Soundtrack review: Cowboy Bebop (all four main OSTs)

Yeah, so I took another one of my month-long breaks from writing.  In this case, I hope I can excuse myself by saying that I started a new job and the pace of it has been nearly killing me.  When I get home the last thing I feel like doing is writing.  Still, I felt like writing something at least, if only to assure my millions of readers that I’m not quite dead yet.  As a way to relax after an especially stressful day at work last week, I started rewatching the amazing Cowboy Bebop, the second anime series I watched in my life after Neon Genesis Evangelion.  While Eva doesn’t quite hold up over time (it’s still good, but way more impressive when you’re an edgy 12 year-old boy like I was when I watched it) Cowboy Bebop totally does hold up, every bit as well as it did when I first saw it on Adult Swim ages ago.

So I thought about writing about Cowboy Bebop as a part of my long-dead “Anime for people who hate anime” series.  I gave up on that idea, though, because there’s no point.  Everyone already knows Bebop as that one anime that you can recommend to your normie friends without them thinking you’re a big nerd or a pervert.  I can’t say anything about the series that hasn’t already been said.

I can write about the music, though.  I’ve listened to my entire four-album Cowboy Bebop soundtrack playlist on my commutes about seven times over now, and it isn’t even getting old.  Out of all four albums, almost all the tracks are great.  As the show’s name implies, Cowboy Bebop features both a lot of American country-western-sounding music (Spokey Dokey, Don’t Bother None, Forever Broke) and a lot of jazz (OP theme Tank!, Rush, Odd Ones.)  But there’s a lot more that composer Yoko Kanno and her band The Seatbelts have to offer – straight up rock (Want It All Back), Queen-style operatics (Rain), weirdness (Cats on Mars), and a crooner ballad (Words That We Couldn’t Say) that I don’t like very much but that at least has enough care put into the music and lyrics that they’re not brimming with cheese.  And a god damn great recording of Ave Maria performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic just for the show.  If I have any favorites among the four albums I’ve got, though, they’re probably Piano Black and See You Space Cowboy.  And Wo Qui Non Coin, which might make you cry if you know the whole context of the song with regard to the show.  Not that I’ve ever cried while listening to music or watching a show.  No.  Not me.  I’m a tough guy, got it?

The soundtrack to this show is so damn good that it is absolutely worth buying all four albums, even if you have to import them.*  As far as I can tell, none of the albums are any better than the others; they each have a lot of great tracks from the series that are essential to have.  Though I guess I should mention that Vitaminless is about half the length of the others, but if you skip it you’re missing out on the ED theme The Real Folk Blues and the weirdly hilarious Black Coffee, featuring dialogue between a guy continuously asking a girl out for coffee (“aw, come on, just this time”) and the girl continuously refusing (“nnnno!”) over a jazz accompaniment.  I know how that feels, guy.  I’m sorry.

I’m lazy, so that’s all I’m going to write.  Just listen to the music.  Or better yet, hear the music when you watch the show.  The music on its own is great, but it’s a lot better if you’ve seen Cowboy Bebop.  The series uses music in a way that few other series do, anime or not.

=

*Of course there’s an alternative to buying these soundtracks, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

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Five Flaming Hotties (2D edition)

I don’t normally do these kinds of things, but after being tagged by fellow writer and friend of the site The Otaku Judge to take part in this “Five Flaming Hotties” blog post chain I felt motivated to do so. The rules of the game are as follows (quoted verbatim from its creators):

1. You must add the name of the blog who tagged you AND those of the 2 Reel Quirky Cats, Thoughts All Sorts and Realweegiemidget Reviews with links to these sites as given here.. and use the natty picture promoting this post (found later in this post).

2 Reel Quirky Cats

Realweegiemidget Reviews

and Thoughts All Sorts

2. List 5 of your all time greatest hotties from TV or Film. ie crushes / objects of your affection.

3. Say how you were introduced to them, and why you like them (keep it clean)

4. Link to 7 other bloggers.

5. Add lovely pictures of those you selected.

6. Oh…and post the rules..

However, I have to add a couple of tweaks to the game. First, I won’t be tagging anyone, because as any reader of this site knows, it is a dead end as far as blogs go. The only guy I would have thought to tag has tagged me already, and the few other blogs I follow wouldn’t take an interest in this game.

