Drowning in fiction and fantasy

Fair warning, a lot of personal stuff here. I try to separate this out from the regular fare. I even considered not posting this since I wrote it during one of my low points, which seem to come in regular patterns. But then I didn’t write anything in this that I think is untrue or dishonest. Anyway, don’t hesitate to skip it if you’re sick of my shit, because you won’t be missing anything important.

A few weeks ago at the time of writing, journalist Tae Kim at Bloomberg posted an article titled “Video Game Industry Struggles to Shake Sexist Attitudes”. In this piece, Kim lauds Sony for pushing what he sees as a positive depiction of a female game protagonist in Aloy, the lead and player character of Horizon Zero Dawn and its upcoming sequel Horizon Forbidden West. Kim contrasts Aloy with Bayonetta, Lara Croft, and characters in Genshin Impact (whose names I don’t know because I haven’t played it — I’ve had enough of gacha for one lifetime) criticizing the latter depictions for being overly sexualized. He also criticizes the industry for continuing to ignore women’s voices and for the bad practices (to put it far too mildly) of some leading developers, most notably Activision-Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Riot Games.

Mr. Kim’s article caused a minor shitstorm on Twitter, one that a lot of us in the game blogging sphere got swept up in, myself included. He was dogpiled for his article, a dogpile I joined in, mainly for his takes on Bayonetta and other examples of games that caused him to “cringe” and that he felt he couldn’t play in front of family and friends. I believe most of us stuck to criticizing this particular attack, though I and others also complained about game journalists in general and how they approach this matter — and I’ve done that here too, so it’s nothing new for me.

However, some others took issue with all this criticism, and I had a few interesting discussions that day with people with differing opinions. So I decided to write something on the matter. I wrote out a rough draft, in fact, but I’ve since deleted it.

There are two reasons behind this decision. The first is pretty simple: I’ve already written about my thoughts on the matter of sexual depictions in games and other media several times, from both legal and moral angles — you can find all those posts in the pretentiously titled “Commentaries” tab above. Admittedly I haven’t taken on a feminist perspective in any of them, but my only comment on that is that I don’t really have any problem with the depiction of Aloy in Horizon and feel that there’s plenty of room in this massive industry for all sorts of depictions and art styles, whether of female or male or any other variety of character. I just prefer anime-influenced styles that some people take issue with for sometimes being sexualized — for examples I’ve praised that occasionally get criticized for similar reasons, see the work of Nan Yaegashi (Senran Kagura) and Sayori (Nekopara). I’ve also talked up a couple of artbooks full of ecchi art featuring almost entirely women, and I follow plenty of such artists on Twitter because I like their work. But that’s a personal preference that I don’t think affects my stance in this case.

The second reason is more complicated, and it’s also the real reason I’m writing this post instead. As far as I can tell, Kim’s position is that games with art styles and character designs such as those found in Bayonetta and the other games he brought up should be discouraged and the type found in Horizon Zero Dawn and similar games encouraged. I’ve said before, and I continue to say, that all art must be open to criticism. However, Kim’s argument seems to go beyond criticism for the purpose of expressing what he likes and dislikes (which is how I believe I use it) and into criticism for the purpose of pushing a change in artistic norms.

I understand that the argument supporting Kim’s position for this change is directed at a perceived social problem — the problem of how women are perceived in games and in media in general. And the simple fact is that I’m not well-suited to write about purely social problems. I can write pretty well about legal problems because law is my profession, and I can write about political and historical questions because I’ve always had an interest in those subjects and have studied them. And undoubtedly social questions are mixed up with legal, political, and historical ones.

But I can’t write very well about purely social issues because I’m pretty far removed from society, or at least as far removed as possible while still being attached enough to it to live a more or less civilized life. That removal started when I was still young, and I dealt with it largely by burying myself in books and video games. After high school things got a bit better, and I managed to have something like a social life, along with extremely poorly matched and conducted relationships each of which ended in a complete wreck. But for as long as I can remember, up until today, I’ve always felt like a misfit. I can get along well enough now, and I take part in society just as much as I think I have to for the sake of my professional life, but my personal life is undoubtedly a mess. Unrelated to all that, I now have to live in a way I dislike, carrying out family obligations that I had no part in creating (short of being born, which I certainly had no say in) but that I have a duty to carry out anyway.1

I used to despair over all this, but you can only care so much before you lose that ability. I went numb more or less after finishing at law school, which was a good time to do so considering both the change for the worse in the political culture in the US and the hellfire and bullshit most newly minted lawyers have to go through.

After saying all this, I realize now that I’d be ridiculous to even try to convince anyone else of my way of thinking about a purely social issue. I’m not a role model; just the opposite: an example of how not to live. The only success I’ve had in life so far has been professional, and that success came almost entirely by accident and after a long series of stumbles caused in part by my addiction to alcohol, and which drove that addiction that I was only able to truly get free of in the last couple of years. The fact that I’m even still here is perhaps some kind of miracle, and I should be thankful for it.

A more reasonable person probably would be thankful and would do their best to be an active member of society with a positive impact. I certainly don’t want to have a negative impact on society, and I’d like to use my skills to help those in need with pro bono work once I have a freer hand. But if I magically came into massive wealth, after making sure my immediate and extended family was enriched and giving to charity enough to satisfy my conscience, I’d use it to isolate myself as far as possible from society, probably by building some kind of fortress. Maybe on an island in the South Atlantic, one of those really remote ones.

It’s probably more realistic for me to hope that I’ll be able to escape someday, at least for a few hours at a time, into some sort of hypothetical full-dive VR world where I can live out my fantasies well away from the irritations of real life. This possibility has been talked about a lot lately, even if only because of Facebook’s extremely shitty-looking Meta setup. But it’s still a possibility worth talking about, assuming the technology is feasible in the form I’m thinking of, and as long as it’s provided by a service more trustworthy than Facebook — which is to say trustworthy in the slightest.

So you see what sort of person I am. I don’t think I’ve ever made much secret of any of these feelings, but they seemed relevant to write about more fully here. You might say all of the above makes me a monstrous cynic, which I honestly don’t want to be, but you may be right about that anyway. You might also say that I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face in thinking and acting this way, which may also be true. Or you might say I’m being selfish in my desire for near-total escape from life, and I’d completely agree with you about that.

But I’ve come to an age now where I don’t think I can change anymore. Over two years of sobriety has certainly helped me out, but mostly only with regard to my physical health, which is shockingly somehow still pretty good — my liver was sturdier than I thought, or maybe it’s spent the last two years repairing itself, and thank God that either or both are true. Otherwise I’m still just as bitter and depressive as I ever was, and I still have the same desire for escape as I ever did. It even seems to me that my mental and emotional health may be getting worse, though nearly two years of COVID isolation may also have to do with that.

Either way, I’m done writing about such issues unless something specific comes up, probably with legal significance, that I can actually address. My stance on art and its potential effects on society has been and will always be that people should be able to freely access and enjoy whatever they wish, of course with appropriate age restrictions in place, and assuming nobody is being harmed in the creation or enjoyment of said art. That said, I do agree that it would be good if positive depictions of sex, relationships, and gender roles in general are advanced by developers and publishers. Quite a lot of depictions that people like Mr. Kim look down on (like Bayonetta for example) I see as positive myself, but we’ll never agree on that point, so there’s no point in talking about those any further.

But as far as supposed negative indirect influences go, to be blunt, I don’t give a damn about them. It’s far too easy to draw any connection you like between some bad act and the artist or work that supposedly drove it. Without specific evidence linking scantily-clad women in video games to sexism in real life, I’m inclined to treat that claim in the same way as the also unproven but constantly cited theory that violent video games contribute to violence in real life. There’s clearly a problem with sexism among some game developers as we’ve seen — perhaps Activision is just the most obvious and outrageous case. And there are absolutely sexist elements among gamers as a whole. Both of these need addressing. But I don’t believe a cause-and-effect pattern between racy female character designs and outfits2 and real-life sexism has been established. As I’ve seen it, the claim is always made without support, as though it’s self-evident. I don’t believe it is. I know people I very much respect who I disagree with on this point, and there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between us.

But then, again, my opinion on this issue might not be worth considering for the reasons I’ve set out above. At this point, I only want to be left alone to drown in the kind of fiction that can nearly transport me out of reality, at least for a while, while the rest of the world goes to hell as it is currently doing. That’s probably reason enough to ignore my opinions on purely social matters, given my warped view of society and my self-destructive tendencies.

Anyway, sorry for the mess yet again. My next post will have less of a “manifesto written in a log cabin” quality to it, I hope. It just seems to me based on my experience that hard work, honesty, and even good luck aren’t enough to live a decent life — you also need at least a somewhat positive attitude, which I obviously don’t have and can’t seem to find.

This is somewhat related to one of the next anime series I’ll be writing about, so you can look forward to that. How’s that for a segue? Until next time.

