Notes before the new year

Nothing special today; I just have a few comments to make about where the site might be headed in the coming year.

I’ll likely keep mixing the post subjects up between anime, music, games, and whatever else I feel like writing about. This is what I’ve been doing anyway up until now, so no real difference here, but my time for games has nearly evaporated thanks to my work schedule, which is why it’s taken a backseat over 2022. Sadly, I don’t see that changing as long as I have to toil for a living. I might even shift a little more towards music, since I can listen to that while I do my more tedious work. This is how it is, you have to make do — my generation calls it “adulting”, which I hate as a term but understand and sympathize with as far as the feeling/concept it describes.

I have an idea for a novel. It’s the first idea I’ve come up with that I think isn’t total shit and could work in that format. No doubt it’s a derivative mess, with inspiration taken from several older sources, but that’s the story of art, isn’t it? I’m continuing to shift more of my free time over to my fiction, and my only real goal is to get something published in 2023. I already have a few stories that are in decent enough shape to get sent off and torn to shreds by an editor, assuming I’m lucky enough to not just get rejected by every journal on the planet. But if I luck out, I’ll let you know here. (Now I just have to find a suitable pseudonym — I don’t think they’ll let me use plain initials. What a pain.)

I’ve effectively given up on living a contented life considering the external pressures on me that I’ve written about enough already. I thought that might affect my writing in a negative way, but just the opposite considering all the ideas I’ve had lately. As some wise person said somewhere, comfort is not conducive to creativity, and if that’s true then I’m going to have a ton of creativity in the coming year and beyond. Whether I have the talent to justify said creativity isn’t for me to say — I may well be another Amanda McKittrick Ros or Norman Boutin without realizing it.

This feeling of “I’m trash and everyone else will know about it soon” is very relatable: screenshot related. More on that soon.

That’s it for now. No best ofs in anime or games or anything, not from me. There are some excellent bloggers around the communities here writing them, though, so check those out. I’m sorry I stopped writing those month-end posts with links — they were taking up a lot of time I haven’t had recently, since I normally obsess over them. I’d like to return to them, but again, my free time is ever more limited and my fiction is demanding more of it (cutting into sleep, too, but that’s okay: I’ve never slept very well. And I know, it’s going to decrease my life expectancy, but I’m not terribly concerned with that either at this point. My doctor really hates me.)

On that typically dark note, I hope you all have a happy New Year. See you in 2023.

Post #400, fantasy, and reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why AI content generators can’t kill art (part 2: the one that actually matters)

I have to admit this, even as a lawyer (or especially as a lawyer) and as commenters confirmed in the last post: the law is often designed to protect those with power, money, and influence. I stand by my analysis of the legal situation in the first part of this post series, but I also don’t have very much faith in a political system that’s structurally pretty sound but run largely by people who don’t give a damn about the ideals they spout. If Hell exists, there may well be a special area for such people to hang around in, but in the meantime we have to deal with their rot and near-open corruption.

Partly for that reason, I think the US legal framework regarding the use of AI “art” may change soon, almost certainly through legislation, after corporate interests realize they can save a lot of money by not paying humans to create real art for their intellectual properties. I don’t believe artists will ever be out of a job entirely, but with the right (read: wrong) amendments made to the Copyright Act, plenty can be effectively made destitute.

So it feels pointless going on about the law, even if that is my field. I will be following legal developments and pending cases like Thaler v. Perlmutter (which if you aren’t, check my last post for more on why you should) but today I want to shift to a few moral and ethical questions surrounding AI “art” generation that I’m less qualified to talk about but that I’m more interested in in some sense.

“Look how cool it looks, it’s real art! I spent 1.5 hours tweaking my prompts”

I was originally going to put up a post about something else today, but man if Twitter didn’t just step in as usual to piss me off enough to push this post up in the queue: clowns pretending that their AI-generated images they pieced together in a matter of dozens of minutes using word prompts are “real art.” I’ve already addressed my feelings about whether this stuff is art (it isn’t) but clearly some people disagree with me.

Once again, the above is impressive. One year ago, we weren’t seeing AI producing images with this much detail. That’s ignoring the fact that some elements of these images are still off and clearly not human-created even after the fine-tuning this guy says he did — people have brought up the still-uncanny aspects of these images like their eyes and certain aspects of anatomy AI still can’t seem to quite pin down like fingers, the finer parts of the human body. I won’t get into that myself because 1) I’m no visual artist and 2) I think it’s reasonable to believe at the rate AI is advancing that it will get these down pretty well soon.

But yet again, the technical quality of these images is beside the point. Is it right for society to accept such AI-generated works as legitimate? Their legal status certainly has something to do with that, especially approaching it from a profit motive, but societal acceptance of this kind is a broader issue.

Before you might think “does it matter?” consider how culturally frowned upon plagiarism is. If you’ve ever written a paper for a school assignment as the vast majority of us probably have, you’ve been warned about not copying work without properly quoting and attributing it. A paper, article, or hell, a blog post — any of these can be beautifully written, but if they’re products of plagiarism, they’re widely deemed totally worthless. Plagiarism is rightly recognized as theft.*

Now consider how these AI engines operate. I got into it briefly before, but my basic understanding is that these programs generate images using vast pools of art for reference, basing the results off of the word prompts they’re given by the user. So for example, if you feed a prompt akin to “victorian large breasted hot woman in a fancy dress” you might get the following or similar:

If AI thinks big tiddy is the be-all end-all of the female form it is totally uncultured, but then perhaps that’s a reflection of humanity? Not that I have a problem with that particular form, but if I say any more I’ll get sidetracked so never mind.

Setting aside technical qualities again (these feature a few of the uncanny quirks that I still think will likely be sorted out in the near future as the AI engines continue to improve) what are these pieces exactly? They’re mashups of human-created works. Of course, a “mashup” of this kind produced by a human is art as well — it’s not like the existence of influences in an artist’s work makes it not art. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine art totally uninfluenced by other art unless you have some kind of highly unethical “person locked in a cage without human contact” experiment going.

The difference here is the method and the degree of copying. People have pointed out that some of the most popular AI-produced images use the work of artists like Greg Rutkowski and others who never consented to their art being used to train these systems. It’s not that we’re guessing at this outcome — users are actually typing “in the style of Greg Rutkowski” or whoever else into their prompts, so there’s no doubt about the copying.