And second, just like TOJ did, I’ll be picking characters from games and anime. Fantasy is better than reality, and anyway, I always honestly thought celebrity crushes were far weirder than fictional character crushes. Make fun of the whole waifu thing all you want, but none of the suicidally depressed forever-alones pining after their non-existent girlfriends will ever be arrested for stalking a flesh and blood human being because of it. Unless one of them goes after a voice actor or a female mangaka or someone like that. Stalking is serious business, people. Don’t do it.

Okay, I’m getting off track. Here’s my list:

5) Aika

Chances are decent you don’t know who the hell this is, because she’s a character from a Dreamcast JRPG released in 2000 that never saw a sequel. Today a copy of either the Dreamcast original or the Gamecube remaster of Skies of Arcadia is almost worth its weight in gold, they’re so hard to find.

If you do come across it, Skies of Arcadia is a great game about three friends who scour the skies in airships as pirates, but as the good kind of pirates who only attack and plunder bad guys. Aika is main character Vyse’s childhood friend, a fierce, tomboyish sky sailor. The game hints at a possible future love triangle where Vyse has to choose between Aika and the demure magical moon princess healer girl Fina, but the choice is obvious to me, even if the game suggests Fina has the upper hand. Well screw you game. Why are you so damn rare and expensive now anyway?

4) Tifa Lockhart

Are all the characters on this list going to be from old JPRGs? No, not all of them. But Tifa has to be included here. The third in the love triangle (this time a way more real and immediate one) with hero Cloud and fated-to-die Aeris was my pick. Hell, Tifa owns a bar. Did Aeris own a bar? No. She sold flowers on a street corner. Tifa is better. Case closed. That’s not even mentioning Tifa’s other assets, which are considerable.*

Now I’m imagining a path in Final Fantasy VII where Cloud gives back control of AVALANCHE to Barrett, marries Tifa, and hangs out in 7th Heaven all day every day. If the upcoming PS4 remake of FF7 doesn’t include this as an alternate ending I’ll be disappointed. (Of course it won’t – just another reason why I’m probably right that it will be lousy.)

3) Holo

Holo (or Horo, depending on how you read her name – “Holo” is official but either one seems legit enough) is a sort of minor harvest goddess who can take the form of a cute girl with wolf ears and tail or of a huge, menacing she-wolf who can tear people apart. As you might imagine, Holo is pretty popular and is probably one of the big reasons the medieval economics/romance adventure series Spice and Wolf has found success. A self-proclaimed genius with a vain streak, Holo can be annoying sometimes, but her charms definitely outweigh her irritating qualities, and she gets serious when the situation demands it. And she’s cute as hell. I don’t mind admitting that I’m kind of shallow.

2) Rin Tohsaka

TOJ included Rin on his list, and I have no reason to disagree with him. It’s probably my masochist streak, but Rin is my favorite out of all the Type-Moon characters. The only child and heiress of a great family of mages, Rin is required to take part in a battle for the Holy Grail against other mages, including the regular-guy-with-hidden-magical-powers player character Shirou. Rin is one of the first characters people think of when they think of the “tsundere” character type, which more or less means she pretends to hate you but secretly likes you. Or something. It’s a popular trope, and Rin is popular too. And why not? She’s a good character with an interesting backstory (see the excellent anime series Fate/Zero for some of that, and see the film Unlimited Blade Works for the rest of Rin’s story, or read the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel if you have 50 hours to spare.)

1) Aigis

Strictly speaking, Aigis from Persona 3 isn’t a woman, or even a human. She’s an android. But she would probably be my first choice for a partner. Before you definitely decide that I’m insane, consider the following:

– Aigis doesn’t have to eat or drink, meaning lower household expenses.

– Aigis passes for a human girl when she’s wearing clothes, so you can trick the judge into issuing your marriage license.

– Aigis is a super-weapon created by a secret military commission, and she comes equipped with fingers that retract into guns and and sets of various gun attachments for her arms. No need to plan for home defense when your wife is an entire army in herself.

