Music review: Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 by Tokyo Active NEETs

No, it’s not a soundtrack review this time, but don’t worry; I’m not changing my format. This and a few other reviews I’ve got slated to post are of cover albums based on game soundtracks. Specifically the soundtracks to various Touhou Project games. I’ve never actually reviewed a Touhou game on the site, but I used to follow this one-man-developer shmup series pretty closely. And I still love the music in these games. ZUN, the man behind game developer Team Shanghai Alice, is good at making shooting games, but he’s a better composer. The pieces he writes for his games are memorable and powerful, and they’ve spawned thousands (yes, literally thousands) of cover albums by hundreds of artists that are sold at Comiket and other Japanese conventions. A few of these Touhou cover albums even show up at American conventions, usually at grossly inflated prices, because they know the only alternative is to pay high shipping costs online and wait three weeks. (And don’t even get me started on the prices of the doujins.)

(Wait. No. Please forget I said that.)

Touhou Eiyashou ~ Imperishable Night (2004)

Anyway, I was very happy to find a physical copy of Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 (translated from 東方爆音ジャズ6 in case I convince you to seek it out.) As its title suggests, this is just one in a series of cover albums by Japanese jazz ensemble Tokyo Active NEETs, who play in a traditional jazz style (at least on this album – they mix it up in some of their other works.)  The several albums I’ve heard by Active NEETs are pretty much consistently great, but Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 is one of the best, featuring the band’s take on almost all of the music from 2004’s Imperishable Night. Imperishable Night isn’t my favorite Touhou game – that title would probably have to go to Perfect Cherry Blossom – but IN’s soundtrack just edges out PCB’s for me, and the Active NEETs do a great job with it. This album really is “explosive” – the NEETs play with a lot of energy, and there’s a lot of tenor sax and trumpet in the mix.  But they’re not just constantly blaring the shit out of your ears.  The brass has a great balance going with the keyboards, and the rhythm section is excellent.

As far as the individual songs go, they’re all great.  I can’t even say I really have a favorite among them, though their take on Marisa’s theme “Love-Colored Master Spark” that opens the album always grabs me, as does their version of Reimu’s theme “Maiden’s Capriccio ~ Dream Battle”. As outstanding as the album is, though, it’s also nice to watch them play live in the studio – the NEETs put out videos like that sometimes on their Youtube channel.

 

Here’s their rendition of “Dream Battle”. Pretty damn good. The guy in the center with the sack over his head is also a member of the band, I guess. He’s supposed to be what’s usually translated as a “sinsack” – a character from some Touhou fanworks who’s usually depicted as otherwise naked. Yeah, Touhou Project is kind of weird. But the music is excellent. I give this album a perfect 7, because I like it just that much. I should also note that all the other albums I’ve heard in the Explosive Jazz series are really good, and the Active NEETs are up to #13 in the series, so there’s plenty to hear at this point.

Unfortunately, you might have a hard time finding a physical copy of this album if I’ve piqued your interest in it at all. I had to attend the same con a few times before anyone had it in stock, and it seems to be out of stock on Amazon along with most of their other albums. Their newest albums are available on iTunes, though. And it goes without saying that there are ways to hear the older ones without paying out the ass for an import (though that’s what I basically did.) Still, if you’re a fan of this kind of music, it’s worth scouring Amazon and other online retailers for these albums. Or hit up your local anime con. You were probably planning on going anyway if you’re reading this site. Don’t lie to me.

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An open letter to my friends in the practice of law

Today I’m doing something I’d typically never think of doing: showing some goodwill to my fellow humans.

What a ridiculous thought

Okay, I’m really not that bitter and miserable all the time. But sometimes I am, and it’s easy to forget at those times that I rely upon other people, just as the rest of us do. The most excellent Irina from the site I drink and watch anime (who also happened to take one of the best ideas for a site name that I didn’t think of myself) reminded me of this when she nominated me for the Blogging Chums Award established by one beams19. The rules follow:

This may seem like a bit of an odd award but I think it’s so important to tell the people closest to us how much we care about them, and in a world that is so full of hate and division, it’s the little things we do that can help make a big impact – so go tell someone you love them!