This leads to what I think is the heart of the issue. Certain people advancing this technology as actually creating art have been, as far as I can tell, taking just the same soulless, empty approach to the value of creative works as our friends peddling their NFT garbage. No surprise then that there’s a fair overlap between the two groups: they both seem to have a love of reducing all human creation to “wow this looks cool” and “can it be marketed and sold”, ignoring the meaning behind art, the feeling, the context, everything that actually makes it interesting as art. Going back to art I don’t even like, I’m far more interested in understanding what motivated Mark Rothko to paint his color field works — there was a man who clearly was not in it for the money, not when you read his thoughts on his work and about how he even refused sales of some of his art to luxury hotels because he didn’t want it used as mere decoration for wealthy diners, instead donating it to galleries for public viewing.

Well, we have no use for this way of thinking anymore, do we? It’s old-fashioned. AI images are cool, and you can easily create large-breasted women with them or whatever else you like in a matter of minutes. Never mind that you can do exactly the same with a copy of fucking Koikatsu, yet nobody is trying to convince society that scenes out of that game are art worthy to be hung in galleries. In fact, a typical Koikatsu or MikuMikuDance scene is generally speaking far more creative with far greater human input required, so I’d strongly argue for its legitimacy as art over this nonsense. Even if 99% of it is made for one purpose alone.

If you really want to know, look it up (in private.) And here’s a clue to my likely next post. The screenshot, I mean. I’m not writing a post about Koikatsu unless someone really wants me to do it, but I have no idea what I’d even say about it.

Yes, I do believe the technology is going to continue improving and that legal standards will likely change to the great detriment of artists and art. But I also believe that AI won’t kill art. There are plenty of forms of art so complex that they simply can’t be replicated** — imagine an advanced AI-produced game with all the moving parts necessary to making that work, or an animated series for the same reason. Or take a novel or even a short story: as far as AI story generators have also come in the last few years, they still can’t produce anything better than somewhat coherent but ultimately meandering and meaningless trash without heavy human editing.

The same is true of visual art. As closely as some of the best AI engines can ape human artists’ styles or replicate or produce images based on photos, that’s all they’re doing. There’s still no thought behind the base results, not before a human starts making those edits, and even then if the base result is meaningless, how much meaning can touching up give the work?

If you’ve read this site for a while, you know I’m absolutely not a romantic type. But I do believe in the power of emotion and passion when it’s poured into a work or an activity. I wouldn’t write about art here if I didn’t care about that. And despite the tech bros’ gleeful insistence that AI is overtaking the arts, I believe most people still feel the way I do.

If you need some proof, look at the world of chess — programs built just for the purpose of playing the game have advanced far beyond Deep Blue in the 90s and are now unquestionably far better at it than the greatest champion. But do people now watch championships of rival AIs pitted against each other? I’m sure some people do, but many more watch inferior human intellects playing chess. Why? Maybe because that human element makes the game more interesting. People still give a shit about who Magnus Carlsen is despite the fact that Stockfish 13 has a far higher ELO. That fact gives me some comfort.

Me, I’d like to see what Osaka would do at the chessboard.

I don’t have much more to say on this subject, but I’m happy to hear readers’ thoughts on it, especially since I’m certainly not an AI expert. I was in a comfortable area talking about copyright in that first post, but I’m outside my zone of expertise now, so I’m happy to be corrected on the details if it’s necessary.

 

* [EDIT] A note on derivative works here, since I don’t think I addressed this point very well — just because a work is derivative of another doesn’t make it not art, and it doesn’t make it bad, but even the derivative elements and how they’re treated need actual thought behind their creation that I believe doesn’t figure into these AI works. We can get into hair-splitting pretty easily at this point, and I’m sure courts probably will do that at some point with these AI works as they have in the past in other copyright cases.

** And if we ever get to this point, it’s very likely AI will be so advanced that it can’t be distinguished from humanity, in which case we’ve entered the territory of works like Time of Eve and Her where we have to start thinking about them as having self-awareness and being integrated in some sense into human society. I’m not even going to get into that here, but I’ll just note that possibility in the endnote down here so the future AI superbeings at least know I considered it.

The end of Blaugust, a few lessons, and a look forward

This Blaugust challenge month is finally over. It’s been an interesting time for me — before this month I can’t even remember whether I’d posted two posts on consecutive days since starting the blog nine years ago, and now I have a full 31 days of posts. I’m not writing this particular post to blow my own horn though, but rather to go through a few lessons I’m taking away from this challenge (whether these are reasonable lessons to take away, you can be the judge) and to think aloud about the future. Starting with the lessons:

1) I can’t maintain a daily posting schedule.

This might seem like a strange conclusion to draw from this challenge since I’m on the brink of fulfilling my goal, but now I know just how much it takes to keep up a daily schedule. I actually had some help this month: a few extremely sleepless nights combined with a restlessness that wouldn’t let me even lie down at 1 am. Nothing else to do but come up with post ideas. I should note that these just happened by chance — I’m not loading myself up with caffeine (not too much of it, at least) or other substances to keep me going, I just can’t sleep very much some nights.

Aside from that restlessness and intermittent semi-insomnia, I just dug up a lot of post ideas that I normally wouldn’t run with or that I’d combine into one large post. I know Google doesn’t care much for the 3,000+ word posts I’ve been writing more of lately, and while Google can go fuck itself as far as I’m concerned since I don’t care that much about view count, I can’t exactly write those on a daily basis. If I were trying to monetize I’d probably adjust along those lines, since shorter and more frequent posting seems like the way to go for view count purposes (a nice hint for those who are going for monetization.) But my job is my job, and I don’t plan on getting a cent for my writing, not since I basically quit freelancing. In any case, I’ll be returning to a roughly weekly schedule in September, but it’s nice to know I can pull this daily schedule off on occasion at least, and I have a new respect for those who can hack it every day.

2) I can’t stop writing.