– Best girl in Persona 3.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Hell, if you don’t want to marry a mega-weapon android girl after reading the above, I have to wonder what’s wrong with you. Sure, you’d never be able to have a kid with her, but you could adopt. There are plenty of abandoned children and orphans out there who need good families, even ones where Mom is a robot.

* If you thought this was a reference to boobs, that really says more about you than it does about me.

A review of VA-11 HALL-A (PC, Vita)

Time to mix drinks and change lives

Have you ever wanted to work as a bartender at a cyberpunk bar in the future?  Then you’re in luck.  VA-11 HALL-A, previewed here in its demo version, is a game that came out late last month for PC and Vita.*  It bills itself as “cyberpunk bartender action”, as you can see in the below screenshot.

v1

Not sure about the “action” bit, but the description is otherwise apt, because you play as Jill, a young bartender working at a small out-of-the-way bar called VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla) in a slummy neighborhood of the futuristic dystopia Glitch City.  In this future, humans are enhanced with nanomachines and extremely human-looking robots called Lilim mix with the population.  The city’s population has to deal with constant shortages, and protests are dealt with violently by the authorities.  Jill, however, is only concerned with getting to work, paying rent, and keeping the lights on.  She shares her duties with her boss Dana and her co-worker Gillian (above, left and right respectively), each of whom have shady and mysterious pasts.

v6

Jill goes to work every night, tends bar, and has conversations with her customers and with Dana and Gillian.  Some customers only drop by once or twice, while others are regulars, but all of them ask for mixed drinks that Jill has to prepare using the setup on the right side of the screen.  Sometimes the customer will ask for a specific drink, but at other times they’ll just ask for something strong or sweet or bitter or girly and let you interpret the order as you see fit.  Fortunately, the player can refer to a drink guide that contains recipes, but a few orders are actually pretty hard to get right the first time around, and serving customers different drinks can change the conversation or get the customers drunker or less drunk depending upon how Karmotrine (basically the future version of alcohol) they consume.  Jill’s performance at work also affects her paycheck and her ability to pay the bills back at home, where she returns after work to rest with her cat Fore and to read the news, blogs, and messageboards on her cell phone.  Or her iPad, or whatever that thing she’s holding is.

In my playthrough, I fucked up and didn't have enough money in my account to pay the electric bill.

During my playthrough, I fucked up and didn’t have enough money in my account to pay the electric bill.

This drink-mixing mechanic makes VA-11 HALL-A feel a little bit like Papers, Please, the big indie hit from 2013 that put the player in the role of a border agent trying to make ends meet in an oppressive Soviet-style state.  VA-11 HALL-A, however, is a lot less of a traditional “game”, at least in the way a lot of people would define it, and a lot more of a visual novel.  The drink-making parts of the game aren’t timed, and the player can reset and start over if he screws up with no penalties.  The real focus of this game is on the relationships between its characters.  A lot of the people hanging out in Valhalla have personal issues that they’re working through, and some of the characters that show up are pretty memorable and interesting.  Characters that comes to mind right away are Sei, a member of the city’s security force who first visits the bar in her full uniform, complete with intimidating helmet, and Dorothy, a cheery android girl who works as a prostitute and has no qualms about it (or about talking about her work in detail.)  One of the most interesting characters in the story, though, is Jill, who as it turns out is running away from something in her past that catches up with her during the game.

Maybe it's better if you don't get the reference here.

A not-so-subtle reference to a certain famous novel.

VA-11 HALL-A is a good game that I’m happy I bought and played, but there are some caveats in this case, because this isn’t a game for everyone.  You might be thinking this game is inspired by Blade Runner, and you’d be right, since it’s in a dystopian cyberpunk setting full of human-like androids.  But VA-11 HALL-A is also soaked in references to anime/manga/Japanese game culture (is “culture” the right word for it?)  If I weren’t an embarrassing weeb nerd myself, I definitely wouldn’t have understood some of the hidden jokes in the game’s many conversations.  Someone who’s approaching this game without that kind of background will be missing out a bit in that regard.

