Listening/reading log #23 (September 2021)

I’m tired. Do you ever feel like you keep walking even though you have no strength left, just because you have to? Maybe that’s the human condition.

But I don’t want to get too philosophical and/or bullshitty here. I already did that this past month. For now on to the usual, starting with this month’s music:

Mirage (Camel, 1974)

Highlights: Parts of Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider and Lady Fantasy stand out

Digging a bit deeper into the progressive rock bin once again, this time for a band that’s totally new to me. Camel is yet another British prog band, but unlike the others I’ve looked at in these posts, they’re generally grouped in with a “second wave” of prog bands along with overseas contemporaries like Rush and Kansas that got their starts a few years after those original boys did.

But just because its influences are pretty obvious doesn’t mean Mirage isn’t worth listening to, because it’s pretty damn good. I love Camel’s sound here; they mix those softer, more acoustic parts with plenty of flute (some Jethro Tull feel in those parts, maybe for that reason) together with the hardcore jazz fusion-sounding stuff skillfully, and both flow into each other nicely through the album without clashing. In fact, the only real drawback to Mirage that I can see is the relative weakness in the vocals. The singing just isn’t that great, and I can’t even make out the lyrics sometimes. I think “Nimrodel” is supposed to be about Gandalf? Those 70s rock guys and their Tolkien.

But the band seemed to realize this as well, because most of the album is instrumental. That’s fine by me, because these guys are at their best for me when they’re shredding along at 300 mph (ex: the part starting at 3:44 in “Nimrodel”.) Though “Lady Fantasy” does have some nice sung sections as well.

Finally, because the subject can’t be avoided: yeah, the album cover looks like a pack of Camel cigarettes as seen through the eyes of a profoundly drunk man. Otherwise the art is the same; even the lettering they use is identical to the brand’s logo. At first I thought it might have been part of a sponsorship deal. However, according to this interview, my reasoning was backwards: Camel the band came up with the parody cover on their own, and Camel the tobacco company tried to make a sponsorship deal with them after seeing it. But the band didn’t want to associate themselves with lung cancer and the deal was canceled. So much the better, though I’d say the tobacco executives got a decent deal from the publicity alone.

Utamonogatari (Various, 2016)

Highlights: Renai Circulation, Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, Perfect Slumbers, Mousou Express

I don’t feature soundtracks in these posts very often, so when I do they’re special cases, and this one definitely qualifies as special. I bought this two-disc set a while back and only now got around to really listening to it, probably because I was already so familiar with some of its songs — but it is absolutely worth a listen on its own.

Utamonogatari is a collection of opening and ending themes from the Monogatari anime series, from Bakemonogatari through Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari Black and up to the end of the stretch of short series under the Monogatari Second Season umbrella. As far as I’ve watched it, I’d say Monogatari has a lot to recommend it, and its music is one of its strongest points right up with its great characters and unique visuals and dialogue. A lot of work was obviously put into the soundtrack, especially considering the fact that not just every season or sub-series but rather every story arc throughout the series has its own opening theme.

These openings also double as character themes, being tied in as they are with the stories of specific heroines like Hitagi up there on the cover, Tsubasa, Mayoi, and all the rest. And it’s all the more impressive that the singers are also the voice actors for these characters — even to the point that the artist on each track is listed as the character herself with her VA in parentheses.

But even if you haven’t seen a single episode of Monogatari, you can still appreciate its music, because it is extremely well done. Pretty much every song is a hit here, but some I’d bring up specifically include the closing “Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari” by Supercell, an accomplished band in its own right, and two of Tsubasa’s themes, “Perfect Slumbers” and Sugar Sweet Nightmare. Maybe the latter choice partly has to do with Tsubasa being my favorite character in Monogatari so far (I’m only up to the beginning of Nekomonogatari White now, hoping that doesn’t change) but I also like how these two tonally very different songs express aspects of the same character, with “Perfect Slumbers” being softer and more somber and “Sugar Sweet Nightmare” having more of an edge (complete with a butt rock guitar solo near the end, nice.) I also like Hitagi’s Fast Love, which sounds like it owes a lot to city pop somehow. Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’ve just been listening to way too much city pop lately?

My absolute favorites are still Nadeko’s themes, however. The most famous of course is “Renai Circulation”, which most people have probably heard at least once if only in one of the many parody videos it’s been used in. There’s a good reason “Renai Ciruclation” is still so popular — it’s one of those earworms, only the good kind, because who the hell wouldn’t want Kana Hanazawa stuck in their ear all day. And the same is true for Nadeko’s later but also tonally very different theme “Mousou Express”, which is arguably even better.