I already knew this, but this month just reinforced it. Writing is really the only thing I do that I both enjoy and am any good at at all. It also has a therapeutic effect on me. It might not be a coincidence that I started thinking about living an actual healthy not-killing-myself-slowly life in 2019, the same year I got serious about writing here and started connecting with other bloggers in the same spheres. I tried to take a break once a while back because of mental health sorts of concerns, but I ended up right back here a couple of weeks later.

That’s not to say a hiatus isn’t necessary for anyone to ever take. I’ve known bloggers who have taken them and returned after a month or two or even longer refreshed. People deal with their issues in various ways, and stepping away for a while might be yours. And stepping away from social media sure as hell can be a good idea too, and I’ll include myself in that. Scrolling on Twitter can exhaust the soul.

3) Online writing is still alive and well.

I also already knew this one, but hell if some people online don’t love to talk about how blogging is dead. Sure, podcasts have risen massively in popularity over the last decade — I’m a regular listener of a few history podcasts myself. The same is true of YouTube and streaming. But people aren’t done with reading, and I don’t believe they ever will be. Especially when Google still rules the Earth and directs users to our posts (assuming we’re lucky enough to have those posts on page 1 for the relevant search terms. I need to brush up on the SEO when I have some time.)

That’s about it. I’m not taking anything profound away from this month; I just had a good time with it and was happy to see other writers taking part. Maybe I’ll even do it again next year if I can scrape up 31 more post ideas like I miraculously did this month.

As for the rest of the year and beyond, I’ll be continuing with the pretty strong focus on anime. I’ve completed a few series that I still have to collect my thoughts about, and I have a few more I’m now watching and still more on that long backlog to get through. I also have plenty of games to dig through in the backlog, mostly on the shorter side. Games I actually have a hope of completing this year in other words.

I’m going to have a massive amount of work over the next four months, but I won’t stop writing here — my pace might slow a bit at times, but that’s all. For now, there’s nothing else to say except compliments to my fellow writers, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to follow me.

Is self-deprecation a bad thing?

A blunt, straightforward question today, and one that might relate to me just a little.

A while back on Twitter, some kind of therapist or life coach or something was being piled on by a bunch of other users because of his continued insistence that self-deprecation is always, in any context, harmful and therefore shouldn’t be used. I’d link to the thread, but I didn’t save any of it and don’t remember where it is. That doesn’t matter much to me anyway, since it’s not this Twitter dogpile (those happen every day after all) but rather the argument itself that’s interesting. Was his argument against self-deprecation in every context right? Or if it was wrong, just how wrong was it?

It won’t surprise anyone when I say that I basically disagreed with this guy. His argument was so broad and sweeping, ignoring all the nuance of what’s definitely a nuanced subject, that it all came off as simplistic and even infantile. I think that had to be part of the reason for the pile-on: the insistence that no person should ever speak poorly of themselves, even in a joking way, because it harms the self-esteem just seems ridiculous. While I understand the basic idea of trying to be kind to yourself, this other sort of attitude is just too much for me and for a lot of other people apparently to take seriously.

But after thinking about it, there’s at least something to that argument. Not in the form this guy presented it in, but again in a more nuanced form. I think self-deprecation can be useful and even healthy in some cases. It makes for great humor when used the right way, and it can demonstrate humility, an important point since it’s possible to have too high self-esteem as well as too low (a problem that isn’t talked about often enough at least here in America, where confidence seems so often to be valued over knowledge and skill — I believe part of why our political culture is in the fucking toilet, but that’s a different issue.)

That said, I’ll acknowledge there’s a line where healthy self-deprecation can become unhealthy, and it’s one I might have crossed here on the site more than once. When I make jokes putting myself down here, I’m usually only half-joking, because there’s some actual feeling behind those comments. The trouble for me is that every time I hear about self-love, and even about “self-care”, I feel a little sick over it. Maybe I should love myself, but I think I know myself too well to do that.

SZS still has the best screenshots, and in my case some of the most fitting.

I think I’ve gotten better over the years about that kind of behavior and even about how I feel about myself. I really used to hate myself — probably part of what drove my physically and emotionally unhealthy habits like excessive drinking. I don’t think I hate myself anymore, but I certainly can’t say I love myself either. Maybe I can just barely tolerate myself at this point. At least that’s better than where I was before, but I guess it’s still not that great.

The trouble is that I don’t think I can get much further past this point, and I believe a lot of this is related to my situation. I saw a quote from a famous author, I forget which one, but it went something like: “if you don’t like your situation, change it; if you can’t do that, change your mindset.” Fine, then what if you can’t change your mindset either? If I were a different person, I could be happy with myself, but I can’t be anyone else. And that’s not even self-deprecation: it’s just the truth. I’ve been pounding my square peg into that round hole for years now because I simply have no other choice; telling me on top of that that I should try to be happy about it is unreasonable.

In any case, I don’t think not using self-deprecating humor (if you can really call it humor) is going to actually help with this, since I don’t believe too much in the power of either positive or negative reinforcement, or at least not to the extent some people do.

Then again, I also think the much-beloved self-help parable Who Moved My Cheese? is bullshit, so maybe my opinion doesn’t count for much.* I’d really be a great anti-motivational speaker, I think. How about it? Hire me for a thousand dollars an hour at your corporate retreat and I’ll have all your drones completely demotivated and depressed by the end of it.

 

* The short version: the advice in the book is decent and practical taken in a vacuum, but the book itself was used too often to wave away corporate callousness that affected us regular employees. Because downsizing might sometimes be necessary, but it can also be a fun opportunity for change! For example, you can take that opportunity to leave the corporate world and stop being miserable… except you can’t because you have a mortgage and auto and student loan and credit card payments to make. Forget about who moved your cheese — who wrecked your entire life?

Damn but I’m not having a good day today. I’ll see you tomorrow with something happier.

Sure I guess I’ll try it: Blaugust 2022

Just today I was introduced to a blog, not a new one, but new to me: Tales of the Aggronaut. The author Belghast (who I guess made that nice Stranger Things-looking logo above) is running an interesting challenge: try to post once a day for all 31 days of August. Somehow this challenge has been going several years without me knowing about it, but a couple of other blogs I know and enjoy around these parts like Frostilyte are taking part and I just took notice.