Even moreso, though, VA-11 HALL-A is an adult game.  There’s nothing remotely pornographic or lewd or anything in the game graphically speaking, but a lot of the conversations revolve around fuckin’.  Especially when Dorothy is around.  And Dorothy’s status as what amounts to a sexbot with a personality, combined with her appearance and the reference in her name, may make some players uncomfortable (like this reviewer for PC Gamer, who was clearly creeped out by the whole thing, though to be fair the game does address all this.)  So if that rubs you the wrong way, you might want to give VA-11 HALL-A a miss.

This is a real line in the game, not making it up

It makes sense in context, I promise

But if VA-11 HALL-A is about anything, it’s about the nature of love and friendship.  That might make this game sound cheesy or cliché, but it really handles the subject well and does so in an interesting setting and with interesting characters.  So even though VA-11 HALL-A felt like it ended way too quickly (one playthrough only took about 10 hours, which is standard length for some genres but short for a VN) I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys VNs or who thinks all the stuff I described above might be interesting.  The soundtrack is also really good and goes a long way towards creating the game’s cyberpunkish but also strangely cozy atmosphere.  And considering the fact that the developer, Sukeban Games, consists of two guys living in Venezuela, one of the most politically unstable countries in the world at the moment, VA-11 HALL-A is actually pretty goddamn impressive.  Let’s hope they make it through the crisis and go on to top their achievements with an even better game.

==

*I was going to start this review with a lot of bitching about how at least I have this game to play while waiting for Zero Time Dilemma, which I was supposed to have last fucking week but someone fucked up and Amazon promised they’d ship the game in an email but they haven’t done anything for the past five days.  But then I thought that sounded too bitter/angry.  Then I wrote about it in this footnote instead.

†This review is kind of interesting to me because it’s a take on the game from a totally different perspective from mine – aside from the whole sex issue, the reviewer just seems to not like visual novels considering her comments about how the game is “boring”, and VA-11 HALL-A is basically a visual novel.

Valhalla I am coming

That famous line from Led Zeppelin’s famous “Immigrant Song” (their best-known, but not only, song they wrote about Vikings) is what I thought when I saw the title of the soon to be released VA-11 Hall-A, a visual novel by the studio Sukeban Games.  Valhalla, which is what I’m calling the game from now on because I don’t feel like copy-pasting VA-11 Hall-A more than once, is a VN set in a cyberpunk dystopian future city where there are nanomachines and probably robots and cyborgs that was certainly inspired by Blade Runner.  In this world, you play as Jill, a bartender working at a hole in the wall sort of place officially called VA-11 and unofficially called Valhalla who has to mix drinks and deal with the characters who come in out of the cold for booze and a conversation.  The gameplay, aside from being mostly or almost entirely a VN, includes a drink-mixing mechanic that’s vaguely reminiscent of a way less complicated form of the border agent work in Papers Please – you have the choice of mixing drinks properly for your customers or of giving them bullshit drinks, and your choice in this matter seems to affect the dialogue.

Your only customer in the demo, which gives you a brief taste of the full game.

Your only customer in the demo, which gives you a brief taste of the full game.

Valhalla is being released on June 21, but I played the admittedly very short demo that gave me at least a taste of the sort of gameplay I should expect.  And I’m honestly intrigued.  Not only do I like good visual novels, but this particular VN involves the consumption of alcohol, which I also like.  Moreover, Sukeban is an unabashedly weeaboo studio (no, it’s not Japanese, but Venezuelan, strangely enough) so that’s another natural connection for me to make.  The weeaboo thing can cut both ways – I’m hoping the final product will not be too self-indulgent or memetastic.  But the brief demo suggested that this probably won’t be the case.  Unlike some other western VN projects that crop up and get public attention, Valhalla – at least so far – doesn’t feel like a cheap knock-together of mediocre art and writing.  And the Venezuelan team that put together this demo/game seems to have an excellent grasp on English – either they’re fluent speakers or they hired native English-speakers to edit their work.

In any case, I’m interested in this game.  I need something to play while I study for the bar exam and wait for Zero Time Dilemma to come out.  Expect (well, maybe expect) a review of the full version of Valhalla in the near future.