This award isn’t compulsory by any means but if you decide to take part, it would mean the world to me. I wonder if there will ever be a day when I’m scrolling through WordPress Reader and I see the Blogging Chum Award floating around on other blogs!”

The Rules:

Be sure to use the award image! (note: made by the author of Daring to Impress, which seems to be focused on fashion and such)
List the rules & about paragraph!
Thank whoever nominated you!
Write a letter to someone who means a lot to you to spread some positivity around the Internet – anyone will do!
Nominate 5 more people for the award and go let them know about it in their comments!

 

That’s some challenge. I could certainly thank any one of my fellow writers for their support and for doing what they do, and I do want to give my thanks to them. As the title suggests, though, there’s another group of people I want to thank today: my friends at the bar.  (The legal bar, not the bar you drink at, though I sometimes go to that kind of bar and meet friends there.)  I’m certain none of them will read this post, but if any do out of pure coincidence, it would make me happy, even if I am maintaining my anonymity here.

The practice of law is rough, frustrating, and dirty for many attorneys.  Some of us work in family law representing husbands and wives in the process of divorcing, splitting goods and property and the custody of children.  Some of us represent clients before administrative agencies with massive backlogs.  Some of us prosecute criminal defendants and some of us defend them in a criminal justice system that often seems twisted and backwards and stacked against the poor and working people, despite our stated standard of justice for all.  A few of us – fewer than most people realize – work at large firms for corporate clients, making big salaries but billing unbelievable numbers of hours per year, to the point that our free evenings and weekends are reduced or vanish altogether.  And 99% of the law is extremely unglamorous, no matter what part of it you practice.

“Counsel, please stop shouting and pointing at everyone.”

We all have one thing in common, though: we’re all subject to more or less the same rules of ethics, and we all bust our asses to make our clients and bosses happy.  And sometimes the effort required to perform the necessary work and maintain our ethical standards causes a lot of stress.  There’s a reason law is one of the highest-ranked professions in instances of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.  I’ve gone through experiences in my brief time as a lawyer that made me seriously question my decision to go to law school and sit for the bar.  Our own state bar association is finally acknowledging the problem, but aside from a help line and a referral program to mental health professionals, it doesn’t offer much in the way of aid.  And to be honest, it can’t – this profession is what it is, and there’s only so much you can do about the level of stress it causes its practitioners.

That’s why I’m writing this post to my friends in the practice of law.  I won’t lie – this profession does contain assholes, blowhards, and backstabbers.  But it also contains a lot of faithful, trustworthy, and classy people.  From my experience (and despite popular opinion) the second type of lawyer is more common than the first.  The friends I made as a law student and an attorney have given me a great deal of help with their support and advice, perhaps more than they know.  To those friends, I can only give my thanks and express my hope that I will always rank among the second type of lawyer and not the first.

As for the nominations – this is where I hit a wall.  As I’ve said before, this blog is a bit of a dead end since I’ve been out of the networking loop for the last, uh, five and a half years or so.  That’s something I’m trying to change, but for the time being, I will go ahead and tag The Otaku Judge and also Pete over at MoeGamer – no pressure, of course, and I haven’t seen the good Judge around for a while, but hopefully he’ll make his return soon.

Games for broke people, government shutdown edition (1/6/19)

It’s been a while since I posted one of these – in fact, it’s been two and a half years.  But what better time to download a couple of free games from Steam and see whether they provide enough entertainment to be worth a download?  Especially now that hundreds of thousands of U.S. federal employees are stuck at home without a paycheck.  I’ll do my part during this national crisis and take a look at two free games that even the brokest of the broke can play, assuming they can still at least meet the electric and internet bills.

