Listening/reading log #30 (May 2022)

Aaaagh. That describes the last two months. I’m somehow simultaneously worked to hell and behind on my work. Makes me miss my government job a little bit, when I didn’t have such worries… being a leech on society isn’t so bad. Though I am still a leech, or at least some people would consider me so. Oh well, society is all about leeching, couldn’t have a society without it! What a joke.

Today I’m trying to make up for missing last month’s end-of-month post, but it’s going to be different (again.) First, because I’m including posts not just from May in this one, but also because I don’t have any albums to write about, since I haven’t really listened to any lately. It’s all been classical, ambient, and city pop playlists on YouTube, depending on my mood. Then what “listening” can I write about in this post, since I don’t want to put it off any longer? Audiobooks, that’s what. So for this one post, that’s what I’ll be doing before getting on to the featured articles. On to it, putting the spotlight on three audiobooks I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of years out of the dozens in my list:

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine

Starting off with a massive, lengthy tome. I have a strong interest in history, always my favorite subject in school, and one of my particular areas of interest is early 20th century European history for just how chaotic it was (and isn’t that relatable these days?) The House of Government is an extremely in-depth history of the rise and fall of the high officials, bureaucrats, and specialists of the Soviet government, focused around the “House of Government”, a giant luxury apartment complex built in the early 30s to house many of these VIPs. If you know much about the Soviet Union at the time, you’ll know this also means accounts of constant purges, arrests, deportations, imprisonments, and executions of even the highest officials directed by Joseph Stalin and his inner circle — some of whom also ended up purged and often killed. Closeness to the boss didn’t afford you any protection with that guy.

Prof. Slezkine does a great job telling the personal stories of some of these important figures, using accounts of their trials, publications, and personal letters among other primary sources. His story is compelling and fascinating, though it can also get hard to follow especially when he takes lengthy side trips into the Old Testament, medieval witch hunts, and the Satanic Panic of 80s and 90s America to draw parallels with the situation in Russia at the time. It might also be difficult to follow the story if you don’t have at least some familiarity with the general story and its main figures considering just how many of them show up. This shit makes Legend of the Galactic Heroes look like a basic romantic comedy anime.

But if you do, it’s worth the trip. I enjoy Slezkine’s style too — it feels almost self-indulgent sometimes, but I get self-indulgent in my own writing too, so I naturally like that when it’s actually done well. And it’s all done to a purpose. For other writers both professional and amateur, there’s also an interesting focus in here on the sad fate of a few Soviet writers and literary critics who fell to claims of ideological impurity. Imagine having to deal with that, and on a far worse level than just a Twitter cancellation.

Bakemonogatari Part I by Nisio Isin

After watching Bakemonogatari, I was curious about the original light novels it was based on. But since my Japanese reading level is probably somewhere around age 5 or 6, along with maybe a couple hundred largely half-remembered kanji, I couldn’t hope to read them in the original language, and certainly not considering how complex and convoluted I was sure the writing would be. I also generally don’t have time or even the inclination to read a physical book anymore given how much I have to read at work. But I’m happy to listen to a book read to me, and thankfully someone both translated and recorded English-language versions of the three parts of Bakemonogatari, along with the prequel Kizumonogatari and sequel Nekomonogatari White.

I obviously can’t speak to how good the translation is since I can’t read or listen to the Japanese version, but I enjoyed the Part I audiobook pretty well. This covered the first two arcs, Hitagi Crab and Mayoi Snail, and from listening to these I could tell just how faithful the anime was to its source material, because it lined up with what I’d watched. It was also fun being in the neurotic protagonist’s head even more than in the anime, since Koyomi himself is the narrator. Which makes me wonder: is that initial ridiculous pantyshot scene from Kizumonogatari depicted in that novel? My bet is on yes.