Seven more interesting/weird search terms

A while back, I addressed some questions visitors typed into Google that brought them to this site.  I also tried to address some of the stranger search terms I found in my blog stats.  I enjoy thinking about this kind of thing, and as I have previously said, my website is a public service.  So get educated and read the following:

1) true demon run matador battle nocturne

As I’ve said way too many times on this site, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is one of my favorite games of all time.  However, it also throws the player into the deep end of the pool, and then into the even deeper end, and then into an end even deeper than that.  The Matador battle is the first instance at which you will realize that Nocturne is not fucking around.

Time to get the buffs

Matador’s here, time to get the buffs

The key to beating Matador is having the right demons with the right skills.  Matador will beat the hell out of your party if any of your demons are weak to his force skills (the elemental equivalent of wind.)  Unfortunately, by the time you reach Matador you’ll probably just be around level 14 or so, and your demon recruitment/fusion choices will be fairly limited.  The best party at this point, realistically, should include Uzume (immune to force and has Media, an all-heal spell) and should not include any demon that’s weak to force.  You’ll need to be level 18 to fuse her, so if you’re not, get to grinding.

Matador will also buff his speed and accuracy to a point where he’ll be getting guaranteed hits and will be near impossible to hit himself – the best way to deal with this aspect of the fight is to get the Fog Breath skill on Demifiend from the magatama Wadatsumi.  Pounding Matador with Fog Breath will slow him down and make the battle manageable.

Nocturne is all about thinking tactically.  Brute force is typically not the answer to beating a boss in this game.  Matador is just the game’s way of expressing this point to players who haven’t yet gotten it.

2) nasa space diapers photo

p2

Everyone who knows anything about astronauts knows that all astronauts wear diapers.  When you’re locked inside a giant airtight suit in the unimaginably vast near-vacuum of space performing repairs to a billion dollar orbiting space telescope, you can’t just go to a port-a-potty, so you have to wear diapers.  What few people know is that it was the development of space diapers for adults that led to advances in earth diapers for babies.

Here’s a pair of real astronaut diapers:

IMGP2699 space diapers

3) do you have sex in persona 3 portable

Persona 3 Portable is a game made for the PSP.  So if you’re asking whether there are sex scenes in the game, that should answer your question.  That said, P3P does feature the possibility of a relationship between a girl in high school and a boy in elementary school, so there’s that.

p39

You know that if male protagonist in P3 tried dating the depressed little girl in the park social link, which would be fucking weird and creepy at best, the police would be cooling his ass off in a jail cell for the entirety of the game.  Talk about some double standards.

4) is nescafe bad for you

I’m assuming that this searcher was inquiring about the instant coffee powder that Nescafe makes and that inhabits every cupboard in the non-Western world.  From what I can tell, Nescafe is not bad for you unless you consume so much of it that you die from a caffeine overdose.  Any other use of Nescafe should be fine, including sprinkling it on top of ice cream or dumping it in gin and taking shots.*

*I AM NOT A DOCTOR AND THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE.  PLEASE DON’T DO THIS.

5) freedom planet lilac hentai manga

freedom planet hentai

It’s depressing to me that my readership is apparently composed of furries who are looking for porn.

For the uninformed, Freedom Planet is a really good Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man X homage platformer.  I reviewed it here.  Also for the uninformed, this is Lilac, the main character of Freedom Planet:

SashLilac

If you really want to see porn based on this character, Rule 34 dictates that are plenty of places to find it.  But I’m not fucking helping you with that.

6) public domain best & rare world famous wallpaper download

It’s funny to me that someone was looking for a public domain image that is both “rare” and “world famous” at the same time.  Seems like an oxymoron – if it’s so rare, would it be world famous?  It’s even funnier that this search brought the anonymous seeker to my degenerate furry hentai video game website.

Anyway, I’m here for the people, so this is the first result for public domain best & rare world famous wallpaper download on Google Image Search:

469606

Pretty nice.  I wish I were there.  Of course, this isn’t my wallpaper.  My wallpaper is naturally of my waifu.

Oh Horo why can't you be real ;_;

Oh Horo why can’t you be real ;_;

7) welcome to the nhk too real

… yeah.  Yeah.