Rolling Bird

 

Released last week by a man (or woman, or company – not sure which) named Hijong Park, Rolling Bird is supposed to be a takeoff on Rolling Thunder, an arcade game from 1986.  It sure as hell looks like an old 8-bit title.  It’s pretty decent for a free game, though.  You play as cyan man, who has to defeat enemies in each stage that include yellow man and pink man (pictured right, after they killed the player character.)  You have the ability to crouch and jump onto high platforms, you start with a pistol, and better guns are available to you as you progress, but Rolling Bird is merciless if your reflexes fail – you can only take a few hits before you’re dead, and the game revels in dumping enemies onto you who will punch, shoot, and throw grenades at you until you expire.  I suck at games like this, so I didn’t get very far.  If you enjoy this sort of challenge, though, Rolling Bird is worth a try.

Hijong Park’s grasp of English apparently isn’t that great, but the game is straightforward enough that it doesn’t matter.  I should mention that the soundtrack is composed of a bunch of synth farts, though.  Might be a good idea to mute the game and put on some Motorhead instead.

Gamma Bros.

Another game inspired by the 80s, but this time it’s a twin-stick shooter made by the prolific PixelJam.  I’m also bad at these kinds of games.  But any frustration I had with Gamma Bros. was entirely my fault, because it’s a well-made game featuring several different kinds of enemies and powerups.  Naturally I can’t prevent my own stupid ass from running into enemy ships and taking damage, but at least the game provides you with two brothers to control in case one is put out of commission.  I do have an issue with the game’s premise, though – according to Gamma Bros., the player characters work on a space station around Jupiter but go home to Earth at the end of the day.  Holy hell is that a ridiculous commute.  This game should take a few years to play one round, shouldn’t it?  Maybe they’re moving at light speed.  Anyway, it makes me feel better about my own commute, which is shitty but at least doesn’t involve fighting alien ships.

Apparently Gamma Bros. is over ten years old and used to be a web browser game.  Somehow I never came across it – not until now.  It’s fun, so try it out.  And it features three difficulty modes including easy mode, a real plus for people like me who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Plans for the new year

I don’t usually make these kinds of posts, but I wanted to wish my readers a happy new year and to put forward a few of my plans and intentions for 2019.  Not massively vague resolutions that will be dropped within two weeks, but actual, viable plans.

1) Get through the stack of music I was planning to review.  The new year means a return to work, and a return to horrible downtown commutes, and an opportunity to listen to all the new albums I’ve got (and some old ones I’ve had lying around unlistened to.)

2) Post on a more regular basis.  Not every day or necessarily even every week, but no two-to-three-month hiatuses anymore.  I won’t pull a Spoony on you (in fact, I couldn’t, because Spoony skipped out on patrons who were giving him $5,000 a month to produce content and I don’t make a god damn penny off of this site.  Which is fine with me – it’s not my day job or even my night job.  But I won’t leave it behind, all the same.)

3) Try to shift from a constantly negative attitude to a cautiously positive one.  My disposition was never anywhere close to cheery and it never will be, but I’m tired of feeling miserable all the time.  Depression feeds itself, and its appetite grows by what it feeds on.  I’m determined to get out of my hole somehow.  Maybe a little less drinking is in order.

4) Try to affect some kind of positive change in society this year.  That’s something we can all do.  My tendency is to shut myself off, to reject and deny other people.  But that approach clearly hasn’t served me at all.  It’s not like I really want to be that way, but it’s hard to avoid sometimes.  This goal goes hand in hand with #3.

However, I promise not to compromise on my sincerely held beliefs.

In the meantime, all my best wishes for a good new year.  I can only speak for how it is in the United States, but people here seem to be optimistic despite everything that’s happened last year – and despite the sorry state of our leadership.  The only thing to do is push forward.  Let’s all do our part, no matter where we are.

Games and the law #1: Nintendo et al. v. Soulja Boy (maybe)

Since I’m a lawyer and I like video games, I figured it would be a good idea to start a new series in which I analyze hot legal issues in the gaming world. My focus will be on American law, since that’s what I’m trained in, though I won’t ignore foreign law when it enters the picture.

This album sucks. I give it a 1. That counts as a full review, right?