 

1 To be clear, it’s completely possible to appreciate these kinds of games with lewd elements and to also be socially well-adjusted. The fact that I’m not socially well-adjusted is unrelated to my enjoyment of those specific games, though I think it is related to my plunging into games and other media in general as a form of escape.

2 This is also assuming that every instance of sexualization in a game is bad, which I obviously don’t believe. It certainly can be bad depending on how it’s handled, but as always, context has to be considered. But I’ve written about some aspects of the issue here and here, and I don’t think I have anything to add to those posts unless anyone feels like attacking my arguments in them. Despite what I wrote above, I’m happy to deliver a rebuttal in that case, but no more than that.

Listening/reading log #26 (December 2021)

Sorry for the late post again; work has been drowning me, but every time this kind of rush happens it gets easier to deal with. Maybe this is part of being a “responsible adult” like I refused to be for most of my 20s.

Anyway, how about that omicron or whatever. It’s getting tiring, isn’t it? Everyone’s already talked about how 2021 was more or less a replay of 2020, and between the virus and the first anniversary of what might have been a massive political disaster in my country that people here are now constantly on edge about (and climate change and nukes of course) the mood still feels apocalyptic. I unintentionally saw the last five minutes of the Netflix production Don’t Look Up and decided I didn’t need to see the rest, partly because something about the general tone and feel of that ending got under my skin, but also because I don’t feel like watching a movie about the end of the world even if raising awareness of our problems was the whole point of it. That’s a worthy goal, sure, but my awareness was raised well enough already.

On to the usual business, sorry. Starting with the music, two classic 60s albums this time:

Odessey and Oracle (The Zombies, 1968)

Highlights: Care of Cell 44, A Rose for Emily, Time of the Season

Damn, that misspelling in the title really gets on my nerves. I want to call it Odyssey and Oracle, but that’s not its title, and you don’t get to just correct mistakes like that. To be fair to the Zombies, the spelling of the word is a bit weird, but couldn’t they have looked it up first? Nobody had a dictionary in the studio to spellcheck?

But once I get beyond my obsession over proper spelling, it’s okay, because Odessey is a fine album. The Zombies were a British group that spent the 60s making pop-rock music with a big emphasis on vocals and keyboards, both piano and organ. The big hit was “Time of the Season”, which is one of those very classic-sounding late 60s songs you’ve definitely heard on oldies radio if you’re old enough to even remember that being a thing. It creates that trippy atmosphere perfectly, and the song is broken up by some cool extended organ solos. I’m a big fan of it even if the lyrics are a bit weird (especially that famous “what’s your name / who’s your daddy / is he rich like me?” What are you up to, guys?)

But there are other notable songs on Odessey, like the extremely depressing “A Rose for Emily” that has a nice upbeat sound to go along with the lyrics about crushing loneliness. And the extra upbeat “Care of Cell 44”, so damn upbeat that I’ve heard the first several bars in commercials — though of course they always cut the song off before you realize it’s about a guy waiting for his lady to get out of prison. And while it’s not quite up there with the other I mentioned, I also like This Will Be Our Year. Will this be our year finally? Let’s hope.

Before I finish with Odessey, though, I should note that I’ve covered one of the band members before: Rod Argent, who would start his own band called Argent after the Zombies broke up the year this album came out. Apparently Odessey as a whole was a flop at the time, which I’m sure didn’t help. Too bad, though like quite a few other deserving works it was later rediscovered, which is something to be thankful for.

Let It Bleed (The Rolling Stones, 1969)

Highlights: All of it

Okay, so maybe I’m being lazy this post. But I’ve written 25 of these already, covering about 60 or 70 albums I think, and yet until now I haven’t brought up the Rolling Stones, who are way more than deserving of at least one mention.

It’s hard to say which of the Stones’ classic albums is my favorite. There are six or seven probably that could try for that spot, musically speaking at least (more on that below) but Let it Bleed is certainly one of the highest on my list. The Stones made a lot of excellent music throughout the 60s and 70s, and though they fell off pretty badly in the 80s, they’ve been somehow active all the way up until now. Quite literally; you can see them on tour this year, though I’m not sure how advisable that would be with COVID still going. I guess Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in particular have survived so much that they’re not too worried about a pesky virus at this point.

But going back 53 years to Let It Bleed — it’s a bit hard to even bring up highlights, because I like pretty much every song on the album a lot, starting with the opening gospel-inspired Gimme Shelter and ending with the choral-inspired You Can’t Always Get What You Want. There’s a lot of country music inspiration here as well carried over from the previous year’s Beggars Banquet — see Love in Vain and Country Honk, the latter of which is better known in its less country and more rock-sounding form as a single, Honky Tonk Women. And if you’re more about blues, see Midnight Rambler. Though the Stones were from London, they got these mostly American styles down very well, though it’s also worth going back to hear the sources of their inspiration.

Maybe the real reason I chose to feature Let It Bleed instead of a different Stones album is that it means I don’t have to talk about songs that are musically great, despite their extremely uncomfortable lyrical subject (like say “Under My Thumb” on Aftermath, or “Brown Sugar” on Sticky Fingers, or “Stray Cat Blues” on Beggars Banquet — these guys would have been immediately canceled today for any one of these songs and might have had the cops called on them for the last one.) But I leave that for people who make a living off of writing about music. I don’t, so I don’t have to address this material myself, which is nice. I can at least say that Let It Bleed is a must, especially for fans of 70s hard rock, because 60s Stones is where those guys got a lot of their own inspiration from.

I’ll be a little more current with the music next post probably. I just wish people wouldn’t dismiss the lot of it as “dad rock” as I’ve heard it called — the great stuff from the era holds up and shouldn’t be thrown out as dated (though there certainly is plenty of dated music from that classic late 60s/early 70s period as well.) Or maybe “dad rock” refers to later guys like Journey and Boston now. Or hell, maybe at this point it’s Radiohead and Nirvana. I don’t have much of a point of reference myself; my childhood music was the late 90s/early 00s technically but I’m not really a big fan of that period in popular music, or not when compared to the late 60s through the early 80s and the early 90s anyway.

Now on to the featured posts this month:

Mieruko-chan (Anteiku Anime Reviews) — Mieruko-chan is a series I’d planned to watch this season, except I don’t feel like paying for more than one anime streaming service, so I couldn’t. But I have it on my list, because it seems like an interesting one. Have you wondered what your life would be like if you were the only one who could see all sorts of terrifying spirits and monsters around you? Read Will’s review for more on this comedy/horror anime.

Tawawa on Monday 2: An Anime Short Review and Reflection (The Infinite Zenith) — An exceedingly in-depth review of the second season of anime short series Tawawa on Monday. Be sure to check out Zenith’s post on it, especially if you’re a fan of exceedingly well-endowed anime girls. Maybe I should pick it up myself…

The Best Stories in Wildermyth Are Told by You (Frostilyte Writes) — Wildermyth looks like one of the most interesting games released in 2021, at least if Frostilyte’s take on it here is any indication. I won’t try to describe the game here since Frostilyte has already done a great job of it on his blog, so please check out his own look at the game there. Wildermyth is another one to add to my increasingly long list.

Shin Megami Tensei V is a Great Return to the Series (The Gamer With Glasses) — I’ve read both positive and negative opinions of the much-anticipated SMT V, but this review at The Gamer With Glasses gives me some hope that the negatives are blown a bit out of proportion (or resulted from specific expectations that were disappointed, which is always the case with these kinds of long-awaited releases.) I still don’t have a damn Switch to play it myself, but I’m hoping my tax refund this year is large enough to justify the purchase finally. Just waiting for that W2 and hoping for the best.

The Return of the Obra Dinn (Nintendobound) — And Matt brings us a review of still another game that I know I have to play at some point. I’ve heard how unique and engrossing The Return of the Obra Dinn is, and Matt’s post on the game gives me one more reason to look forward to it whenever I get around to picking it up.

New Year’s Is for Lovers (I drink and watch anime) — Irina says at the beginning of this post that she’s not much of a romantic. I’m not either, as you might know, but I can still appreciate her presentation of her favorite anime couple from Durarara!! which I shamefully haven’t watched or read. Though now I’m thinking about what it would be like to date someone without a head. I won’t rule out a dullahan, anyway — I’m not that narrowminded (or I’ve just read and played enough weird fantasy to prepare me for that extremely remote possibility.)

Urobuchi December: Fate/Zero (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews dedicated the last month to the works of Gen Urobuchi. A worthy subject — Urobuchi has come up with some of the most creative and innovative stories in anime and visual novel form, including Madoka Magica and Saya no Uta. In this post, Scott takes a look at his Fate/stay night prequel Fate/Zero, an anime that some consider to be even better than the original work.