This stuff is just as self-indulgent as you’d expect if you’ve seen the anime or even if you just know its reputation, but as I wrote above, I like self-indulgent if it’s done well — that’s the theme this post I guess. And once again, there’s a point to it all. The only issue someone might have with this work (aside from the self-indulgence if they aren’t into that, and also Koyomi’s somewhat pervy nature which I still argue works in context) is the voice acting. It’s well-done and suits the characters, but I never watch dubs, so it took me a little getting used to since I “knew” these characters through the anime only. I’ve heard Monogatari is impossible to dub, but maybe that’s not so true. But then again, maybe it is true considering the many puns and jokes Nisio Isin makes that wouldn’t translate well or even at all, and that might not in this very translation.

Now I challenge these guys to take on Nisemonogatari. I bet they won’t ever do it, but then I wouldn’t blame them for being afraid to try (and if you’re curious about why, you can read my review here, but only if you don’t care about spoilers.)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

There’s a serious problem with the above two audiobooks: you have to pay for them. Moreover, if you buy them from Amazon or through Audible, you have to pay Jeff Bezos for them, and maybe you object to giving money to that bastard. If so, here’s a better option: get a free public domain audiobook. A book in the public domain can still be copyrighted in audiobook form, the reading being a copyrightable performance in itself. Thankfully, we have Librivox, an amazing site that contains tons of audiobooks created by users and uploaded to be listened to freely by everyone. No bullshit subscription fees, no pay-per-download, none of that.

Out of several books I’ve listened to through Librivox, probably my favorite has been the famous 19th century epic The Count of Monte Cristo by French author Alexandre Dumas. This one doesn’t need much introduction: guy is wrongfully accused of crimes by jealous and corrupt assholes, then he escapes prison and delivers justice to those who deserve it. The story is a lot more massive than just that, though. Monte Cristo is a classic for a reason — Dumas was a master storyteller, and he provides plenty of suspense and excitement and all that good stuff. If you try to avoid older literature because you think it’s too long-winded, maybe this novel will change your mind. It is long, but I’d argue it’s not long-winded. (That’s partly why I didn’t suggest Moby Dick instead, another old favorite of mine also on Librivox — Melville won’t change anyone’s mind about that. I like his work, but the guy is long-winded.)

Now there are three books you wouldn’t expect to see all together on one list, I guess. Hopefully there’s something up there that everyone can like, and if not you can go digging on Librivox. Some of the readings are much more amateur-level than you’d get on Audible, but then some are excellent, and even the less good ones seem to be pretty spirited. And they’re all free, can’t complain about that.

Now on to the featured articles for the last two months:

StarTropics (Nintendobound) — From Matt, a review of StarTropics, sometimes considered a lost/forgotten NES classic. Justly or unjustly? Read Matt’s review for more insight.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~: Reflections and Reminiscence on A Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Five Years Earlier, and Revisiting My First Visual Novel (The Infinite Zenith) — Zenith revisits a visual novel that I’ve heard a lot about but have never played, in which the protagonist flies to Japan and gets an introduction to the country and its culture by two cute sisters one of whom he can get close to (of course! But at least you can’t get close to both of them at the same time. That’s an entirely different sort of drama.)

Monster Hunter Rise Ruined my Favourite Weapon (Frostilyte Writes) — Sometimes in trying to fix a perceived problem with a weapon or another game mechanic, the devs end up causing other, perhaps even greater, problems. Frostilyte examines one such case, this one from Monster Hunter Rise.

In Defense of Danganronpa’s Problematic 2nd Case – What it Means to be a Man (Dopey Likes Anime) — An interesting look at gender norms and how they’re reflected in games and perceived by players, this time in Danganronpa.

Aquatope on White Sand (Anteiku Anime Reviews) — It’s always interesting to read differing opinions on a work I’ve covered here, such as Will’s review of The Aquatope on White Sand. This review contains some of the criticisms I addressed in mine, but you might find his view of this anime more convincing. Be sure to check it out (but spoiler warning, just like with mine.)