In this first edition, we’ll be taking a look at a real gem: Soulja Boy. It’s long been an axiom that Soulja Boy’s music sucks, so much so that scientists are still working around the clock to determine how it hasn’t yet created a black hole large enough to swallow most of the inner Solar System. But this post isn’t about Soulja Boy’s music – it’s about his possible lack of knowledge of copyright law.

I don’t blame a guy for not understanding the ins and outs of US copyright law. It’s a complicated field. I do blame a guy, however, for not at least understanding that selling a console packed full of ROMs that are indisputably the intellectual property of first- and third-party publishers without a license to do would amount to criminal piracy under United States law. I assume Soulja Boy has attorneys to deal with the protection of his own intellectual property who are available to advise him of that. Maybe his legal team secured licensing agreements with every one of the copyright holders of the supposed 800+ preloaded games on his SouljaGame console and the supposed 3,000+ preloaded games on his SouljaGame handheld. That’s entirely possible, and I’m not saying it didn’t happen. But considering how defensive our dear Drako has been getting on Twitter… well, just read the following:

In a now-deleted tweet, Soulja Boy also noted that he’s “not afraid of Nintendo” nor of “faggot nerds” (his words, not mine.)

Not really the kind of thing you’d say if you had secured a licensing agreement with Nintendo, is it? Again, maybe he did and he’s just acting like a dick on Twitter for no reason.

Hey, to change the subject completely, were you wondering what the United States Code has to say about monetarily profiting off of someone else’s intellectual property without a license from the copyright holder? 17 USC § 506(a)(1)(A) states that “[a]ny person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain.” The statute requires a finding of willful behavior – basically meaning that the subject of prosecution knew what he was doing and intended to do so – but establishing knowledge and intent in a case like this isn’t too difficult. And what kind of punishment does section 2319 provide?

(b) Any person who commits an offense under section 506(a)(1)(A) of title 17—
(1) shall be imprisoned not more than 5 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense consists of the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of at least 10 copies or phonorecords, of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $2,500;
(2) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, if the offense is a felony and is a second or subsequent offense under subsection (a); and
(3) shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or fined in the amount set forth in this title, or both, in any other case.

The above-mentioned fine is set forth in 18 USC § 3571(b)(3) at not more than $250,000.  None of this counts the civil penalties that can be levied against the copyright violator in a separate proceeding.

Sorry for going off on a totally unrelated tangent like that. I just thought it was interesting.

By the way, these “SouljaGame” lumps of plastic dogshit seem to be pretty much identical to the myriad bootleg multigame consoles and handhelds that are manufactured and sold in Chinese and southeast Asian markets. Those systems are definitely illegal to sell, and the only reasons they continue to sell are the sheer number of different types of bootlegs sold and the difficulty of suing/prosecuting violators in the countries they flourish in. Hell, they even sell on Amazon. Like this fifteen dollar handheld containing hundreds of NES ROMs. There’s no way Nintendo signed off on this, but I can’t imagine they care too much about some podunk company selling crappy cheap handhelds with 30 year-old games on them, even if they are Nintendo properties. Soulja Boy’s products, on the other hand, have garnered attention all over the world. And if that sales figure of five million Soulja himself cited on Twitter is anywhere close to accurate, I can’t believe Nintendo (or SEGA, or EA, or Activision, or fill in the blank) is going to ignore them.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Soulja Boy is a pirate. I am legally allowed to call Soulja Boy a talentless asswipe, because that’s a statement of opinion and not a statement of fact or a legal conclusion. But I’m not saying he’s a pirate. Yes, it seems like he’s profiting off of the sale of what looks suspiciously like a pair of bootleg game systems containing a few thousand games, but again, it is entirely possible that he and his legal team ensured everything was legit by securing licensing agreements with each one of those games’ copyright holders. Here’s hoping they did for his sake.

Disgaea revisited: A review of Disgaea 1 Complete

Well shit. I should write at least one review of a game I played this year before it ends. So here you go: Disgaea 1 Complete for the PS4.