Though if I’m anyone from Welcome to the NHK!, I’m not suffering shut-in Satou, but rather shameless nerd Yamazaki.

vlcsnap-1486924

I’ve been told that I have had drunken nerd freakouts similar to this one that I don’t remember.

Also, this:

;_;

;_;

I hope this exploration into the darkness of the human psyche was useful to you.  I have exams, so I’m going to be off for a few weeks, but I’ll be back if my Securities Regulation exam doesn’t cause me to have a heart attack and die in class, Electronic Bluebook running in front of my lifeless body with a half-finished answer to one question out of five.  Wish me luck.

Anime for people who hate anime: Planetes

planetes-01

Caution: there’s a spoiler in this review about a relationship between two of the characters in this series. It’s not really that much of a spoiler if you can draw real basic conclusions from character dynamics in episode 1, but still. Read on if you want.

Set in 2075, Planetes centers on the Space Debris Section of Technora Corporation. Derisively called Half Section because of its small staff and cramped, shoddy office space, this department is looked down upon by pretty much everyone. Despite the necessity of space debris cleanup, nobody really wants to do it because it’s both unglamorous and hard work – yet that’s exactly where Ai Tanabe, a recent graduate, ends up because she couldn’t get a better position elsewhere.* Tanabe is a bright-eyed, almost annoyingly optimistic young woman, and she immediately gets on the nerves of Hachirota Hoshino, a/k/a Hachimaki, a young astronaut who has a lot of talent but also a sour, sarcastic attitude. The complicated relationship between the optimist Tanabe and the realist Hachimaki is a big part of the story of Planetes.**

Tanabe (left) meeting Hachimaki (right).  Note the space diapers.  Being an astronaut is not as glamorous as Miss Tanabe thought.

Tanabe (left) meeting Hachimaki (right). Note the space diapers. Being an astronaut is not as glamorous as Miss Tanabe thought.

Planetes is a hard science fiction manga-turned-anime. There’s nothing especially fantastic about the space travel going on in the series; it’s pretty easy to imagine actually happening 60 years from now. There’s a large base on the Moon, but otherwise most activity in space occurs in near Earth orbit. The governments and corporations of Earth are planning to send a mission to Jupiter, however, and Hachimaki desperately wants get out of his dead-end job and land a spot on the elite crew to make the first trip. The mission to Jupiter sets the stage for a lot of the drama in the second half of the series.

Despite the mundaneness of their jobs, the crew of Half Section get involved in a lot of action. Several episodes feature situations in which the crew must recover runaway satellites and other such dangerous, potentially life-threatening hazards. Any fans of realistic science fiction or dramatized accounts of real space flight missions (for example, the film Apollo 13) will probably enjoy these scenes. I even read somewhere that the animators increased the number of cels used in scenes involving zero gravity (which are a lot of scenes in Planetes) to increase the realism of the movement of characters and objects.

P7

Points to the reader who’s already figured out that Planetes is, in part, a love story. It’s pretty obvious from the first episode that Tanabe and Hachimaki are going to end up romantically involved, because they’re about the same age and they have a weird kind of love/hate thing going on for the first half of the series.

I usually don’t go for love stories because I’m an asshole who doesn’t believe in true love. The romance aspect of Planetes works, though, because it feels realistic and Tanabe and Hachimaki have believable character traits and flaws and a relationship that the series builds upon from the first episode until they end up hitting it off. It also doesn’t overpower the larger story. The romance plot of Planetes in that sense is the opposite of the one in Titanic, which both overpowered the larger story and was fakey and unbelievable. Seriously, watch it again. Jack and Rose are perfect characters with zero flaws who “fall in love” within one or two days of meeting each other. This is okay though because Rose’s fiancé is a two-dimensional rich shithead who only cares about money. Fuck you, James Cameron. Fuck you and your billions of dollars. You rich shithead.

This is way more what an actual relationship is like: screaming at each other from the very first episode.

This is way more what an actual relationship is like: screaming at each other from the very first episode.