Well, at first I thought “shit, I don’t have time for this.” Certainly posting every day isn’t an absolute requirement, but my obsessive-compulsiveness would force me to do so if I take part because that’s an issue in my life I simply never bothered to address.

absolute pain

But then I thought all the more reason to try this out. I’ve been trying to write more fiction lately, and one of the rules with fiction is just to break through that “writer’s block” and write. I can appreciate that these days, and so maybe trying out a more unfiltered approach for a month will help me out in the fiction area too. My views have been flagging a bit lately too, so maybe this can stir up more traffic. Not that I especially care about my view count — quality over quantity I say, and it’s not like I’m getting paid per click anyway, but I still like to know I’m reaching a nice slice of the internet even if that slice is incredibly small relatively speaking, so thin that Chiri up there couldn’t cut it.

Maybe none of that will actually work, but even so I’ll be posting every day this month if only to join a bunch of fellow independent bloggers with the noble goal of promoting and keeping this medium alive. Most of these posts will naturally be pretty short, maybe even very short, but I’ll always try to make each post substantive. Even if it’s just “here’s a song I like”, which I can already guarantee is going to be at least a quarter of these posts.

But I’ll be mixing things up a lot too. Maybe you can expect some posts with bullshit philosophizing or something about law one day. Or something about a new VTuber I found, or just whatever the hell I feel like. I’ll try to always stick to the general theme of the site, of course — it already has a pretty broad scope (anime/games/music/general entertainment/law/politics/bullshit???) so that shouldn’t be hard.

Can bloggers achieve world peace? No, but maybe we can make the world a little less unbearable

Finally, don’t go thinking this means I won’t be posting a few exceedingly long posts this month, because I still plan on probably doing that once I get around to the usual reviews etc. They just won’t be as long as that Made in Abyss review I just put up. Not unless I really go on a caffeinated sleepless night writing binge for several hours, which happens sometimes. I should note that Belghast has also suggested some theme weeks within the month for particular posts, but I won’t be doing that myself. Some nice ideas there if you want to take part too, though.

Enough bullshit: on with the show. I have no idea what’s coming up tomorrow, but there will be something. So until then!

Listening/reading log #31 (June 2022)

I originally had something depressing written in this first line, but we don’t need any more of that right now, so I changed it. Chalk it up to my temperamental nature.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the music and the posts from around the community as usual. On the bright side, the proper album reviews are finally back, so if you liked those then that should be good news. And hey, happy Bastille Day to all my French readers too.

Mellow Dream (Ryo Fukui, 1977)

Highlights: Mellow Dream, Horizon, Early Summer

Starting with something truly mellow, just like the title says. Ryo Fukui was an excellent jazz pianist who put out a lot of albums I hadn’t heard until recently even though YouTube kept recommending his 1976 album Scenery to me. So for some reason I decided to start with Mellow Dream from the following year, maybe because I liked the bird on the cover.

So far all the Japanese jazz I’ve featured in these posts has been mostly the fusion kind, but Mellow Dream sounds a lot more like the older modal style, the kind you can hear on older classics by Miles Davis and John Coltrane and similar legendary jazz guys from back in the 50s and early 60s. It’s a bit hard for me to write about this stuff — I don’t love everything I’ve heard in this more traditional jazz style, but I do really like some of it depending partly on which instruments are more prominent in the mix. Prominent piano is a huge plus, so Mellow Dream worked for me. I’m a big fan of the piano/bass/drums combo, especially in faster-paced pieces like the title track and “Horizon”. “Early Summer” is also impressive, according to the liner notes an addition to a re-release of the album from a live performance at Fukui’s Sapporo club in 2006.

So if you like jazz, you can’t go wrong with Mellow Dream. Maybe you don’t need me to tell you — all the huge jazz fans probably know the guy well already anyway, and it’s not like I know what the hell to say about these pieces except that I like them. For some reason I find more to say about fusion. Maybe that’s why I’ve featured those albums a lot more? But this makes for excellent listening too, especially if you need some relaxation, and God knows plenty of us do these days.

NEWS AT 11 (猫 シ Corp., 2016)

Highlights: No idea, but I guess that’s not the point anyway.

And concluding with an album that isn’t so relaxing, or might not be depending on who you are. NEWS AT 11 is another sort of vapor/post-vaporwave/post-whatever album I found recommended on Bandcamp, like the dark ambient album TOWERS I checked out a while back. Produced by a Dutch musician working under the name 猫 シ Corp. (Nekoshi Corp.? I’ve seen it written as “Cat Corp.” too, which makes sense, so I’ll just use that from here on) NEWS AT 11 was very deliberately put out on September 11, 2016 — it seems to be a nostalgic look back to the period before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that shook not just America but the entire world.

The album achieves this effect by interspersing a lot of light/smooth weather report jazz and mall muzak with old ad spots with actual news report audio excerpts from the morning of September 11. But none of these excerpts deal with the attacks themselves as you might expect: they’re instead taken from the early morning reports before the attacks occurred and started getting coverage, with the very last clip ending just before the sudden cutaway to the breaking story.

The first half of NEWS AT 11 was an interesting listen. Its nostalgic effect, if you want to call it nostalgia, pretty much worked for me. I’d just started high school and was a few weeks into classes before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the subsequent “War on Terror” they sparked. So while I was still basically a kid without much in the way of adult concerns in that pre-9/11 world, I remember that world well. Both the news report and mall smooth jazz/muzak stuff sounds extremely familiar to me — not that I actually recognize any of the tunes, but the style is burned into my memory. Even the news clips take me back to those middle/high school days, most of them taken from NBC’s The Today Show that was usually on in the kitchen early in the morning before I had to leave for school. And the fact that these were all taken from that early morning of September 11, just hours and even minutes before that old world was shattered, adds a lot of meaning to the use of those clips (and even more so the fact that The Today Show was filmed live in Manhattan not far from the Trade Center.)

All that said, this nostalgic effect obviously won’t work for everyone. Hearing NEWS AT 11 takes me back to that childhood, growing up as a kid in America in the 90s, when the future seemed bright and people seemed generally optimistic and before that illusion was put to an end. Someone who didn’t grow up in that world likely won’t get as much from this album, though. I don’t know if there’s a lot of musical value independent of that either — I wouldn’t seek out any of the smooth jazz or muzak that NEWS AT 11 samples outside of this context, since I don’t actually like it much and never listened to it by choice to begin with. Now that I think of it, the same is also true for The Today Show.

