serious talk here is more about personal/social matters than really political ones.)

A vampire has a serious conversation with a succubus about relationships while a fairy does her best to sit between them and not feel awkward, life in 2020 if COVID hadn’t happened. It’s important to note that Coffee Talk was released in January of 2020. Maybe the sequel can be set entirely on Teams or Discord; imagine how fucking miserable that would be.

That said, I ended up connecting with VA-11 Hall-A a little more than with Coffee Talk. Both are skillfully and thoughtfully put together, with some interesting characters and side stories, and I’d recommend either one almost completely, only with the exception that VA-11 Hall-A does get a lot more graphically into sex talk for those who aren’t as comfortable with such subjects or just don’t want to get into them in a “comfy game” like this one. There’s no Dorothy here to spice things up in that direction.

I didn’t mind that talk, however. I also preferred the setting and general feel of VA-11 Hall-A to Coffee Talk, though that’s a totally subjective matter. If I had the choice myself, I’d go to the cyberpunk dive bar tended by an embittered lady like Jill than this nighttime-only coffee shop in Seattle, though I’d be happy with either. I feel the same about the soundtrack — the music in Coffee Talk can be flipped through and played like in VA-11 Hall-A, and this soundtrack perfectly fits the setting: lo-fi beats to caffeinate to, with a lot of electric piano, always a plus for me. Again, I just slightly prefer the soundtrack to VA-11 Hall-A, but switch the soundtracks and each would totally clash with the other game’s atmosphere.

I’ve never had coffee with a churro in it, but I have to try a Spanish Sahara now. Coffee Talk introduced me to a lot of new coffee and tea drinks I’d like to try out when I get the time and freedom to do that.

Finally, I preferred Jill as the player character and protagonist of VA-11 Hall-A over the blank slate (though not silent) protagonist of Coffee Talk. This is still another totally subjective preference, since I can’t say one is better than the other or would be more effective for this sort of game. If I couldn’t have related so much to Jill’s troubles, I probably wouldn’t even be saying this, and I honestly wish I couldn’t relate to her on that level. There is more to the player character of Coffee Talk than “our friendly barista” however, which is what I thought I was for a while — I won’t spoil anything more here, though.

That’s another hint that you should check out Coffee Talk for yourself. I found it very relaxing, a nice break from my usual bullshit schedule. One playthrough only takes a few hours, so it’s not a massive time investment either like some VNs can be, though if you want to get multiple endings you’ll have to play through a few more times and make those very particular drinks at the right times to change the course of the plot.

It’s a good thing the quality of your latte art has no effect on the story. No amount of moe moe kyun can fix this.

Finally, if you do decide to go for Coffee Talk, which again I do recommend, I also recommend you check it out on itch.io instead of Steam, because fuck Valve for their still extremely inconsistent (and if you really want to be uncharitable to them, and I don’t feel like being charitable, potentially xenophobic) attitude towards Japanese VNs. Though I still have a massive backlog of games on the platform to get through if I ever can, so I can’t say I’ll be “boycotting” them or anything. I’ve bought most of my VNs there, in fact — I’ll just be doing my best to untangle myself from Steam from now on, at least until there are serious changes at Valve.

Behind my lousy writing process

It’s Monday night as of this writing, and the week is already hell. Normally I’d be too exhausted at the end of a long day to write anything, but I’m feeling restless tonight. I’m having more of these restless nights than usual, too. Maybe there’s some intense dissatisfaction with my life boiling under the surface (well, that’s not a “maybe”, and it’s barely under the surface if I’m writing about it.)

The only healthy way I’ve found to deal with this dissatisfaction isn’t to actually address it properly but to keep writing more so that I can distract myself from my constant impending doom. So here’s a look behind the curtain at my terrible amateurish writing process! I’m not writing this post to instruct or educate, because I honestly don’t recommend that anyone follow this as a guide. It works for me (sort of) but might not work for anyone else.

Step 1: Fill up with coffee

Caffeine is a drug, and I’m undoubtedly addicted to it. You might say that’s unhealthy, and you might be right, but I don’t care. My heart is still fine, and even if it isn’t, the world seems well on its way to ending so it probably doesn’t matter very much.