Yes, Disgaea is back on the PS4 (and the Switch, which I don’t own yet much to my chagrin.) I wrote about the 2003 original a few years back, and being a big Disgaea fan I had to check out this remake. The first Disgaea game lacks all the frills and bells and whistles of its sequels, but it still has the best cast and the best story out of all of them. It introduces the Netherworld, an underworld ruled until recently by the late King Krichevskoy, and now under the (sort-of) control of his young son, the demon prince Laharl. Laharl spends the game trying to consolidate his control with the help of his vassal the backstabby, mischievous demon girl Etna and her squad of press-ganged Prinnies, penguin-like creatures who are inhabited by the souls of sinful deceased humans. Meanwhile, Laharl has to dodge assassination attempts by would-be usurpers (and by the innocent angel girl/assassin Flonne, the third main character in the cast.)

If you’ve played Disgaea, you already know more or less what this game is like: isometric tactical RPG action, a plot with a lot of weird humor and references to sci-fi series like Buck Rogers and Super Sentai (or Power Rangers if you’re a westerner.) And a lot of power-grinding. You don’t really have to grind to beat the game proper and get one of the several endings, but everyone who’s played any of the Disgaea games knows that the real meat is in the post-game – the Item World and the unlockable extra bosses that require stupid amounts of grinding. I no longer have time to perform stupid amounts of grinding, working in the field I do, but thankfully there are ways to efficiently power-grind if you want to beat all the optional post-game bosses.  If I want to beat level 4,000 Tyrant Overlord Baal, it’s still going to be a month or two.  I might pass on it this time.

Leading ladies Flonne and Etna. The character portraits in D1 Complete were mostly preserved from the original game, and they look good in HD.

Is there anything special about Disgaea 1 Complete, aside from its being in HD? Sure – if you haven’t played the PSP or DS versions of the game, at least. Extras from the PSP’s Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Disgaea DS are included in this remake, meaning you can play the game with Etna as the protagonist instead of Laharl in Etna mode, recruit Pleinair, the ultra-powerful demon girl who hangs around as a silent NPC in every Disgaea game, and fight new extra bosses like Adell and Rozalin, the hero and heroine of Disgaea 2. Also notable are the new designs of certain classes to line up with their counterparts in newer Disgaea games. The original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness featured some character designs that had already been completely redone by Disgaea 2, and as a result the Mage, Skull, and Archer units have received an update. The most extreme change in the cosmetic category is the Clergy, a male healer unit – he was already androgynous in his original form, but now he’s gone full trap, pigtails and all. I guess NIS is trying to appeal to a certain demographic who’s into that sort of thing.

Aside from extras and cosmetic differences, though, there doesn’t seem to be anything new in Disgaea 1 Complete.  The Item World (a randomized dungeon that lets you level up items and equipment) is still its old bare-bones self, lacking all the new features that would be added in later titles.  No new classes, either, apparently.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it just means that if you’ve played the original and at least one of the handheld ports, D1C doesn’t add much aside from a new coat of paint, and that’s something to consider if you can only buy one game this month/season.

The D1C Item World. Occasionally you get a ridiculously easy level like this one, just like in the original Disgaea.

If you’re a big NIS/Disgaea fanatic like I am, Disgaea 1 Complete is probably worth getting, if only to relive a true classic 15 years later.  If you’ve never played the PS2 Disgaea or either of its handheld ports, however, D1C gets an unconditional recommendation.  This really is the definitive version of Disgaea, and it’s still a great game 15 years on, even after the release of Disgaea 5 a few years ago.  It might lack all those bells and whistles, but it’s worth the time you’ll put into it.  Unless you decide to go after Tyrant Overlord Baal.  That’s on you.

Rating: 7 if this is your first go-around in Disgaea 1, 5 if it isn’t.

Oh yeah, Merry Christmas.  I hope nobody got too drunk and went on a political rant at your Christmas office party or dinner.  That’s why I always limit my drinking around family and work colleagues.