Tanabe and Hachimaki are the most central characters in Planetes, but the series gives a lot of screen time to the other crew members of Half Section. Also present are Fee Carmichael, a chain-smoking, eternally stressed female pilot; Yuri Mikhailkov, a pilot who lost his wife to an accident caused by space debris; and the clerks and accountants of the office, who usually stay inside during cleanup operations but also play a part in the struggles of the department. Some of these characters are more comic relief than serious figures (for example, the office-bound department chief and his assistant, a divorced accountant from India with several children who is usually seeking out a way to pay his massive child support bill.)

Planetes also doesn’t focus exclusively on the positive aspects of space exploration. There’s a subplot that runs through most of the series about a terroristic resistance to humanity’s expansion into space – because it allegedly takes resources away from and ignores the needs of the third world. Planetes doesn’t condone such acts, and it definitely seems to lean towards the “space exploration/expansion is good” viewpoint, since its protagonists subscribe to that view. But the series does ask the question, and that’s significant in itself.

P8

Forget the fact that Planetes is an anime series. It is simply one of the best TV shows that I’ve ever seen. I do like Akagi and Kaiji better, but Planetes is really a completely different sort of series. Despite the fact that Planetes is mostly set in space, its characters and story are far more grounded than the insane gambles and superhuman feats featured in Fukumoto’s works. (By the way, here’s just another reason why the whole “anime as a genre” idea that seems to be so common is silly and nonsensical.)

Anime or not, I’d honestly recommend Planetes to most anyone. Unless they’re into Keeping Up With The Kardashians or that kind of shit. Then they probably won’t like it, I guess.

* I know this experience all too well, because I’m going through it right now.
** Planetes manga writer and creator Makoto Yukimura apparently had some fun with his protagonists’ names. The Ai in Ai Tanabe is written as 愛, meaning “love”, and Tanabe, as an optimist, believes in the power of love. Hoshino, Hachimaki’s last name, is written 星野, which as far as I can tell means “star-field”. That name makes sense for Hachimaki considering his goals.

Anime for people who hate anime: Welcome to the NHK!

nhk_01

I’ve consumed plenty of books, games, and shows that I’ve enjoyed. But only a few have really hit a nerve with me. Welcome to the NHK!, a novel-turned-anime series aired several years ago, is one of those few.

NHK is not, as I first thought, about a young journalist starting a new job at Japan’s biggest national news network. It is instead the story of a hikkikomori – roughly speaking a jobless, asocial shut-in. Tatsuhiro Satou is 22 years old and a college dropout. We soon learn the reason he left school. A powerful scene depicts Satou walking to college from his home, all the while imagining the thoughts of people he passes on the street: “Disgusting”, “what a loser”. Of course, these thoughts are purely in Satou’s head, but the anxiety they produce drive him to shut himself into his tiny apartment until he’s kicked out of school for non-attendance.

NHK satou

The first episode of NHK gives us a depressing look into Satou’s daily life. He sits inside all day, sometimes watching TV, eating and drinking, but mostly sleeping (16 hours a day, as Satou himself narrates.) He receives no visits from friends and effectively has no life outside his apartment. He ventures outside only to buy food and other necessities and to visit a nearby park at night, when no one else is around. Without a job, Satou relies on his parents for support, but conversations with his mother suggest that source of support is about to run dry. Satou knows very well that his life is going nowhere, but he feels powerless to stop his downhill slide. On the contrary, in the course of his isolation, Satou has started to imagine a nationwide conspiracy keeping him in his miserable state, blaming his problems on the Japan Hikkikomori Society (or NHK in Japanese. Hence the title of the series.)

One day, someone comes to his door. This surprise visitor is a sort of door-to-door religious missionary lady. Satou isn’t interested and tells her to go away (while simultaneously freaking out a bit at having to talk to another human being.) However, as she leaves, Satou notices the young woman helping her.

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Satou tries to put her out of his mind, but the very same young woman ends up dropping by later on to drop a message into his door’s mailbox asking him to meet with her at his regular park haunt that night. Satou has no idea what this girl might want with a shut-in loser like him, but he finally decides to go to the park after fighting with himself over it. As it turns out, this girl, Misaki, has a plan to “cure” Satou of his hikkikomori-ness and get him out into the world.