I also don’t get at all why Cat Corp. filled the second half of his album with those “Weather Channel 1 – 11” tracks, which really do just sound like distorted excerpts from old Weather Channel reports and their accompanying smooth jazz soundtracks. These are claimed on the Bandcamp page to be “from a lost and found VHS”, though if that’s true then why someone was taping old Local on the 8s broadcasts for posterity is beyond me. A few like tracks 4, 6, and 8 on this side get into funky grooves that weren’t bad while they were on, but that’s about it (and 6 is sampled from Kenny G — shocked that he could make something I could tolerate for three minutes considering what else I’ve heard of his, but I’ll give out credit where it’s due. He wrote a halfway decent Persona shop theme! Though he still can’t come close to beating Shoji Meguro at that.) But how do these tracks fit the theme? I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me in the comments if I’m missing something. (edit: I’ve seen it suggested that this part represents someone trying to block out the horrific news by switching to the Weather Channel that day. Maybe staying in bed and closing the blinds/curtains too. That angle makes sense to me if that’s what was intended by it.)

I think NEWS AT 11 mostly works as intended, anyway. Try it out, but keep in mind it’s more of a collage than a traditional album and that it indirectly deals with heavy and serious matters that might weigh on you depending.

I didn’t expect to write that much about NEWS AT 11, but it really did bring up some dormant memories in me and I ended up pouring them all out. Sorry about that. On to the featured articles:

Pokémon Sun and Moon (Extra Life) — Red Metal has a look at two classic Pokémon titles. Which I haven’t played, because I haven’t really played Pokémon at all despite it being practically required playing in my age group/general fan area. No, I don’t get it either, but I can still appreciate Red Metal’s review and you should too.

Thoughts on the Obi-Wan Kenobi series (WCRobinsion) — Just what the title says. I didn’t watch Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I’ve heard it was more interesting than the typical Star Wars fare we’ve come to expect in recent years. See WCRobinson’s look back at the full series for the details.

SPY x FAMILY Episode 12 Review – Best In Show (Crow’s World of Anime) – Crow concludes his episode-by-episode look at the big hit anime Spy x Family. I tried doing this sort of thing once three years ago and it almost killed me, so I respect bloggers who can go season to season and episode by episode like this. And Spy x Family is well worth that treatment.

Final Fantasy VII Remake – Episode INTERmission Review (Honest Gamer) — I’ll keep doing penance for probably unfairly dumping on the concept of an FF7 remake years ago. Not by playing it myself, because I don’t have the time to spare considering the other things I’d rather watch/play anyway, but by linking Stephen’s review of an extra add-on story to the game featuring Yuffie. I still remember her stealing my materia in the original game and chasing her down, but I did forgive her and ended up using her a lot in my party. I liked her at the time, and maybe you do too, so check out Stephen’s site for more information on this extra episode.

My Dress-Up Darling: Whole-series Review and a Full Recommendation (The Infinite Zenith) — If I didn’t convince you to watch this anime, maybe Infinite Zenith will with this more in-depth review.

Rogue Legacy 2 Review – Stuck in the Past (Frostilyte Writes) — Is Rogue Legacy 2 worth your time and effort if you’re a roguelike fan? The title of the post might give you a general idea of what to expect, but read Frostilyte’s review to find out about the sequel’s positives and negatives.

My Top 3 Ghibli Movies (They aren’t Miyazaki Films) (Dopey Likes Anime) — A look at three great anime films by Ghibli not directed by best-known Ghibli guy Hayao Miyazaki. These films deserve plenty of attention too, so be sure to check out Dopey’s post if you have an interest.

What I want from Atlus, as someone who has spent 70% of the past 4 years thinking about Persona 5 (Eleanor Rees Gaming) — Eleanor has written in great depth about Persona 5 for a while, so she has some interesting thoughts about what we might reasonably expect and what we should hope from Atlus in the future regarding the series.

Why draw anime girls when AI can do it for you? (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — I find AI-generated images to be interesting but also sometimes terrifying thanks to the extreme uncanny effect they can produce. It’s somewhat easier to take in anime form since anime art is already stylized, and thankfully Yomu has covered some interesting AI tools to make your own waifu or hypothetical series complete with art.

Madoka Brings Back the Anime Demographic Question (I drink and watch anime) — Irina has a look at how manga and anime are classified with a special focus on the unusual overlap between shoujo and seinen (series made for girls and young men respectively) in series like Madoka Magica. Yuru Camp, Bisque Doll, and even Akebi’s Sailor Uniform that I’ve recently reviewed are all classified as seinen too, which you might find surprising. But maybe these series and their audiences aren’t always so well defined? I’m not the expert in this area, so be sure to read Irina’s post.

Vitamin C: Can Song is a Bopping, Shuffling Ode to Fruit & Veg (Professional Moron) — We listen to Can in this household. That’s to say I do, so I appreciate Mr. Wapojif’s post on their classic song “Vitamin C” from one of my favorite albums Ege Bamyasi (which I’ve featured in an earlier listening/reading log post, though I don’t remember which one.) And thanks to Damo Suzuki for warning me to get my vitamin C, or else. Or else what? It’s hard to say.

Why You Should Become a (Anime) Blogger (Side of Fiction) — Finally, Friendly Overlord Jacob gives the reader some excellent reasons for getting into anime blogging themselves. I can relate to these reasons myself, and maybe you can too.

And that’s it for last month. As for me, I’m going to be crushed by work for the next six months. I know this already. Even so, I’ll keep posting on the site on a regular basis because I’ve found that going for more than a week or two at most without writing something causes me to lose my mind. Most of all, this is why I write: to maintain my sanity.

But hopefully you can get something out of it too. I have a couple of games to cover this/next month along with plenty of anime, all from the backlog. There’s been more of a lean towards anime here just as I thought there would be if only because that’s something I can actually take part in without having to spend whole blocks of hours that I often can’t spare. I don’t see this situation ever getting better for me considering where I’m headed, but life is all about adaptation, right? And there’s plenty of anime to talk about anyway.