Character (Re)analysis: Asuka Langley Soryu (The Overage Otaku) — Evangelion seems like a deep well to pull from, so deep that new things can be said about it 25 years after its release. Overage Otaku here checks back in on Asuka and her tragic role in the story, one that’s already so full of tragedy on its own.

East Meets West #17: 5 Centimeters Per Second vs. The Great Gatsby (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — I’ll admit that I have never seen a Makoto Shinkai film and that I almost certainly never will, for exactly the same reason I’ll never watch Your Lie in April, no matter how good I hear it is. However, I have read The Great Gatsby, and Traditional Catholic Weeb makes some interesting comparisons and contrasts in this post between Fitzgerald’s classic novel and Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second.

Should You Read Kubo-san? (Side of Fiction) — Here’s something more to my taste these days, a nice light romantic comedy school-based manga about a girl who pulls a guy out of his self-imposed isolation and obscurity. Not this one that I’m already reading, no: it’s Kubo-san Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, which I’ve been recommended already because of my reading habits. Read Jacob’s review of the first translated volume above.

Chuunibyou in the Wild (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Apparently anime sometimes isn’t all that realistic! Who would have thought. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions was a good time, but in the above post Yomu gives his own view of the chuunibyo, or “second year of middle school disease”, phenomenon in which students pretend or even half-believe they have magical powers or are commanded by dark spirits to set themselves apart from their peers, all from his perspective as a teacher who’s worked in Japan. It’s probably a good thing the anime and others that feature chuunibyou kids exaggerate matters, because I can’t imagine having to deal with one kid like Rikka, much less more than one.

The Biggest Heart of Gold – Millie Parfait of Niji EN (she also has nice robes) (The Unlit Cigarette) — Yes, even more Nijisanji EN shilling from me here. This post is from June, but all the rules are out the window today anyway, so why not put it here. Especially since you need to know about Millie Parfait if you have any interest at all in VTubers, and you know I do from my last post. An excellent singer, an entertaining performer, and a straight talker — Millie is deserving of all the support she’s gotten and more.

Loid Forger is not James Bond (I drink and watch anime) — Finally, Irina has some interesting insight about the character of Loid Forger from the so-far excellent anime Spy x Family. Loid, a.k.a. Twilight, is a spy masquerading as a family man, complete with a fake family including his wife Yor, an assassin, and their young adopted daughter Anya, a telepath. It’s a complicated situation — I’ll save the full explanation for the review that’s coming this or next month once I finish it. But Loid isn’t the typical spy thriller hero, not a James Bond. He’s flawed in interesting ways, and therefore much more human and even likeable than 007 (though I do like some of the James Bond movies, sure — but a character like that absolutely wouldn’t work in the story Spy x Family is telling.) Read Irina’s post for the details.

That’s all for this month. Or these months, I should say. Work is still crushing me, but I just have to figure out how to deal with that while pursuing what I really enjoy doing. i.e. not law, and I would bet every cent of the negative amount of money I have (taking into account my student loan debt) that most lawyers would say the same. The subject is already seeping into every fucking post I write, isn’t it? I’ll try to stop that from happening if only for my own sanity.

In the meantime, what’s next from me? I’m hoping to finally, finally finish Atelier Sophie 2, which I’ve had on hold for a while not because it isn’t good (it is, at least so far — more on that soon-ish hopefully) but for the aforementioned time and schedule issues. I’ll also be taking on a few more anime series pretty soon, almost certainly including Spy x Family, even if nobody is going to really need the seven millionth review of it I provide. The bits I was able to pick through of Zenith’s review of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform while mostly avoiding spoilers also convinced me that I was being unfair to the series from my watching of the first episode — I’ll probably give that another shot.

And finally, thinking about Monogatari again has gotten me motivated to actually watch Nekomonogatari White at least and to probably write something about it. I was wondering how I should divide those future posts up, and whether the entirety of the Second Season run should get one, but I think I’ll just continue taking the separate pieces on as I was back in 2020. Seemed to work well enough then. Until next time!