One Hour Photo (2002): One of the Finest Works of Cinema I’ve Ever Seen – Film Review (BiblioNyan) — I don’t feature live-action film reviews here too often, but here’s one that I’ve actually seen, though only when it was released 20 years ago. BiblioNyan provides insightful comments on the film One Hour Photo, in which Robin Williams showed he could act just as effectively in a tense dramatic thriller about murder as in a comedy.

Senri Kawaguchi: The Mighty Jazz and Fusion Drummer (Professional Moron) — From Mr. Wapojif, a look at young up and coming Japanese jazz/fusion drummer Senri Kawaguchi. I’ve been getting into Japanese fusion, but mostly the 70s and early 80s work — maybe it’s time to get more modern and see what Kawaguchi and her colleagues have to offer. I need to hear what the “Princess of Many Strokes” as she’s called is capable of.

And finally, thanks to Aether for the excellent answers to the questions I imposed on him a while back with the Let’s Blog Award (and also his answers to Red Metal and Alex of Alex’s Review Corner — Aether did a lot of answering questions this month.) If you want more insight into the man and the legend in his own words, you can’t do better than reading these posts.

It’s a somewhat shorter post than usual this month, but since I’ve been flooded with work and personal concerns lately, I’ve been a bit less engaged than I’d like. I also have pending anime series I’m watching that I feel I have to finish before reading anyone else’s takes on them. I don’t usually make resolutions because I don’t generally believe in all that new year new you or whatever stuff, but I have resolved to finish certain series and at least one game (and probably two) before the end of January. I have a few weeks, so I should be able to keep those. Until next time, all the best.

Listening/reading log #25 (November 2021)

Turns out 2021 was a fucked year too. How about that. Just as we get to the end of it, we’re beaten down by yet another virus variant. So thank God Mark Zuckerberg is here to save us with his complete dogshit watered down VR platform! Also, people are buying NFTs. Apparently this is the utopian future we were promised. Is it too late to go back and try all this shit over again?

As you can see, I’m not happy. But that’s usually the case anyway, so it’s okay. And maybe my mood will improve now, since December is one of my favorite months thanks to the holiday season. Despite my hating some Christmas music that gets way too much play this month (if I never hear those particular songs by Mariah Carey, Wham!, or Paul McCartney again I’ll be happier for sure. And no, Paul doesn’t get off the hook because he was in the Beatles and did some decent-to-good solo stuff in the 70s either. You know what you’ve done, Paul.)

So let’s start by looking at some albums that have no Christmas music on them whatsoever:

Time Out (The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 1959)

Highlights: Blue Rondo à la Turk, Strange Meadow Lark, Take Five

Yeah, more jazz. I know I lean hard on the typically snobby/nerdy stuff like jazz and prog in these posts, but hey I don’t care, so here’s more. Maybe I’ll put up a punk album or something for once to balance the rest out.

But that day hasn’t come yet, so here’s Time Out by Dave Brubeck and his Quartet. This is a landmark jazz album, one of those that has music you definitely know even if you don’t know its title. Namely “Take Five”, a cool piece with an uneven rhythm that gives it a unique character — I guess the “five” in the title refers to the 5/4 time, but despite that unusual time signature (and despite a drum solo that I’m not a big fan of — never was a fan of drum solos honestly) it flows along nicely. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” is almost as well-known, another complex piece with great flow. Speaking of prog, I think ELP covered this one, nice piece for them to show off their skills. Shoved up in the front along with them is my other favorite on here, “Strange Meadow Lark”, a slow, relaxed piece.

The whole album is nice, though. Time Out makes for an excellent mood-setter, especially if you need something classy to play at a dinner party or something. But then, it’s also not boring like a lot of other “mood-setting” music tends to be — there’s a lot here to actively enjoy too. In that sense, I’d put it in a similar category with the bossa nova I’ve also looked at here like Wave and Getz/Gilberto. And the latter had a piece of modern art on the cover too. Not sure what that’s about, but at least it’s more creative than the band photo covers albums in the late 50s usually got.

The Faust Tapes (Faust, 1973)

Highlights: ???????

Warning: still more weird shit here. Faust was a German band in roughly the same artsy rock category as Can and Amon Düül II. But this band is a lot less listener-friendly than Can, and maybe even less so than Amon Düül II? I haven’t heard their whole catalog, so I can’t say that for a certainty, but I have heard The Faust Tapes, which consists of one track with a bunch of seemingly disconnected weird percussion and sounds stitched together with a few pieces that sound almost like normal songs but not quite. From what I understand, Faust was in this real hardcore avantgarde territory throughout their career, which would explain why they might not be better known today — nothing here makes sense exactly.

But does it have to make sense? I don’t think it does, as long as the end result is interesting. It’s easy to dismiss all this avantgarde stuff as pretentious, meaningless bullshit, but I don’t get that feeling from Faust here. Firstly, because they actually can and do play their instruments properly and put together some catchy songs, like the nice folk one starting around 1:20 and the stretch of almost funk-sounding music transitioning to more acoustic folky French poetry recitation (or maybe he’s reading out of a user manual for a vacuum cleaner, not like I’d know the difference) around minute 35 to the end.

And secondly, because even the more nonsensical parts of the album do work if you’re in the right mindset. I don’t know if this is what the band was going for, but The Faust Tapes sounds to me like a normal album filtered through a dream; everything sounds sort of off and strange. It reminds me of Yume Nikki in that way, maybe because that game is literally about dreams and consists of a lot of disconnected pieces that run into each other in a similar way. Like Yume Nikki, it’s not always pleasant, more like a nightmare than a nice dream in parts, but it still works for me somehow.

So not exactly a broad recommendation this time, but if you’re into the really weird artsy side of rock music, Faust was at the core of all that. And The Faust Tapes even reportedly sold well, hitting the charts in the UK in 1973. Though that definitely had to do with it being sold for the price of a single to get their sales numbers up. A nice marketing trick, but how many people do you think regretted that purchase right away?

Adventure (Momoko Kikuchi, 1986)

Highlights: Adventure, Night Cruising, Mystical Composer

Since I had a look at something as bizarre as The Faust Tapes just now, let’s go to the opposite end of that spectrum again with something ultra-commercial: more city pop! On top of that, Adventure might be the most aggressively 80s-sounding album I’ve featured in these posts until now. Lots of those very 80s-sounding synths and drum machines and all the other musical trappings of that decade.

Normally I don’t go for that stuff too much, but I like a lot of this album anyway. Adventure is another album with a perfectly fitting cover: singer Momoko Kikuchi wading in what looks like the ocean under a pink sky, with the water lit up like the whole ocean is a massive swimming pool. The album itself is just as relaxed and luxurious-sounding as that, and Momoko’s nice soft voice fits and adds to that vibe as well. The title track sums up that feeling nicely, as does “Night Cruising” (even the title reminds me of Kingo Hamada’s “Midnight Cruisin'” — they were doing a lot of cruising in Japan in the 80s I guess.)

But the real standout on Adventure is “Mystical Composer”, a song that I’d bet did a lot on its own to inspire the vaporwave movement. Both because of its general sound and because I’d heard it quite a few times remixed before finding it in its original form here. Makes sense, because that chorus is catchy as hell.

As an aside, and since I’ve looked at a few city pop albums on the site, it’s interesting to see how this musical movement that died off at the end of the 80s, when Japan’s real estate bubble popped and its economy fell into shambles, has come back in such a big way on the internet — and now, when the whole fucking world seems to be on fire. Maybe it’s all driven by a desire for escape from reality, the same one that I theorized gave a boost to VTubers (and that might partly explain how one in particular exploded, as a VTuber known for singing city pop?)

But I’ll leave that to the people actually qualified to talk about it, or at least until I write another dedicated bullshit post of my own on the subject.

And now as usual for the featured posts:

Shoot from the Hip – Gravity Rush (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 gives Gravity Rush some well-deserved attention in this look back at the game. I maintain the series didn’t get nearly enough of the praise it should have, so I’m always happy to see it getting more.

Wrapping up 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim – waffling about a game I love (Video Games And Things I Write About Them) — From skyraftwanderer, a piece on another game that got far too little attention. I loved 13 Sentinels, and this post and the other posts on this blog about the game sum up everything I loved about it.

Mega Man 7 (Extra Life) — Red Metal examines Mega Man 7, Capcom’s first throwback to its original Mega Man series on the NES (or Rockman on the Famicom if you want to be more of a weeb about it, sure.) I was always lousy at those old NES titles, though I liked them for the most part, but I never had the chance to play 7. Find out above whether it’s worth a try.

The Power of Two: Princess Jellyfish (Confessions of an Overage Otaku) — I’ve heard a bit about the anime Princess Jellyfish, and the more I read, the more I’m interested in seeing it for myself — and this post might have tipped the scales finally.