But these distinctions don’t matter much when all the music in this series is this good, including all the background and scene instrumental pieces that aren’t featured on this album. So be sure to check the soundtrack out at least, and all the better if you can find a more complete version. I plan to pick up Monogatari again soon after a year away from the series, and listening to Utamonogatari was a nice way to get me primed for it.

TOWERS (TOWERS, 2019)

Highlights: I guess “TOWERS IV”, but it all feels like one piece really

After all these years I’m still torn over some of the bigger “subculture” internet music trends like vaporwave and future funk. I like the strange part-fantasy 80s/90s aesthetic of it, and some artists really get creative with the samples they use. On the other hand, some just seem to slow down and add reverb to an old city pop or American 80s hit or a track off of a Genesis game, and that feels too low-effort to me to give much credit.

But TOWERS feels different, even if it does technically sort of (?) fall into the vaporwave category. I found this one while digging around for new music on YouTube, and I was drawn in by the strange album cover depicting a man either floating through or falling into a dark cityscape (and bonus points to the first person who can identify where that cityscape comes from, because it’s very likely you’ve seen it in its original form.)

TOWERS really seems to fall more into the dark ambient genre along with the Caretaker’s work, because even if the sound is very different, the effect is similar: it’s ambient, but instead of being nice chillout music something like City Girl, it creates a dark atmosphere. The hour-long album is broken into four pieces of roughly similar length titled “TOWERS I” through “IV”, but it’s hard to tell where one piece ends and another begins, since they mostly blend into each other — the sound is minimalistic, mostly a drone in the background with some other synths in the mix and occasionally electronic and acoustic instruments and other sounds playing over it.

That description might make the album sound boring. And maybe it would be if you were trying to actively listen to it, since there aren’t really any songs to speak of. Even so, it made a strong impression on me: I could see myself in a large empty-feeling city in the middle of the night, maybe with just a few streetlights or neon lights around to break up the darkness. This impression seemed to be what the makers were going for, and if that’s really the case, then they succeeded.

That said, TOWERS is probably about as minimalist as I can get without actually getting bored. Too much minimalism in art and I can’t even draw a vague impression from it. To give you an example, I don’t understand the appeal of Mark Rothko’s color field paintings, even though so many people love them and call them masterpieces. But maybe I’m just a dumb ignorant philistine. Tell me what I’m missing.

Now on to the featured articles:

Opinion: Sony’s Pricing Model is Fucking Dumb (Frostilyte Writes) — Opening with something I’m equally annoyed about, Frostilyte expresses his feelings about Sony’s new approach towards its customers and fans, specifically with regard to its pricing model for PS5 owners who want to play their PS4 games on the new console. If there’s any time to just switch to PC, it’s probably now.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney − Justice for All (Nintendobound) — Matt at Nintendobound reviews the Ace Attorney game Justice for All. At least one Ace Attorney game is on my to-play list just because I feel it really should be, but it probably won’t be this one based on Matt’s review. But is it worth a look for series fans? Check out Matt’s review to find out (and also follow his site if you aren’t anyway.)

Donkey Kong Land (Extra Life) — I never had a Game Boy growing up, though I did borrow friends’ at times — but that’s not quite the same of course, and so I missed out on a lot of Game Boy games that are fondly remembered today. It doesn’t seem like I missed much out of the Donkey Kong Land games, however. Red Metal goes into detail in both this and his review of the sequel here.

Returnal Is Everything I Love About Metroid (Gaming Omnivore) — I know I’ve been dumping on Sony and the PS5 in general, but not for the quality of its games necessarily — and Returnal sounds like one that’s well worth checking out if this piece on Gaming Omnivore is any indication. If you’ve got a PS5, be sure to read it!

Anime Review #64: Rebuild Of Evangelion 1.0/2.0 (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — I haven’t seen anything Evangelion-related since watching the original way back in 1998 or 99, long before “weeb” was even a term anyone used. But my interest has been raised again by the recently completed new run of Evangelion films. I’ve heard a lot of conflicting opinions about them, and Traditional Catholic Weeb has added his own as usual perceptive thoughts on Rebuild 1.0/2.0. One more to add to the list!