To be more serious, I do keep my daily intake to a few cups of coffee, though they are strong ones. I do my best not to overindulge, anyway. Energy drinks are out — no interest in pouring that stuff into my body, whatever it is. And in any case, coffee is among the cheapest options for your fix if you know what to buy. I’m not a gourmet: I buy giant jars of Café Bustelo instant coffee, the least bad instant I’ve found, and I drink that. Six dollars for ten to fourteen days of coffee — not too bad, is it? True coffee enthusiasts might turn their noses up but I have a taste for that bitter black espresso style and this is the easiest way to get it. (And don’t bother with Starbucks’ instant brand. Seven dollars for six one-cup packets of coffee? It’s a terrible deal. Starbucks doesn’t even brew good coffee; you just go there to meet friends and get extravagant sugary drinks with whipped cream.)

I haven’t reviewed Super Cub yet, but it’s an anime that appreciates good coffee better than I can. Though I would drink good coffee if I had the time to bother. If I get rich I’ll buy one of those French presses and spend time picking the right beans and all that stuff.

As for the drink’s effects, I read an old translated poem from a Sufi mystic, one of the guys who first made coffee popular in the 15th century before it was exported from the Middle East to Europe. I don’t remember who wrote it (Rumi? I don’t even remember if he’s the right time period) but it pretty much praised the drink for energizing and opening up the mind, and that’s how I feel about it too. Here’s a relatively mild drug that promotes creativity and energy — that’s made for me. Live your totally clean life if that works for you, but I still need at least a little vice. Otherwise what’s the fucking point? And more importantly, I can’t write without it.

2) Write a post

Just write. No editing in this initial stage — it’s just a flow of words, though I usually have a general idea of what I want to say and where I want to end up, especially when it comes to my reviews. For those more structured sorts of posts, I make a sort of outline in my head. Other bloggers might prefer to write an actual outline with notes and will probably come up with better results than I do.

But sometimes I don’t even have any idea where I’m going with a post and it’s a near-total stream of consciousness. Like this post. As I write this sentence, I’m still coming up with what the hell I want to write in the next, like building a railroad as the train rolls along the tracks. At least there won’t be an actual derailment if I fuck up, which does happen — I have quite a few garbage drafts sitting around that I just can’t part with because I think I might be able to repurpose them someday.

3) Make one single quick, rough edit before posting

“Editing” for me consists of a read through for two purposes: 1) to make sure I didn’t make any obvious typos or grammatical errors (ignoring the formal errors I actually do make but ignore because I prefer to break those rules for whatever reason) and 2) to make sure what I wrote basically makes sense and that it’s more or less what I wanted to express.

This part of the process is part of what separates my amateur bullshit from professional work. I’ve done professional work before that’s been assessed and cut apart by editors, but I was always paid to put up with that. Here, I simply want to express myself as I like, and I’m happy with any way I can get that done so I can keep existing for another week without losing my mind completely.

Yeah, I get that

4) Edit the post after I’ve posted it because I missed stupid typos or actually said something ridiculous-sounding that I should clarify

Yeah, this happens a lot, partly because of how rough that third step is that I described above. That’s also part of why I can’t recommend my method of writing to anyone who doesn’t want to look like an idiot. I already know I’m one and have accepted that fact, so it’s fine for me. If I’m making a substantive edit, though, I will mark it clearly as an edit in the text for transparency’s sake. Not that anyone probably cares, but I do, and that’s enough.

And that’s it. I get the feeling my second step is similar to the last step from that “How to Draw an Owl” meme you’ve probably seen around — it doesn’t help for me to tell you to draw the rest of the fucking owl if you don’t know how to go about it. That’s part of why I quit teaching (and also because of how horribly teachers are treated in this country.)

So until next time! I can’t say what or when “next time” will be, but I’m shifting over from anime a bit to visual novels, which I have a whole pile of, and a few shorter ones on the top of that stack to get through finally. I’ve been meaning to return to the still underappreciated VN medium. See you then.