Chihayafuru: An Objective Review (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — From Scott, an “objective” review of Chihayafuru, an anime about students who compete at karuta games, or Japanese card games. Scott also shows here just how hard it is to write an objective review. Please check it out (and maybe Chihayafuru as well? I haven’t seen it, but it sounds interesting.)

Return of the Destined Battle! Aether vs. Yandere Simulator, Round 2 (Lost to the Aether) — Yandere Simulator has become the prime example of an indie game in development hell, with its developer known for putting off work on the project. Shockingly, a new playable beta or something recently came out, and Aether in this post saves us the trouble of having to play it by enjoying/suffering through it himself and giving his thoughts on it. Thanks, Aether.

Give Ever Oasis another chance on the Switch (Nepiki Gaming) — From Nepiki, a look at Ever Oasis, an action-adventure RPG now on the Switch. Nepiki gives plenty of great reasons to take notice if you’re a Switch-owner (which sadly I’m still not, but hopefully soon!)

Shin Megami Tensei V First Impressions (The Gamer with Glasses) — Speaking of not owning a Switch, here’s a first look at SMT V from someone who does. A great post to check out if you’re interested in the game. I hope I can join in the fun soon enough.

Moonglow Bay – A cute, cosy and flawed game about Fish (but not necessarily always chips) (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — A review of an inviting-looking but seemingly flawed indie game. Too bad, but hopefully the makers will improve on their mistakes next time — and you might still find something to like here, so be sure to check out Wooderon’s post.

The Best Games I Didn’t Play This Year (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte writes a post that I should probably try out myself, considering I’ve only played a single game released this year. Some interesting-looking stuff, though God knows if I’ll find the time for any of it myself with my damn schedule.

Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #4: Yuuta Togashi (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Our fellow Weeb highlights an anime high school romantic comedy protagonist with more depth than usual through a religious lens. An interesting angle, and one I hadn’t considered, but it sheds more light on why I liked Yuuta from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions (and my shared confusion at why he ended up being so into Rikka, but who knows about the mysteries of the heart I suppose.)

Asterisk War vs Chivalry of a Failed Knight: Showdown! (Crow’s World of Anime) — This is a joint project, a comparative look at two anime series with similar story setups. I haven’t seen either of these and I’m not sure I have any interest in either — these sorts of stories aren’t really my thing. But I like the idea of putting two similar series head-to-head like this. Might be something to try in the future!

1000th Post. 10 Quick Tips for Anime Bloggers. (Otaku Orbit) — Congrats to Jiraiyan on one thousand posts (and shit, that’s a whole lot — not a landmark I expect to reach anytime soon!) To mark the occasion, he’s posted some excellent advice for those looking to get into anime blogging.

A Look Back On ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ – 20 Years Later (Jon Spencer Reviews) — I was born about a year too late to care that much about Harry Potter, at least as a kid — I have seen some of the films since, and my thought was that they were pretty good adventures (and anything that included the late Alan Rickman will be naturally elevated by his presence anyway — my favorite character for sure, especially when he was acting like a dick.) Author J. K. Rowling has fallen out of favor among a lot of fans, but her work seems to have kept its popularity. Jacob over on Jon Spencer Reviews has a look back at the first film in the series 20 years on.

Why You Should Pay Attention to EDs and OPs (I drink and watch anime) — Irina gives us some good reasons to care about anime openings and endings. While they can’t make or break a series, good openings and endings can add a lot to their entertainment value (and also possibly prevent me from skipping intros/endings, which I admit I sometimes do.) And I’ve found a few really good bands through them as well.

Exploring Anime Fictophilia (I drink and watch anime) — The rare double feature this post, but for good reason: I couldn’t go without highlighting this insightful piece also from Irina about the strange love some fans have for fictional characters, bordering on and sometimes even crossing the border into romantic sentiment. Strange, but is it unnatural? Maybe not. Be sure to read Irina’s post for her thoughts on the matter.

You’re Missing Out – if You’re Not Watching Enna Alouette, the Songbird of Nijisanji EN (The Unlit Cigarette) — I can’t end this post without fulfilling my self-imposed VTuber mention quota. Thankfully I have some help from @valsisms, who here takes a well-deserved look at Enna Alouette. Enna is part of Nijisanji’s third wave of English-language streamers with a special talent at singing, but that’s not all she does.

These days, in the very rare moments I have the chance to watch a stream, it’s almost always a Nijisanji one. These girls have stolen my heart completely, though I still have a lot of respect for the talent over at the rival Hololive group. But despite their great chemistry, they haven’t caught on quite as much in the West as Hololive has (and don’t forget the stiff competition from the western-based agency VShojo — mostly not my thing, but they’re formidable as well, and I admit I do appreciate the talents of Projekt Melody that… well, go beyond the usual VTuber skill set, to put it mildly.) But if you have the spare time and the inclination to do so, I’d highly recommend giving Enna and her friends a shot.

That’s all for this month. I don’t have anything special planned for Christmas or any of the other stuff going on, just the usual possible reviews and features coming up. I haven’t even drafted anything yet, so I know exactly as much as you do at this point. Until next post, then!

Let’s Blog Award from Frostilyte

Since it’s a slow period right now, still in the middle of airing anime and a few games I’m digging through, I think it’s time once again to go back to the archives and find some old post nominations I’ve gotten from fellow writers around WordPress. This one comes from friend of the site Frostilyte, who writes about video games in a lot of depth — if you’re not following his site already, be sure to follow him now. Do it!

The rules are as follows:

1. Answer the 10 questions sent by the nominator.
2. Write your 10 questions for the nominees.
3. Answer your own questions.
4. Nominate as many bloggers you want for this award and notify them that they got nominated.
5. Tag the post #Let’s Blog Award.

Shit, that is a lot of work, but I’ll get to it. First, Frostilyte’s questions:

1) Is there a game that you were originally opposed to playing because of the advertised difficulty, but really enjoyed when you gave it a shot?

The most famously difficult game I remember picking up and really liking was probably Strange Journey. I’ve written about it a bit here before, but even for an SMT game, it gives you a good whipping. The difficulty level suits the story it tells — you play as a member of an international military task force sent to infiltrate a massive tornado-esque demon-filled anomaly engulfing Antarctica. Strange Journey combines the dungeon-crawling gameplay style of Etrian Odyssey with the difficulty of a typical SMT game. And of an Etrian Odyssey game, come to think of it.

It is a fun game, though. It offers a lot of challenge in its increasingly complex mazes full of random encounters and boss fights, but there’s not so much challenge that I was put off of it.

2) Have you ever played a game because you thought it had a really good soundtrack?

Absolutely: NieR:Automata. Or however it’s punctuated. I’d already heard a lot of the soundtrack from the previous game NieR and loved it, and I knew the same people were making the music for Automata. The soundtrack was at least half of the reason I ended up buying the game. No regrets at all, either, because it was great (like it needs more praise piled onto it, but I’ll pile on anyway.)

Of course, I can’t pretend that 2B’s famously generous backside wasn’t part of the reason as well. Ultimately I stayed for the fun gameplay and excellent, horribly depressing story, but hooks like these are important to get people in the door, I guess.

I came for the music and the ass, and I stayed for the music and the depression.

3) What difficulty do you tend to play games on?

I always default to Normal mode, and if I go for a second round I generally shift up to Hard or whatever the equivalent is. I don’t tend to go for Lunatic/Nightmare/etc. modes; I can’t take that much punishment. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m not a true masochist — I just have some M tendencies.

4) What have you been watching lately via streaming service of your choice?

An assload of anime on VRV. It’s not a bad service, though I absolutely have issues with its playback features. It does have an excellent library, however. Almost all of the recent anime I’ve looked at I’ve streamed through VRV, and I’ll be writing about some VRV-hosted anime series in the near future as well. I recommend it if you’re into anime at all; getting both Crunchyroll and Hi-Dive’s catalogs is a good deal (and unlike those people on YouTube, this isn’t a paid endorsement, sadly.) It’s almost enough to cope with the lousy playback and the fucked subtitles on some of the Hi-Dive-hosted series. How has that not been fixed yet, anyway?

5) What is your favourite game played thus far this year?

I haven’t played too many games this year; most of them have been long epics a few of which I’ve finished and others I’m still working through. Out of those I’ve finished, I’ll say it’s Atelier Escha & Logy. All the Atelier Dusk DX games are good, but Escha & Logy is the best of the three, and it works as a standalone story very well despite being the middle game in the trilogy. It’s certainly not for everyone — after all, it’s a turn-based JRPG with time limits, bureaucratic elements, and a heavy emphasis on crafting high-grade items, and one of those alone would be enough to put off a lot of people. But it was just about made for me.

6) What is something you’ve accomplished this year that you’re proud of?

Aside from my work, which is far too boring to bring up here (and side note: if you think being a lawyer is very exciting from watching a TV drama or playing Ace Attorney, it’s really not, at least not what I do) my big accomplishment has to be just how much of the Atelier series I’ve made it through this year, playing through all of the Dusk trilogy, Atelier Ryza, and as of this writing almost to the end of Atelier Sophie and possibly through the followup Atelier Firis by the end of the year — so at least five and maybe six.