But as always, I’ll do my best to keep the subjects mixed up here at least slightly. At least I can commit to picking up on these monthly album reviews again. Until next time.

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!

Tales from the rabbit hole: Two years in VTuber Hell

What a disaster. The last two years locked down, what do I have to show for them? A lot of working, yeah. A lot of hours billed, hours of my life lost to some of the dullest legal work imaginable, work that only a select few are detached and disassociated enough to be able to put up with.

However, not all my hours have been spent pouring through documents. Some have been spent playing video games and watching anime. And yes, some have been spent actually outside recently, sometimes even touching grass as the kids say. But some have been spent in exactly the opposite way as going outside and being social: watching VTubers. Since I first wrote about the VTuber craze a year and a half ago, it’s become a little less of a “craze” and more of an established part of the landscape of entertainment in the West. Though certainly still a niche part — I’m not going to argue that VTubers have broken into general public consciousness into the same field as network TV or popular streaming series, and very likely they never will aside from that one second Gawr Gura got in the background of a Taco Bell ad last year.

Thankfully, we’re not concerned with the mainstream here on the site. So much the better that VTubing occupies a niche, even if it is a pretty damn large one now with the aforementioned Gura having nearly four million subscribers as of this writing. By contrast, there are videos on YouTube with over a billion views, and I’m willing to bet many more people know about The Big Bang Theory or some shitty laugh-tracked TV show like that than about Gura or any of the other most-watched livers out there. No, VTuber fandom goes far deeper and at times gets far darker than that. People call this hobby “the rabbit hole” for more than one reason, and again not just because of Usada Pekora’s insidious influence on our minds.

For a normal, well-adjusted person, it would be enough to just accept this as a part of their life and move on, or better still to quit and do something productive instead. But of course I’m anything but normal and well-adjusted. And so just as with my year in Azur Lane, I had to over-analyze and write a collegiate thesis on the time I’ve spent and in this case continue to spend in a hobby that would make most people look at me sideways. This time I’m asking myself a simple question, though one I’m not sure I can entirely answer:

Why do I watch VTubers (i.e. what do I get out of this time sink?)

To at least start answering this question, I’d like to take a look at three of my favorite VTubers — three who I’d always watch live, assuming I had the time (which I usually don’t. Again, winning the lottery would help out with my god damn hobbies.)

Usada Pekora

I wrote about her back in that first post in 2020, and I’ve stuck with Pekora since. Unlike the two talents following, she’s not known for her singing, and she doesn’t have any of the other “traditional idol” talents that I know of. Some might consider that a weakness — Hololive’s connection with the Japanese idol tradition is a bit of a joke, though not a total joke considering how traditionally talented some of their streamers are.

But VTubers don’t really need such talents as long as they’re entertaining, and Pekora is so entertaining to me that I can watch a full stream of hers easily even though she barely speaks English and I know about one-fifth of the Japanese language judging by how much I can understand. Full fluency isn’t necessary to pick up on context when you’re watching someone play Portal, anyway, especially when that someone has such excellent comedic timing. Sorry to call you a comedian, Pekora, but that’s what you are and you’re one of the best in my book. Right up there with George Carlin and Mitch Hedberg, sure. And Lewis Black, who I think she can match in sheer anger and salt when she feels like it (and headphones/sound warning on that last clip, related.)

Nekomata Okayu

As much as I love Pekora’s antics, sometimes cute rabbit girl freaking out isn’t quite the vibe I’m going for. For relaxation, I’ll go instead to another one of my favorites, Okayu. This catgirl is usually calm, laidback, and has a voice like silk. She puts out a lot of great cover songs like this take on Gehenna, a nice jazzy one that suits her voice and style (and speaking of, I’d love to hear her take on Shiina Ringo someday.) But she’s perhaps best known for her approach to ASMR, which I can understand: in fact hers is the only sort I’ve ever heard that works on me in the way I’ve heard real ASMR fans talk about.

However, Okayu’s also nice to watch playing a game — though she takes on action games, I’ve really liked her streams like the above, where she tries out Universe Sandbox and proceeds to destroy the Earth several times over (and there’s a clip with subs linked if that helps.) Like Pekora, Okayu doesn’t speak much English, but it hardly matters to me — I can understand enough now to get by on context well enough at least in a game playthrough, and I haven’t seen any other VTuber who can quite create the atmosphere she does.

Pomu Rainpuff

The VTuber landscape has changed a lot since 2020, in part because Hololive no longer has a corner on English-speaking VTubers. Rival agency Nijisanji has made a lot of progress in the overseas market since, especially with its introduction of male VTubers (who I admit I didn’t think there was much of a market for, until I was proven extremely wrong by the success of its fourth EN wave.)

Nijisanji is home to a lot of excellent talents, along with my now confirmed favorite Pomu — my oshi in the Japanese idol lingo that’s been picked up by VTuber watchers. Pomu passed me by for a few months when she started streaming last year, but eventually I noticed her and found she’s a fine singer with a love of Touhou and a lot of the similar weirdo niche anime/game-related stuff I also like (doubly related: hear her cover of Eiko Shimamiya’s cover/adaptation of ZUN’s original “Septette for the Dead Princess”, The Heat of My Fingertips, featured in Touhou Lost Word. Great stuff, and certainly a dream for any Touhou fan to achieve.)

None of that would matter if she weren’t entertaining to watch, but she’s got that down as well — Pomu is probably one of the only people on Earth I’d actually watch play Minecraft, which would normally bore me to tears. She also has a bit of a sharp edge that’s fun to see when it comes out. (And it also helps that I can understand 100% of what she says.)

In addition to the above VTubers, there are some I’m happy to drop in on if I have the time free, most of them also in Nijisanji EN (have I shilled enough for them now? This is practically an unpaid sponsorship at this point. But who else has given us anything close to Enna Alouette’s Higurashi concert?) But I think Pekora, Okayu, and Pomu collectively have pretty much all the qualities I find entertaining.