Satou reacts to this surprise pronouncement from this girl he barely knows in the same way most people would: “Who the hell is this person?” Regardless, Satou agrees to Misaki’s “program” and even signs a written contract to that effect.

Misaki and Satou.  The bizarre relationship between these characters drives the story of NHK.

Misaki and Satou. The bizarre relationship between these characters drives the story of NHK.

As the series proceeds, we watch Satou’s character change in serious and sometimes unpredictable ways. Satou’s progress isn’t always forward, either: he meets with some serious setbacks as well, with funny but also depressing results. He’s introduced to MMOs and spends hundreds of hours addicted to a game that is Final Fantasy XI but that the show can’t call that for legal reasons. He’s unwittingly drawn into a suicide pact and into a pyramid scheme, both by different former female classmates. He wastes a week of his life downloading hentai to the point that his hard drive is full. A lot of this action is moved along by Kaoru Yamazaki, Satou’s next-door college freshman neighbor and other former classmate, who fits the nerd stereotype perfectly (more specifically the otaku anime-loving nerd one.)

NHK manages to both be genuinely funny and emotionally affecting. Satou, Misaki, Yamazaki, and the other few secondary characters that show up are interesting and three-dimensional, and this helps the viewer care about them. Despite the wacky situations the characters sometimes find themselves in, nothing in the show really comes across as unnatural or forced. One of the best scenes in the show depicts Satou spying on Yamazaki’s meeting with one of his female classmates in the hall at their college. He’d formerly claimed to Satou that this classmate was his girlfriend, but after tailing Yamazaki to school, Satou discovers that Yamazaki was bending the truth: she’s no more than a casual acquaintance. Yamazaki continues to insist she’s his girlfriend, though not in a creepy or obsessive way – the viewer gets the impression that Yamazaki has a thing for this girl but simply can’t admit to himself that she’s not interested in his nerdy self. It’s funny and pathetic, and it’s also a feeling that I’m willing to bet you can relate to.

If don't you know what Yamazaki is talking about in this screenshot, that's a good thing.

If don’t you know what Yamazaki is talking about in this screenshot, that’s a good thing.

Despite a lot of its otaku trappings (trips to Akihabara to buy figures, a running plotline about Satou and Yamazaki creating a dating sim, Yamazaki’s pining after “2D girls”, etc.) NHK can also appeal to people living outside that weird circle of nerds (of which I’m sort of a part myself.) The reason NHK spoke to me was its theme of social anxiety and the devastating effects it has on people’s lives. I was never quite as bad as Satou – I never physically shut myself into my room or my apartment – but I did mentally and emotionally shut myself in, shoving away potential friends. Those feelings of despair and worthlessness that drive Satou at the beginning of NHK to sit inside every day and dog him throughout the show are all too real for countless people around the world. I’m not even sure they totally go away. Even now, as a more or less normal person (at least as far as public appearances are concerned) those poisonous thoughts nag at me occasionally. It’s hard to describe if you’ve never been in such a situation – as if you just missed out on some vital information on how to live life that everyone else in the world seems to have been born with. It’s a lonely, painful experience, and NHK addresses it in a meaningful way.

So that’s Welcome to the NHK! It’s a genuinely good series that I believe has appeal for viewers both in and outside of the “typical” anime-watching crowd. I should also note that NHK is based on a novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, a writer who I think must have experienced some of Satou’s travails, the story tells them in such a realistic way. I haven’t read the novel or the following manga series, but I understand they’re quite different from the anime in terms of where their stories lead.

Up at 3 am scrolling through hentai image sites: welcome to the NHK

Up at 3 am scrolling through hentai image sites: welcome to the NHK

What a way to start the new year. To everyone, but especially to those wrestling with social anxiety, insecurity, a lack of purpose, and all those inner demons that drive you to seek solitude, I wish you a happy one. Remember that, for better or worse, the future is unpredictable. Life is never worth giving up on, even though it might seem like there’s no light at all at the end of the tunnel – hell, I still feel that way sometimes. Satou might be a fictional character, but his story is a real one, and his final “recovery”, even though it’s not quite complete, is a part of that story too.