Atelier Escha & Logy; let’s see if it keeps my favorite game played this year spot.

Once I complete the Mysterious trilogy I might just write a deep reads post on the series in general, considering the fact that I’ll have played most of what’s available in English (though maybe I should wait until I finally get around to Atelier Totori? She’s still in the back of my mind.)

7) What is the pettiest reason you’ve chosen to not play a game?

I would say “a weirdly obsessive fanbase”, but I honestly can’t think of a game I’ve avoided for that reason. I might have ended up avoiding Undertale if I hadn’t played it shortly after it came out and shortly before it attracted that, let’s say interesting fan community. Then again, I tout the good Sonic games and encourage people to ignore the weirdo fanatics around it, so I should be more forgiving. (I have actually avoided reading the webcomic/multimedia series Homestuck for those kinds of reasons, despite getting it recommended a whole lot. So the hypocrite label still attaches to me in this case.)

So the pettiest reason might actually have been bad box art. Just shows how important those covers are, despite western publishers for the longest time not seeming to understand that basic concept that bands knew since the mid-60s.

8) When you replay a game with a heavy emphasis on choice do you tend to choose the same decisions or do you make new decisions?

I always make new decisions. I don’t generally bother replaying a game unless I either have different options to make that change the story path or unless there’s a lot of new game plus material in there. For one example, take Persona 5 Royal, which I’ve treated until now as basically a replay of the original (though there is a lot added in, but the core game is the same up to the point I’ve played, and thanks to my Persona fatigue I haven’t gotten back to it yet.) The supporting character you decide to cement a relationship with is a massively important choice to a lot of players. Instead of going for the somewhat controversial pick of Futaba like last time, I went onto the far more controversial “Hot for Teacher” route by dating Sadayo Kawakami.

I honestly don’t know why Atlus included Kawakami and the other mid-20s professional women around town as romantic options for your high school-aged main character, because it’s weird as hell. Why bring back this bizarre double standard set by Persona 3 Portable (though there in an admittedly perhaps even weirder form?) I won’t get into it here, because I can go on for a while about it. Then again, I did take that bait, so whatever; I guess I can’t complain about it too much.

I think there’s a weird disconnect going on in my case between the player and the protagonist. That’s to say, I’m the one who wants to date Kawakami, but I don’t think she’s a good choice for the protagonist for hopefully extremely obvious reasons. But then there are also people who got pissed that Futaba was a dateable option when she’s far closer in age to and far more appropriate for Joker here. So you clearly can’t please anyone at all.

To answer the question more generally and in a less off-track way, I just get bored if I’m replaying a game and doing the same things over again.

9) Have you ever replayed a game you used to like but found it substantially less fun because your gaming preferences changed?

I remember playing Rampage on the NES when I was very very young and liking it, then playing it a few years later and realizing it’s boring. Way too repetitive. Excitebike held up better.

In general, I’m also a lot less tolerant of mindless grinding than I used to be, probably because I just don’t have time for it anymore. If I’m leveling my party in an RPG while also fighting towards a clear goal, that’s fine, but if the developer didn’t bother to incorporate any plot or character progression into the process or just decided to throw a wall up in the form of a boss that I have to scale by gaining five levels fighting grunts in a shitty field somewhere, I’m probably going to drop the game unless I have some extra-compelling reason to keep going.

10) Toilet paper over, under, or pinecone?

If you’re referring to how I hang it, then over. Under is criminal. Not sure what pinecone involves, unless we’re talking about a different aspect of TP use in which case no comment.

And now for my questions. Sorry if any of these are repeated from older posts; my mind has been broken over the years to the point that it’s about half-functioning at this point. Also, I broke the rule and reduced the number of questions to seven because I couldn’t think of ten good questions (if the following even qualify as “good.”)

1) Have you played/watched a series that you first liked but felt went off the rails at some point?

As far as games go, Sonic is the answer some people might give, but I wouldn’t myself despite its many misses, just because it still has potential. Even if that potential lies in a Sonic Mania 2 that might never get made.

Or Sonic CD 2? Why not?

So I’ll go with the ultra-casual answer: Game of Thrones. I’ve already mentioned it a few times here, but I was one of the multitudes of people watching the HBO adaptation, and I also watched it collapse in on itself. I’d say that collapse started as far back as season 6, when most people were still enjoying the show despite its turn into some incredibly boneheaded writing decisions (just look up “season 6 Arya chase scene” — you will never convince me that everything about it and surrounding it is not completely stupid.) But of course, the last season was the real betrayal.

Maybe I’ll get into it in more detail sometime. Maybe when The Winds of Winter comes out? Which also might never get made, so don’t hold your breath for either. But at the very least, we can still have hope for the story and characters in the novels, since they’re completely separate from the show as far as I can tell now. And that spinoff series House of the Dragon might be good, especially since the story material has already been written by Mr. Martin himself.

2) What about the reverse — a series that you first disliked or had no feelings about but came to enjoy?

I honestly can’t think of any answers to this question myself. When I dislike something (or someone, in fact) I tend to keep disliking it/them. But that might say more about me.

3) How forgiving are you of glitches in a game?

Pretty forgiving, as long as they’re not game-breaking. The fact that I’ve ever spoken at all positively about Sonic Adventure should say a lot (though the Dreamcast original was also a lot less glitchy than future ports, to be fair to it.) If the glitches are just minor, I can deal with that and even find some amusement in it. Game-breaking glitches are another matter — take a game like the infamous Ride to Hell: Retribution, which had no redeeming qualities even if it could have been played without the earth opening up and swallowing your biker protagonist whole.

4) What about a poor localization?

I have a harder time with this, though it’s certainly more of an issue for players who are mainly into Japanese games like me. The general quality of game localization has risen a lot in the last two decades, along with players’ expectations, but there are still actual fucking machine-translated visual novels being sold on Steam. Which is a double crime, firstly against the buyer who was expecting some level of quality control in their game, and secondly against every translator out there hunting for work.

So a message to publishers: don’t be cheap. Hire proper translators and editors. If you don’t, honestly and completely without any sense of irony, fuck you. I’ve heard the excuse that hiring these staff would increase costs — fine, then to reduce costs a restaurant might also justify using the lowest-grade meat possible and buying nearly rotten produce at extreme discounts from markets about to throw it out. To those making the above argument: would you happily eat at that restaurant?

5) How do you feel about cursing/general vulgarity in art and media?

This question just suddenly came to me, and my answer probably won’t surprise you too much: I don’t mind it as long as it’s warranted. Above, for example, I didn’t think I could properly express my pure hatred for penny-pinching asshole publishers other than with a “fuck you.” I’ve heard people claim that “cursing is the sign of someone who lacks imagination/can’t use language properly” and so on, which is priggish bullshit. Sometimes foul language is absolutely called for, as I think it is here.

That said, cursing and vulgar language can be both overused and inappropriately used. When applied at the wrong time or in the wrong situation, it’s like hitting a sour note, standing out in a bad way. Overuse also lessens its effect. I may well overuse certain vulgar words here on the site, but I do try to limit them to maintain their effect. Hearing someone just throw out fucks and shits constantly for no reason can be offputting as well.

And of course, I’m not advocating for these words and others like them to be used on Sesame Street. Kids should learn cursing properly: by reading said words written on bathroom stalls and then whispering them behind teachers’ backs like we did.

6) What three countries would you most like to visit, assuming you could do so without worries about time/cost?

My three choices are Spain (again, because I liked it a lot the one time I was there and want to see it a second time), Italy (art, music, history, etc. etc.), and Japan for reasons that are so obvious if you read this site that I don’t need to explain them.

7) What’s your favorite drink(s)?

Not necessarily the alcoholic kind. In my drinking days I used to like stout in the winter and lager in the summer, but now I stick to seltzer and coffee. And occasionally tea, but coffee is the true gift from God. I just hope I don’t end up like Balzac.

Though I no longer drink, I’d still hang out in the bar in VA-11 Hall-A. Just don’t put any karmotrine in there, Jill. Still waiting patiently for that sequel too…

And now, who are my marks?

Red Metal

Aether

Iniksbane

The Gamer with Glasses

Moyatori

pix1001

and finally Irina if she can fit it into her amazing posting schedule.

And taking the idea from Frostilyte, here are those questions set out in an easy-to-copy format:

1) Have you played/watched a series that you first liked but felt went off the rails at some point?

2) What about the reverse — a series that you first disliked or had no feelings about but came to enjoy?

3) How forgiving are you of glitches in a game?

4) What about a poor localization?

5) How do you feel about cursing/general vulgarity in art and media?

6) What three countries would you most like to visit, assuming you could do so without worries about time/cost?