My Favorite Summer Series: The Detective Is Already Dead (Otaku Post) — I think I might have missed out not watching the summer anime series The Detective Is Already Dead — all my interaction with this show so far has been “hey, the premise looks interesting and I also like white-haired kuuderes” and that was it. Johnathan’s overview of the series makes me feel like picking it up (or at least adding it to my long to-watch list.)

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – Sometimes Ecchi Bugs me (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Ecchi and fanservice are always controversial subjects in the context of anime — for every ten fans you might hear fifteen opinions on the matter. Wooderon here gives his own opinion on the subject, using the popular series Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid as an example of when ecchi works for him.

ActRaiser – Cupid at day, hardcore stone statue at night (Nepiki Gaming) — A review of ActRaiser, an interesting-looking SNES 2D action platformer/simulation hybrid that I totally missed out on as a kid. Nepiki goes into his usual incisive detail and depth in examining the game.

If Left is Wrong I Don’t Want to be Right. The Left-Handers of Video Games, Part IV! (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues a series of posts about left-handed video game characters. It’s something I never really noticed — not being left-handed myself, it’s probably just not something I think about. Also, I agree that Strega kind of sucked. The only weak part of the Persona 3 story I think.

In defence of Haru (Eleanor Rees Gaming) — Speaking of Persona, this one is a bit of a deep cut for those who have played Persona 5 and know who Haru Okumura is and why she might need a defense. I was confused myself, since I liked Haru and felt she got short-changed with how little screentime she received in the game (outside of her own Confidant Link anyway, which came so late in the game a lot of people missed out.) But apparently some fans hold that and a couple of dumb plot occurrences against her, which is bullshit, because Haru is great. And Eleanor does a great job defending her, so read her piece above if you’re deep enough into Persona to know what it’s about.

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey – The Second Quest (MoeGamer) — Pete Davison at MoeGamer is continuing his extremely long-running Atelier feature with the fairly recent Atelier Firis. He gets into great depth with a series that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves here in the West, so be sure to check his work out. I’m going to be playing Firis once I get to that point in the Mysterious trilogy myself, so I’m already fully onboard the Gust train; see the end of this post for more on that.

Some More Unexpected Aspects of Living in Japan (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu’s thoughts about life in Japan are always interesting, and he’s written more of them this month. Humidity really can be a killer, though I didn’t realize Japan had that issue. It’s one of the many reasons I will never live in Florida.

Tuna in the Workplace: Laws on Business, Fish, and Smells (Professional Moron) — The human side of me loves tuna and fish/seafood in general, but the lawyer side of me can appreciate the many laws restricting the consumption of tuna at the workplace cited by Mr. Wapojif above. The human side as well, I guess, because it still astounds me how many grown adults either don’t care for the comfort of their co-workers or lack self-awareness to the extent that they still bring fish to have at work for lunch.

How to Convert People to Anime Without Really Trying (I drink and watch anime) — And finally from Irina, a comprehensive guide on how to convert every one of your friends into anime-binging weebs like yourself. If you read my site, there’s at least a two-thirds chance that that describes you, so please read her guide. I endorse 100% of her advice absolutely and without qualification.

So what’s coming up? My next post will most likely be a review of Atelier Ryza, the fourth Atelier game and fifth Gust-developed game I’ve completed this year. And since the sequel to Blue Reflection is coming out near the end of the year, I’ll probably cap 2021 off with a Gust game as well. And I just started Atelier Sophie DX… maybe I’ll get tired of Gust in 2022 and go back to Atlus for a while?

I also have more anime lined up to watch, including the rest of Monogatari or at least the Second Season stuff. I’m still not sure how to break that series and all its sub-series up when I almost certainly write about them later. Maybe it will come to me after I’ve watched it.

Whatever happens, anyway, see you next post.

23 thoughts on “Listening/reading log #23 (September 2021)

  1. Hey, thanks for the shout-out! I think if you’re going to start on the Rebuilds now’s the best time, with the whole quartet having been completed and all. I’m so glad I could finally get that off my chest…

    Also, I really like the TOWERS album you posted there – and interesting you brought up Sega Genesis on the matter, because I believe that background is from the second level of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone, I think. (Too many hours of playing that game back in my Sanic fandom days are finally paying off XD)

    • Certainly! I’ve been thinking of watching them through — it would be a nice trip to the past in some sense as well, since Eva was the first “serious” anime I ever watched.