And regarding that entertainment value, that variety show comparison I made in my first post still holds true, now even more than it did when I first made it since the lineup of visible English-speaking VTubers has increased so much since. In addition to Hololive, VShojo, and Nijisanji, there are at least a dozen and probably more other agencies with far smaller subscriber and viewer bases but with no less talented and entertaining streamers. I’ve dropped in on some Prism Project streams, and the difference in feel because of this smaller fanbase is really interesting. Watching someone like Gura with tens of thousands of viewers feels like watching a show in a stadium, while watching a typical Nijisanji EN stream with several hundred to a few thousand might feel more like being in a large theater — if so, then being in a smaller agency stream is like being in a small underground club with dozens or maybe a hundred or two other spectators, with a much more intimate and personal feeling among fans and even between fans and the talent. Maybe too intimate in some cases.

The variety show/stage performance comparison doesn’t fit perfectly, though, because unlike such shows, these streams aren’t scripted. A streamer might generally know what she wants to talk about, but both the elements of chance occurrences especially during gameplay and interaction with chat members make streams far more dynamic and interesting than most skit-based productions. Combine this with the length of some of these streams at three, four, even five hours and longer — the fact that these virtual streamers can maintain energy and be entertaining for that long is extremely impressive.

You can say the same about plenty of normal streamers, but there’s another aspect of VTubing that might seem superficial at first but that I think is actually extremely important: the avatar. Aside from the obvious appeal of being able to watch and in some sense interact with a cute anime girl or guy, the VTuber rig adds that fantastic element, especially when the character on the other side of the screen is a rabbit or catgirl or fairy, or any number of other more otherworldly beings. I’ve already written about this element of VTubing a bit, along with the related question of where the VTuber’s “character” ends and where the actual performer behind the rig begins. But I think it’s become clear over the last few years that viewers really fall in love with these characters, and usually without regard for how said characters might relate to their performers.

Pekora’s original character sheet by designer Yuuki Hagure. Note her dual set of human and rabbit ears. Artists who design animal-eared girls seem to have given up on caring about this, which is honestly fine with me.

In general, I’ve seen a lot of positivity and common sense, for lack of a better term, out of VTuber fan groups. But I don’t want to paint an entirely rosy picture for you, because that would be dishonest. Plenty of drama has been stirred up in these circles, some of it pretty harmless but some of which has resulted in serious consequences including harassment, doxxing, and even termination. For a famous example, see Mano Aloe, a demon girl Vtuber who ended up driven out of Hololive after barely a week on the job. Depending on the situation, tenure doesn’t matter, as in the case of Uruha Rushia, an extremely successful Hololive talent who ended up not just “graduated” (i.e. moving on to a different group or a different field of work, another borrowing from idol language) but outright terminated for an alleged contract violation following a complete mess of drama and agony around a potential relationship. Other streamers who have held onto their jobs still suffered through harassment, sometimes driven by weird infighting between factions, one of the most famous of these involving international politics and a supposed implicit recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty. If you’re new to this sphere you might think that’s just a joke, and I wish I were.

I’ve seen it argued over just how much the VTubing/idol connection influences some of this sort of drama-stirring, especially in cases of fanbase infighting and relationship drama. I don’t know anything about and honestly have no interest in idols, so I leave that debate to those are qualified to get into it. Some fans seem to have gotten a distaste for Hololive in general, which I can understand especially following the Rushia incident and its fallout — I don’t know about its main branch, but the EN branch of Nijisanji by contrast (and presumably the western agency VShojo, maybe even more so) seems more permissive with its talents, not even going for that sort of half-joking “we’re idols” theme you get with Hololive. But then Nijisanji’s not immune from this sort of drama either.

So you see, my reference to VTuber Hell wasn’t entirely meant to apply to my own experience as a fan. While some people envy these streamers, especially those who rake in a lot of love from fans and donation money, VTubing also seems like a potentially extremely stressful job to hold, especially if you’re part of a large agency. The pressure to perform and to constantly be “on” has to be massive. The parasocial relationships that sometimes form in these fanbases can also be dangerous, driving some of this sort of harassment from both primarily male and female fanbases in the cases of Rushia and Vox respectively.1 This hobby isn’t especially conducive to getting out of the house, even if some VTubers do encourage their fans to get out there and lead healthy and happy lives away from their computer screens.

Approaching this drama from the fan perspective (and maybe I should say “casual fan”, since I can’t be anything else) this sort of fervor can scare newcomers away and even potentially put off viewers who have been around for a while. I still believe at least 90 or 95% of fans are positive, supportive, and have healthy senses of perspective towards their hobby and their oshis and all that from reading comments and seeing chats, but we’ve seen over and over how an unreasonable and extremely vocal minority can spoil a good thing. It’s good that they seem to be in such a minority, anyway, since you can’t exactly “ignore the fanbase” in the same way you might with notoriously weird ones surrounding otherwise good games and franchises (say Undertale or Sonic the Hedgehog, and at this point I’d better throw Persona in there.) Fan interaction is part of what makes VTubing a unique form of entertainment, for better or worse — far more often I think for better, but not always, as we’ve seen.

I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand the whole parasocial relationship thing, because I really do. In addition to the extra social isolation we’ve gone through over the last two years, some VTubers just seem to attract fans who aren’t the most social types anyway. Like me, I’ll admit. Well, it’s not exactly admitting it now if I’ve been saying it on this blog for almost nine years. Listening to certain streams I enjoy like Okayu’s ASMR work for example, where she’s right up in your ear — combine that with the video thumbnails she uses and the intended effect is pretty obvious, and even more so in the case of an almost explicitly spicy streamer like Yuzuki Choco. It feels to me like taking a soothing sort of drug: probably fine in a certain dose, but it’s entirely possible to take too much of it and end up dealing with some problems.2

The scenario in Needy Streamer Overload was purposely a little exaggerated, but not as much as you might think.

Despite these problems, I still think the massive VTuber wave we’ve seen over the last two years has been on balance a positive. I naturally can’t speak for other people’s experiences, but I’m sure it helped me out while I was in isolation in those early periods of COVID when I started binging on those translated clips of Korone and Miko, not realizing the rabbit hole I was being dragged into. It might have even had a greater impact on my health and lifestyle in general. I’ve been stressed over the last two years, but a lot of that stress has come from my attempts to improve my life despite my desire to just give up, dig an actual hole, and jump into it. This seems like an old cliché, and some people might even consider it embarrassing to admit, but fuck that: watching these girls do their absolute best might have motivated me to do my best in life as well. It’s impossible for me to say whether or how much of an effect it’s had on me, but the fact that I’ve been able to quit drinking for the last two and a half years now might be related, at least partly.