7) What’s your favorite drink(s)?

Listening/reading log #24 (October 2021)

Late again. I’ve been going through shit as usual, but that’s no excuse. All the more reason for me to post. First up: music.

Juice (Ryo Kawasaki, 1976)

Highlights: Raisins and Bamboo Child are great, but again it’s all very even

Even more Japanese jazz recommended by YouTube. The damn site finally understands what I actually like; fucking took it long enough. The interesting album cover also pulled me in — a healthier theme than Camel’s on last month’s entry Mirage, though I don’t believe that electronic orange is made for eating.

Not that it has much to do with the subject of the album, which is really nothing but music. Specifically jazz fusion funk kind of music made by legendary guitarist Ryo Kawasaki and played by him and a bunch of his friends. I had never heard Kawasaki’s music before, but based on Juice I want to seek out more, because pretty much every piece on the album is a hit.

If vocals are a must for you, you might not care much for Juice, since it’s entirely instrumental. But I’d still give it a chance, because at least some of these songs are just as catchy as any good pop or rock song might be, the biggest standouts for me being “Raisins” and “Bamboo Child”. Some of the others are more jams or grooves than song-like compositions, but those have their place too after all. And when the musicians are this good, plain old jamming can be entertaining in itself. In terms of the energy on this album, it reminds me a lot of Casiopea released just a few years later — I wouldn’t be surprised if those guys were listening to this album in 1976 in fact. (Actually, they may well have been listening to Camel as well, since that album also has plenty of fusion flavor.)

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Shoji Meguro had listened to this album, because I can say with plenty of confidence that if you liked the soundtrack to Persona 5, you’ll like this — it’s just the kind of 70s fusion/funk that game’s soundtrack draws from for influence, at least in the instrumental parts.

An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (The Caretaker, 2011)

Highlights: It’s not that kind of album really

Early this year I wrote a review of Everywhere at the End of Time, a six-album project by The Caretaker, a.k.a. British artist Leyland Kirby. While that massive series is his most visible and now best-known work, Kirby has been at work for a long time creating ambient albums.

Like Everywhere, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World makes use of slowed and sometimes distorted 20’s-40’s ballroom music and even older orchestral work to try to simulate the experience of an Alzheimer’s patient. Unlike Everywhere, however, An Empty Bliss isn’t a very difficult listen despite its heavy subject matter. Partly because it’s a single album only around 50 minutes long, but even the journey the listener is taken through here isn’t nearly as harsh or jarring as that on Everywhere — no hours-long stretches of distorted mangled songs mixed with noises, no “Hell Sirens”, none of that. I was struck by just how peaceful this album felt in comparison after getting through the ordeal of Everywhere.

Even so, it’s not all sunshine on An Empty Bliss, not even close. The mood still gets pretty low, especially around the middle of the album, where the initially pretty clear-sounding pieces get a bit more stretched out and slowed down and buried in parts under static and droning. Parts of the album feel to me like a milder form of Stage 3 of Everywhere, though that may be partly because they have at least two source songs in common (the title track, with the same title on Everywhere but sounding quite different, and “Libet’s Delay”, which shows up on Everywhere as “Back there Benjamin” and then again a few more times in increasingly distorted forms.)

I’d recommend An Empty Bliss to those who might not want to take the dive into Everywhere at the End of Time, or at least not yet. This album doesn’t have quite the impact of Everywhere — it feels more like a blueprint for that much more fully realized work, which makes sense considering this album was put out five years before the first stage of Everywhere.

But An Empty Bliss is still a downer, appropriately for its subject matter, and it still stands on its own pretty well in addition to giving new listeners a hint of what to expect if they decide to take that plunge later on. Not a bad idea, because I can’t emphasize just how emotionally taxing that six-hour-plus experience is (but again, it’s worth it if you can make it through.) Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, though — I don’t suppose it’s meant to be anyway.

Sonic CD OST (Naofumi Hataya, Masafumi Ogata, and others, 1993)

Highlights: Considering the length, I’m too lazy to pick but it’s all good — all 4+ hours of it

And I’m cheating yet again with another game soundtrack. But not really cheating, because I was listening to this last month after all. Anyway, game soundtracks still deserve more respect than they sometimes get, and especially in this case. Despite losing out in both popularity and overall quality to its Genesis sibling Sonic 2, CD absolutely didn’t lose out in its backing music. In fact, a lot of collective effort was put into the game’s soundtrack: the whole thing when collected together is four and a half hours long.

Here I’m obligated to note, just as everyone is when they bring up this subject, that Sonic CD really has two soundtracks: the JP/EU version and the NA version. All my memories of the game, up through owning it myself for the first time on the Gamecube-exclusive Sonic Gems Collection (which was otherwise almost devoid of gems — thanks Sega) were with the NA soundtrack, so that’s the one I’m most used to. However, both versions of the soundtrack are excellent; they just have slightly different vibes (for example, with a lot more vocal samples in the Japanese version.) I’ve heard a lot of people say the Japanese version is the better one, though, and maybe you’ll agree? I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter. I couldn’t imagine starting the game without the NA-only “Sonic Boom”, but again that might just be that stupid nostalgia working on my brain.

The Sonic CD soundtrack is further lengthened by each stage getting four separate, dedicated themes, three types of which are also separated into their JP/EU and NA versions. If you’ve played the game, you already know that its defining mechanic is time travel: when Sonic hits a Past or Future post, he can warp through time accordingly to a past or future version of the stage as long as he keeps his speed up (easier said than done in most cases.) In addition to altered stage layouts and decorations/color schemes, each past and future stage also gets its own theme. Not only that, but the future stages and themes are divided into “good” and “bad” variations depending on whether Sonic has fulfilled certain optional goals. For some reason, the past themes are shared between the JP and NA soundtracks, but otherwise they’re each different as well.

So you get a hell of a lot of music in your Sonic CD no matter which version you’re playing, and it’s all quality. Some of my favorite stage themes include the various Stardust Speedway themes (especially the normal JP version, 90s funk as hell), the final stage themes, and the chilled-out bonus stage themes that don’t match that well with how pissed off I got because I kept failing the harder ones.

Sonic CD is a unique game. Not perfect, but it’s still well worth a play. And its soundtrack is unique as well, which is fitting: just like the game, while the music has some resemblance to the also excellent Genesis soundtracks (aside from Spinball, which I don’t count anyway) it very much does its own thing. It’s also had a lot of impact on some of the newer Sonic soundtracks — just listen to Tee Lopes’ work on Sonic Mania and you’ll hear the influence.

Now on to the featured articles:

Some Yuri Recommendations (KS Blogs) — One game I’ve just started (yes, it’s the Blue Reflection sequel, of course) has me thinking about yuri a bit. If that subject is on your mind as well, why not try out some of these recommendations on KS Blogs for good yuri manga? I’m not much for manga, but there are a ton of translated titles out there for every palette.

Halloween Movie Review — Godzilla (1998) (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — aka “that really bad one with Matthew Broderick.” But there might be a little more to the film than you think, so be sure to read the linked review!

Donkey Kong Land III (Extra Life) — Red Metal continues his look through the Donkey Kong series with another Game Boy title. Does it improve on the first two handheld games in the series? Red Metal delivers his usual insight in this review.

Metroid Dread (Nintendobound) — Matt gives his thoughts on Metroid Dread, the new entry in the long-running series. Maybe once I get a damn Switch I’ll try it out too!

Anime Review: School Babysitters (Lex’s Blog) — Sometimes you need a break from all the bullshit, and maybe anime dealing with serious dramatic subjects or featuring a lot of fighting, explosions, or death gambles won’t help. School Babysitters seems like a good choice in that case. Shit, maybe I should watch it too. Thanks to Lex for the review!

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom Review (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Or maybe a fantasy isekai is more your thing. Yomu has been reviewing a ton of those on his blog lately, among them How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom. Compelling concept maybe, but does it hold up? I’ve become pretty numb to all these new isekai series that are constantly being released, but Yomu’s analysis is still interesting, and it’s a must-read if you’re into the genre.

Like Mom’s Chicken Soup: Bravely Default II (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — From Trailing Sleeves, a review of Bravely Default II with a look at its comfortable aspects through a chicken soup analogy. Also, I like those chibi character designs, but I get why some people wouldn’t. The styles do clash a bit.

Stop Quitting Early (Frostilyte Writes) — From Frostilyte, some thoughts about when quitting in a competitive game is called for and when it isn’t, with a particular look at the popular MOBA Pokémon Unite. A good read for any competitive gamer.

Reflections on That One Scene in Peter Pan (Lost to the Aether) — Aether here takes on the heavy subject of racism in old films, with a look at a scene in Peter Pan featuring a lot of Native American stereotyping, and some insight into the importance of considering historical context in such cases. (And returning to the subject of Godzilla, Aether is also continuing his long-running Godzilla movie review series, so please check that out as well if you’re interested.)