      And nice work, you got it! I also played the hell out of Sonic 2 as a kid, so I recognized that cityscape right away. I guess you get those points I promised, though the can’t be redeemed anywhere unfortunately.

      • Don’t worry about the points – all in good fun ☺️

        Same for me, Evangelion was the first “serious” show I watched back in 2017! Before that it was mostly subbed versions of old series I had watched on US television networks. Then this came around and it was the first entirely novel series I had watched, and it blew my mind. I’d be wary about calling the Rebuilds a trip to the past though – the first two movies may be, but the latter half will be so disjointed from what you remember that it’ll make you question what you’re watching, just a warning.

  2. Thank you for the shoutout! ActRaiser is definitely a recommendation, and with the current remake (or as I’d like to call it, a reimagining), there’s no better time than now for this beloved series of games!

    • Definitely! I’m not much for roguelikes myself though I can appreciate them; used to play some bullet hell though. It might be worth getting back into.

  3. I can’t say I have listened to any of this month’s albums. With the exception of the first, I hadn’t even heard of them!

    Anyway, thanks for the heads up! And if you are looking to play only one Ace Attorney game, I’d recommend The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. You will end up missing out on Phoenix Wright, since he doesn’t appear there, but I think you will like the game’s style. Plus, with ten cases, it’s a hell of a package.

    • Yeah, I went in a different direction a bit this time with the anime soundtrack. I might try digging around for more of these independent albums too; there’s some interesting stuff in there. I’ll probably never stop going back to 70s prog though, no matter what happens.

      And certainly! Thanks for the recommendation as well. Maybe I should play both that and one of Phoenix’s games, since he’s such an iconic character.

  4. Going for a Camel album this time, huh? I do like their jazz/rock stylings – they’re right up there with Steely Dan. Rain Dances and Breathless are good as well.

    And thanks for the shout! The Donkey Kong Land trilogy as a whole was very much a product of its time because that was back when “like the console game, but smaller” was the rule rather than the exception for portable gaming at the time. Donkey Kong Land does try to escape that, but it is weighed down by its subpar controls. Donkey Kong Land 2, on the other hand, shamelessly copies level and world names from the original, and is worse off for it (even if the level design is different). It’s one of those times where a game just makes you wish you were playing a different one.

    • Thanks for the recommendations. I’d put Camel up with Steely Dan as well from what I’ve heard of them. Will check out those other albums.

      And certainly! I guess the novelty of having a game you could carry around in your pocket alone was enough back then. I even knew kids with Game Gears at school — not that you could carry that in your pocket, unless it was an unusually large one.

  5. Thanks for the shout-out. 🙂

    God TOWERS took some work to get through. Think that might actually be the first time I genuinely didn’t care for something you’ve included in one of your month ender posts.

    That said, I had actually heard some of the Monogatari stuff before. Mousou Express and (of course) Renai Circulation are two that had come up before in my YT feed. Though in both cases I only knew them by ear rather than by name.

    Camel I’m half in, half out on. Feel like if I dug into their catalog a bit more I could find something that really hits instead of something that is alright, but didn’t wholly catch my attention. I had a similar experience with Rush fwiw.

    Aight…now onto the review of Ryza’s T H I C C thighs.

    • No problem! It’s good to lay into these guys for their shitty business practices.

      I understand what you mean about TOWERS. The album does feel to me like it’s right up to the line of what I can take in terms of ambient/minimalism/whatever you want to call it. It did work for me, but I get not being able to tolerate it. Not sure it even really counts as music exactly, except in a very very broad sense. And then I feel the same way about some highly praised artists whose work I just don’t get.

      Makes sense that those songs would come up in your feed. Yeah, especially the latter — you couldn’t be on the internet for more than a day without hearing Renai Circulation at some point, or at least not in the game/anime/etc. circles.

      I’m not too deep into Camel myself yet. I’d like to look into their catalog a bit more with the albums Red Metal suggested. I think they started around the same time or similar as Rush — maybe not as innovative as the original prog bands I really like, but I do enjoy Camel’s sound when they’re in jazz/fusion mode.

      And enjoy the thighs!

  6. The most painful part of Strega in Persona 3 is that sense of wasted potential. They had a pretty decent introduction, and made some major moves in the tory. But most of them weren’t really followed up on and their boss fights were neither interesting or challenging. So it all got pissed away. You could tell the developers wanted big things with them, but they didn’t execute well at all, and that really cost this part of the story.

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