Soundtrack review: Sonic the Hedgehog: Passion & Pride: Anthems With Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era

So here’s a strange one. Released in 2015, I guess in an attempt to try to profit off of my generation’s nostalgia for all things 90s, Sonic the Hedgehog: Passion & Pride: Anthems With Attitude from the Sonic Adventure Era is a collection of character themes from the two Sonic Adventure games on the Dreamcast and Gamecube. I came across this thing while I was messing around with my 99 cent for three months trial subscription to Amazon’s new music streaming service. (This is not a paid plug for Amazon, by the way. I wish it were. I need money and I’m absolutely willing to sell out. DM me on Twitter.)

I played Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast back in those old days of 1999 and 2001, when I was suffering through the shitty ordeal known as middle and high school. I remember them being pretty fun, though not without their problems. Turns out the same is more or less true of their soundtracks. When I think of great, truly classic Sonic music, I think of Sonic 1, 2, 3&K and CD. The later Adventure music is more of a mixed bag. I guess SEGA felt like they had to “update” Sonic’s music in the transition from 2D to 3D, but the Adventure soundtracks aren’t even close to being as good as the old 16-bit works.

Hell, some of these songs are downright embarrassing to listen to, even when I’m sitting at home alone with my headphones on. Like Tails’ SA1 theme Believe in Myself, an annoyingly peppy pop song with lyrics even dumber and more straightforward than the title suggests. Or Sonic’s SA1 theme It Doesn’t Matter, which hearkens back to really shitty late 80s hair metal. Or Knuckles’ awful rap Unknown from M.E., a song so bad it twisted in on itself to become popular and feature in hundreds of Youtube music edits like this one. And for some fucking reason there are also remixes of each of these three worst songs on the album. Thanks, SEGA.

Knuckles is a meme now, thanks internet.

Most of the songs on this album can be listened to without cringing yourself to death, though. And a few of them are really good. I’m a big fan of Theme of E-102γ, a nice piano-based instrumental with a sci-fi sound. E.G.G.M.A.N. from SA2 is catchy and fun and really suits the goofy mad scientist bad guy character that is Eggman (though I’ll always know him as Robotnik.) The biggest surprise, though, was the last song on the album, Fly in the Freedom. It’s the theme of Rouge the Bat, a character I never cared for, but it’s my favorite song out of all of them – an extremely relaxing jazzy piece with nice vocals. Makes you feel like you’re at a beachside bar sipping a cocktail.

There are three more character themes on this album that fall far more into the “weird” category than into the good or bad ones. Here are my notes about them:

Lazy Days (Livin’ in Paradise) (Big’s theme) – Title makes it sound like a Jimmy Buffett song, but actually a Creedence Clearwater Revival ripoff which is at least x1000 better. Dumbass lyrics, good guitar, okay singing but this guy is definitely no John Fogerty. Stupid as hell but not really that bad.

Throw It All Away (Shadow’s theme) – I can feel the angst in my blood. All humans are trash, and happiness is an illusion. Lyrics couldn’t be more laughably edgy. Brings back memories of middle school.

My Sweet Passion (Amy Rose’s theme) – Embarrassed to say I really like this song. Cute jazz-poppy thing, I love the vocals and the electric piano. Lyrics are insane and stalkerish and suit Amy’s character perfectly.

So is this worth buying? At $30 for a physical copy? Hell no. But it does have some good songs, enough that it squeaks by with a passing grade of 4. And who knows, maybe you’ll really like the songs I hate on it. If you’re the kind of person who “ironically” enjoys 80s butt-rock and bad rap, feel free to bump that grade up to a 5 or 6. I’m not one of those people.  I can appreciate making fun of bad media (I grew up on MST3K after all) but I don’t get anything out of a second listen to Unknown from M.E.

I would definitely buy a physical copy for a few bucks, though, just for that amazing title and cover.  Sonic just needs a ripped pair of jeans and a sleeveless shirt and he’s hedgehog Bruce Springsteen.