Zak Starkey: Ringo Starr’s Son & The Importance Of Being Idle (Professional Moron) — I didn’t know Ringo Starr’s son was also a high-profile drummer, but apparently he takes after his father in that way, having filled in when needed on tour for other giants like The Who. Mr. Wapojif also focuses here on Starkey’s drumming on a particular Oasis track that showcases his talent. (And hey, a good place to note that his dad also released a ton of solo albums post-Beatles… none of which I’ve heard. Maybe I’ll try one out for the hell of it. The guy wrote a few fine songs when he was a Beatle, even if he was overshadowed by the other three in that department.)

Shin Megami Tensei V Hype Train (The Gamer with Glasses) — And finally, a post from the Gamer with Glasses rightly hyping up the much-anticipated Shin Megami Tensei V. No, I still don’t have a Switch, but I do have my copy of SMT V preordered. I look forward to finally getting to play it (at some point.)

Apologies if I missed anything else especially good last month, but I wasn’t entirely myself through most of October. Or maybe I was, which was the real problem. Either way, I wasn’t so engaged, but I hope to get back to more writing and exploring around the community this month.

I also have a ton of running anime and games on top of the work I actually get paid to do, including the above-mentioned Blue Reflection: Second Light, which is holding up very well so far. Also, Atelier and Yakuza are still happening, and I still have three games in particular that I need to get done at some point soon if I can. Also anime. Is it possible to sleep one hour a night and not suffer horribly for it? No? Shit.

Well, I hope the afterlife will allow me to catch up on whatever I’ve missed, assuming I’m deemed deserving of that privilege. Until then, I’ll still be writing, so see you next post.

Five LEGO sets I wanted as a child that I never had

Now this is something completely different, yeah. But it’s something I probably should have written about once at least, which I’m not sure I have in the eight years I’ve written on this blog. Because as much as video and PC games were a massive part of my childhood, so were the LEGO-brand brick toys I had as a kid. Back in the early 90s when the middle and high schoolers were listening to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and moping around or whatever the fuck they did, I was still a babby attending kindergarten, and while at home I mostly remember putting on mock battles with the various Lego sets I had (which I’ll refer to them as from now on — I know it’s properly written “LEGO” but I’m getting tired of holding down the shift key.)

And I did have a lot of these sets. These were scaled and priced accordingly from very small sets for a few dollars all the way up to massive, complex sets priced at over a hundred. Most of the sets I had as a kid were a collection of the smaller and mid-sized ones, which was fine, since they could easily be thrown together while you were playing to form larger collections of vehicles or buildings or whatever. They could also be taken apart and rebuilt into new creations, which was probably part of the appeal of Lego to parents who wanted a less “mindless” and more productive/creative toy for their kids (not that all those other toys were really “mindless”, but that’s how a lot of parents thought of them anyway.)

However, I missed out on several mostly very expensive, large, deluxe sets that caught my eye in the dedicated Lego catalog that came to the house every so often. I’m thankful now that I wasn’t so spoiled as a child that I could get whatever I wanted — though I certainly still got more than I deserved. Even so, to this day I can look back at the following sets and remember the vague sense of sadness I had at not owning them. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to go back to my six year-old self for a day at least and remember what he wanted most out of life, back when it was a hell of a lot less complicated.

6989: Mega Core Magnetizer

I’ll be upfront here: most of the sets in this list will be space-themed. I was obsessed with space exploration and astronomy as a kid, and while I’ve cooled off on it a bit since then, I still have a strong interest in those areas to this day. So it makes sense that I focused on Lego’s Space theme line of sets.

One big difference between modern Lego sets and older 80s/90s sets you might notice is the total lack of IP licensing in the older ones. Back then, we didn’t have any Star Wars or similar movie or game tie-in sets — we had to make do with Lego’s original creations. But they worked perfectly well for us, because Lego did a pretty good job coming up with different factions within its wider themes like Space, Castle, and Pirates that we could make up our own stories about.

This particular set was part of the “M-Tron” line — these guys were meant to be space miners or something, at least from what I could gather. The gimmick with M-Tron was that their sets incorporated real magnets that you could use to stick containers to their ships and rovers. Seems like a simple thing today, but it was cool at the time. The design of this rover in particular was also unique, with its massive tires and special cockpit shield or case or whatever you’d call it.

6981: Aerial Intruder

Now here was a cool damn set. This one was part of the Blacktron line of Space sets — this line was also around in the late 80s, a few years before my time, and went through a redesign. I actually prefer their older designs, but those sets were out of print by the time I was buying (i.e. asking my parents to buy) Lego sets.

But it was all right, because the new Blacktron sets were also nice, and this ship was one of the best-looking. Looks very Star Wars Empire-inspired with its geometrical glass cockpits. This ship seated two, I’d imagine one pilot and one co-pilot, or maybe one pilot and one gunner — I don’t think the middle part of it actually housed any minifigures, though you could probably shove a third in there if you really wanted to.

While I didn’t own either of the above sets, I did have some smaller sets from each faction, and I imagined these guys were a faction of space pirates attacking the M-Tron miners who just wanted to drill and extract ore from space rocks in peace, or whatever it was they were doing with those magnets. I think I did try to build something like this set out of pieces I had from smaller ones as well, but it didn’t quite work out. I wasn’t that great of an engineer as a child, and I’ve probably gotten significantly worse since.

6955: Space Lock-Up Isolation Base

As I wrote above, I prefer some of the older late 80s Space Lego sets to the ones that were in print when I was a kid. But I was even a massive hipster when I was six years old, because the same was true then — I much preferred old Space Police sets like this one from 1989 to the redesigned early 90s ones that had a far uglier color scheme and less cool designs.

The problem in this case wasn’t the price, because this isolated space prison was pretty modestly priced — it was simply that it was out of print, and if it wasn’t on store shelves we basically couldn’t buy it since there wasn’t an eBay back then. So I couldn’t play out my story concept of a space pirate being arrested and awaiting trial in space court for all the space crimes he committed. Or maybe it’s more of an Edmond Dantès situation, where he was wrongfully imprisoned in this space Chateau d’If and he has to break out, steal a ship, and fly back to his home planet to exact revenge against everyone who wronged him. Though as a kid, I think it was really just that landing pad/dock thing that appealed to me most because it looked like you could actually slide a ship in there.

6285: Black Seas Barracuda

Of course, I didn’t just collect Space Lego sets — I also branched out into the Castle theme with its medieval knights and Robin Hood-style forest bandits and into the more mundane Town sets. But my second-favorite theme after Space had to be Pirates, because the idea of being a pirate sailing the high seas and securing booty and all that stuff just has that natural appeal, especially to a boy my age at the time (of course, these being the nice jolly Pirates of the Caribbean-style pirates, not the actual ones who very often weren’t so nice.)

While I did have a lot of pirate-themed sets, including a full ship (the Caribbean Clipper, pretty nice too) the best Lego pirate ship for me still has to be this Black Seas Barracuda. Firstly, what a great name. You might imagine an actual pirate calling his ship the Barracuda, though I don’t know if any actually did. But secondly, just look at the damn thing, because it is deluxe as hell, with two masts, gun ports, a boat for sending probably threatening messages to other ships, a cabin that opened up in the back, and a full complement of crew members including a female pirate (Anne Bonny or Mary Read maybe?) and a monkey, and I think there might have been a parrot in there too.

This set really showed how excellent some of these older Lego sets could be. I especially regret that I never owned this, because the one ship I did have was an “Imperial Guard” themed one — I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be a French ship considering its blue flag with its fleur-de-lys-looking symbols slightly resembling the old French royal banner, but there were sets featuring clearly British redcoats and Spanish Armada guys as well. It would have been nice to have a proper ship-to-ship battle with two of these ships, but my pirates were stuck attacking the scurvy royal and imperial dogs on shitty rafts and boats. Sorry, guys.

I should also note that there was a later pirate ship, the Skull’s Eye Schooner from 1993, that looked really nice as well. But looking back, it bugs me a bit today that the designers printed the skull-and-crossbones right on the sail like that. Looks cool enough to be sure, but real pirates would never have announced themselves in that way — they had plain sails and flew false flags to deceive their targets and any naval ships or pirate hunters that might be around, only raising the Jolly Roger when they wanted to scare a target into surrendering without a chase. Which is something the Barracuda gets right, though I don’t know if that much thought really went into it.

6542: Launch & Load Seaport

Out of all the themes, I think the Town was my least favorite just because it felt a bit mundane. Why act out stories in the modern-day real world when I could be playing with knights, pirates, and space warriors instead? I did have a few Town sets, however, though this seaport wasn’t one of them because it was really just too expensive.