Maybe it’s weird to say strangers on the internet, people who don’t even know who I am and who I also don’t know and never will know on a personal level, motivated me in that way. No doubt my own family and friends, and even fellow bloggers here on WordPress I talk with sometimes, have a more immediate impact on my life. But I can’t rule out the possibility that this hobby helped out with my efforts, even if that was never really the intention. Yeah, these agencies are formed to make money and sell products, but if that were all there was to the VTuber phenomenon, I believe it would have died off pretty quickly. There’s plenty of bullshit trash mass media out there, but without true passion and hard work, I don’t think you’ll find fanbases that drill down quite as deep as the VTuber ones do.

Again, for better or worse — it’s easy to get lost in this rabbit hole. But like I wrote back in 2020, there’s still plenty of room in here, and even more now than there used to be. At the very least, go check out Hyakumantenbara Salome and see why she’s so great. You won’t regret it. Probably.

 

1 I should probably say minorities in both cases, because once again the majority of fans always seems to be reasonable and supportive.

2 This is admittedly a complex issue, and one that I’m not qualified to talk about in too much depth because I’m not an expert in psychology or sociology. Then again, neither are a few of the prominent “influencers” who back in 2020 showed up to criticize VTubing on grounds that were shaky at best, and without any support other than “well, I think it’s weird and the fans are weird and I don’t like this”, with some truly piss-poor attempts to dress up these complaints in more legitimate clothing. These drama-stirring types moved on pretty quickly after getting their undeserved attention, however. Not a bad business model if you’re just going for clicks, I guess, without regard to impartiality or integrity or anything silly like that. I won’t link any of that trash, but it’s easy enough to find through a YouTube search if you’re really curious about it.

To be fair, however, there are also sensationalist “pro-VTuber” types on YouTube who feed off of usually bullshit nothing sorts of “drama” for clicks. You can sometimes tell these types by their thumbnails. One video maker who doesn’t fall into that pit is Depressed Nousagi: I linked a couple of his videos above because he’s an actually impartial guy who does research and puts together interesting and informative videos on VTuber history, as far back as that goes, anyway. And I have to support a fellow depressed nousagi, don’t I? (Edit: Never mind. No idea what the fuck that guy was thinking. His old videos are still good, but if those links end up broken later you know why.)

If you’re interested in VTubers, be sure to also follow The Unlit Cigarette here on WordPress. She has a fascinating and indepth ongoing series on VTubers with a special focus on Nijisanji EN, which I naturally appreciate. And she’s a fellow Pomu fan too. Please check her work out if that grabs your interest!

A change in my situation

Hey, sorry for the possibly alarming post title. This probably isn’t a huge deal, and most likely wouldn’t even give it any thought, but I felt I should comment on the future of this site. I don’t plan on quitting or anything like that — I have no plans at all to quit writing, at least not until I die or become otherwise incapacitated, the timing of which is kind of out of my hands. But things are complicated right now.

When I started writing here, I was still a student. My “workload” then (or study load I guess?) was massive, but that was all I had to worry about at the time, and I spent a lot of my time off unwinding with PC/video games. So naturally games were most of what I wrote about at the time, and up until a couple of years ago.

Today, however, in addition to my actual workload (which I thankfully now get paid to perform, though not fucking enough) I have other concerns to deal with — personal and family, really, and though I’m still single the gears are turning with family and friends and that might not be the case much longer, and who knows how my life will end up changing if/when I have my own family planned out. All this means that I have to bust ass at work even more than I am currently in order to make more money — not out of greed, but simply out of necessity. If it were just me and no one else, I could happily live on instant ramen and coffee in a studio apartment. But it’s not just me, for better or worse.

life

Despite my usually bitter attitude, I can’t say I’m completely dreading this future. I chose it for myself, and I have to accept that responsibility. The alternative was to be an irresponsible shithead (and that’s not to say that everyone who chooses a kind of minimalist or “artist” or whatever lifestyle is that — if you can pull it off bless you. But in my own case, I would have been a shithead if I’d done that considering my other obligations, and one of my goals in life is to be less of a shithead.)

But then of course my time is limited, meaning somewhat of a change in focus here on the site. I’ve already been writing more about anime here than games in the last year, and I think that shift had to do with my new circumstances. Both anime and music require a lot less of a time investment than games do, at least for me. This is especially true for music, which I can even listen to at work or in the car. But anime is part of what I’ve been using lately to unwind a bit after work, and I’ve found it to be really effective. There’s also a ton of it around for me to watch, both in my backlog which would take well more than a lifetime to clear and in newly airing series.

By contrast, the sorts of games I like require a serious time investment, something I don’t have much of available after working 9 or 10 hours as I sometimes do. Hundred-hour JRPGs are out forever, with just one exception that I’m grandfathering in: no, not Megami Tensei shockingly enough, but Atelier. Well okay, maybe that’s not shocking either. But I’m most of the way through Atelier Sophie 2 now, and I still need to finish the Mysterious DX trilogy, otherwise it would nag at me forever (especially since a friend claims Lydie & Suelle is the best one — I’ve heard arguments about it, but I need to make it that far, don’t I? Just Firis and then that and I’m done.)

Atelier is all about work and responsibility too, so it fits the theme here. It’s also about making friends and eating pie and being surrounded by cute girls (and usually being a cute girl yourself too unless you’re Logy here, the lucky bastard.)

To be clear, I’m not going to stop playing or writing about games — in fact, I’m planning on my next couple of posts probably being game-related. I just need more of a shift in focus on the site because of the pressures I already feel bearing down on me. I hate having to set aside the games I usually enjoy, including some of the incredibly long visual novels I still have sitting around that I’d like to play one day. But the only alternatives I see to my new plan are 1) win the lottery and quit my job, or 2) find a serum that cures me of my need to sleep, and neither of these are very realistic.

That’s my whole announcement. Probably wasn’t even worth writing, but I wanted to air things out here anyway in case anyone felt disgruntled or whatever. I’ll be back soon with something that isn’t actually a game review but is maybe something close to it. Until then.