While I preferred to spend my birthday/Christmas credit on those other themes, I liked the idea of a set that contained several components like this one did, with the tanker, Coast Guard-looking ship, truck, and moving crane or whatever that thing is called. With all that, you could act out a really exciting dock unloading procedure complete with customs officials present to make sure no contraband is on board and all the necessary taxes have been paid. My idea probably would have been to have my pirate ship (which I didn’t own, see above) going through a magical time portal to the present day, then attacking this port and stealing the modern ships for their own that they’d then have to figure out how to operate without the use of sails. That might make for a good science fiction story, actually.

There were other sets I coveted, but I think these have to top my list. My only other real Lego-related regret is that I never truly appreciated the unique aesthetic of the Paradisa subset of the Town theme. These were the Lego sets clearly designed “for girls” featuring a lot of pastel colors and pleasant settings like cafés and resorts. Now I can see it would have added some nice spice to my very small town, but at the time anything for girls was anathema of course. What can you do.

Listening/reading log #23 (September 2021)

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

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

Mirage (Camel, 1974)

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

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

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

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

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

Utamonogatari (Various, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOWERS (TOWERS, 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the featured articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happens, anyway, see you next post.

More YouTube channels to watch during the quarantine (part 2)

When I wrote the first part of this post series 16 months ago, I didn’t imagine we’d still be in this shitpile by September 2021. Yet here we are, still in the midst of it. Everything is technically open where I live, but fuck that shit. I have the good fortune to be able to work from home anyway, which not everyone does obviously. (And here’s another reminder that America doesn’t give its teachers nearly enough credit or compensation. They’ll have to hope for that in the afterlife, because hell if they’ll find it on Earth.)

So here’s another post about good YouTube channels to check out if you need extra time to pass while at home. I hope this is helpful, and not just another excuse for me to write a fairly low-effort post because every day after work this week I only had the energy to watch a screen with flashing colors on it.

I’ll break these channels down into four categories again, though different ones this time, starting with:

1) Informative/documentary/etc.

First, a few channels I somehow missed last time that I want to add to this category:

CGP Grey — This guy has been around YouTube for a long time, and I’d say he’s a must-watch if you’re into history or political science at all. CGP Grey’s videos somehow manage to be both in-depth and concise, a trick I could never pull off myself. I’d recommend anything he’s put out, but his discussions of efficiency in voting systems are great (and not at all dry like they might sound — Grey also manages to always be entertaining.) They’re not all about history and politics, however: I found this one informative, though I’ve been following its instructions for about 20 years now without realizing it.

Periodic Videos — I got a lousy grade in chemistry class in high school, partly because I was being a complete no-effort shit at the time (and as a result getting a figurative but still massive ass-kicking and sorting myself out just in time to get a respectable four-year average and to get into a respectable university, but that’s another story.) I found actually studying that stuff from the textbooks and doing labs miserable, but I’ve come around, and now I follow Periodic Videos, a channel run by a group at the University of Nottingham. This channel mostly contains videos focusing on specific elements from the periodic table as their name suggests, featuring interesting background and experiments that sometimes include explosions or super-frozen objects.

Really, I get the impression this group might just like exploding, freezing, and melting objects, which I can understand. It does make the videos a little more exciting wondering how large a mess they can create with these chemicals in a safe and controlled environment.

I’ll also throw Solar Sands in this category. This guy creates interesting videos on art criticism and related subjects.

His “Let’s Build an Anime Girl” video is also pretty thought-provoking. Though I don’t agree with his conclusion that drowning in theoretical immersive fictional worlds at the expense of “real life” is a bad thing, because it’s honestly all I’m looking forward to in my own life. If anything really, I’m sad that I’ll probably be dead before we have that kind of technology. Fuck you, theoretical future people.

2) Music

I’d like to tell you the name of the first channel I’m featuring in this category, but it doesn’t have one. I’d also like to tell you the names of the songs the artist releases on this channel, but the songs don’t have names either, and neither does the artist really (though they go by x0o0x_ on Twitter.) So I’ll just post one of their recent songs:

So ”     ” is really good. But be sure to check out ”     ” as well:

These and the rest of their songs are just god damn good, not much else to say about them. I like the dark feel of them combined with their energy, and the illustrations by stdio_nameraka match the songs perfectly. Not sure why the maker(s), including the singer, have decided to remain anonymous otherwise, but that’s their deal.

If you like solo piano as much as I do, you might also be interested in Pan Piano. This channel features another anonymous musician who plays covers, largely of anime and game music.

Her playing is obviously the only reason I’m subscribed to this channel. Why else would I be?

Well, yeah, Pan’s cosplay is obviously part of the appeal of her videos, and I suspect she wouldn’t have quite so many fans without it. But she is a fine pianist on top of that — I’d like to be this good one day, or at least close to it once I brush up again. Also, she recently put out what I consider the best video on YouTube so far:

And if you’re looking for a guy who talks about music theory, why some music might sound good to your ear while other music doesn’t, and how good or shitty various music-making software is, check out Tantacrul. This channel might fit just as well in the first category above, but it’s all about music, so I’m putting it here. I especially liked this video about how modern TV producers use stock music to try to manipulate viewers’ feelings as opposed to letting the viewers’ feelings result naturally from what they’re watching.

3) Bizarre/unsettling horror

I’m generally not a fan of horror. When it’s done well, it can be a good time (though certainly taxing, but I guess that’s part of the point) but most of what I’ve seen is more of the eye-rolling sort, if it doesn’t manage to go all the way over to that “so bad it’s funny” territory. Some filmmakers seem to think it’s enough to just have a spooky ghost haunting, an alien invasion, or a demon possession in their story for me to give a shit about it.

But no. I don’t have any problem with ghosts or aliens or demons, but I need a little more than just these elements to care about horror. Thankfully, there are a few interesting and creative independent projects on YouTube that I think get the genre down pretty well, certainly better than most Hollywood films today do. And the best channel I’ve seen so far in this regard is Gemini Home Entertainment.

Gemini is a running project by one Remy Abode, who creates these 80s/90s instructional VHS-style videos that start pretty normal and pleasant but always end up running off the rails into bizarre and uncanny horror. Though it’s not clear at first, all of the videos up until the most recent as of this writing tell a cohesive story, and one that’s pretty damn terrifying once you really understand it. If you’re a fan of slow-building psychological horror, I’d recommend Gemini. No dumb jumpscares here, but what it offers is way more effective in my opinion. I especially found the video “DEEP ROOT DISEASE” genuinely upsetting in exactly the way I think it was going for.

And if that was too taxing for you, try taking some Thalasin! It’s a new drug that’s supposed to improve your emotions. Or turn you into a character from a Junji Ito manga. I didn’t know what to expect watching this one and might have pissed myself as a result. I didn’t, just to be clear, but I can understand why someone would.

And if you’re not familiar with Junji Ito, look him up before watching the Thalasin video, and if you don’t like what you see of his work, probably don’t click that link. Without giving the twist away, it’s really not to be taken lightly — and now you can’t complain that I didn’t warn you beforehand. That Gooseworx is a creative one in any case.

4) VTubers

And finally, of course here’s an update on those virtual YouTubers we all love so much. Since first writing about them back in December, the world of English-language VTubers has expanded quite a bit. Hololive English has recently had additions to its lineup, including “Hololive Council” or EN Gen 2 as I’ve heard most people call it, even though apparently we’re not supposed to call it that. It’s good stuff, with plenty of interesting and varied personalities to suit just about anyone’s tastes.

My personal favorite in the bunch is Ouro Kronii, the “Warden of Time” who wears a giant floating clock over her head that resembles a helicopter’s blades. And of course that’s the only remarkable thing about her design. Always looking respectfully, of course.

She also provides good life advice:

Kronii’s streams have a nice chilled-out feel that I like. Even though I can’t really catch much of any of them because holy shit, I have too damn much work to do and how am I supposed to follow all these VTubers? I really hope that afterlife I was talking about has all these VODs in stock so I’ll have something to pass eternity with.

On top of all that, the other major VTuber agency Nijisanji started its own English-language branch this year, with two generations already pretty well established. I’ve already talked them up a bit in end-of-month posts, but all six VTubers in the group so far are a good time to watch, and they have great chemistry together. I’m partial to Pomu Rainpuff — she’s a strange one, very entertaining and certainly dedicated, practicing one song for nine hours straight. Her Google Earth tour of Akihabara was also interesting. Pomu really likes maid cafés I guess, can’t blame her.

But my favorite in this particular group is probably Finana Ryugu. She’s streamed both Nekopara and VA-11 Hall-A — truly a mermaid of culture. Her “safe for work” narrations of the 18+ scenes in the Nekopara games alone are enough to put her in the eternal hall of fame.

Also, credit to Rosemi for playing Age of Empires II. Still a great game worth the attention after 20 years, though she earned her reputation as ruiner of all France in that stream.

That’s it for now. If we spend still another 16 months in this hell, I’ll be sure to write a part 3 in this series. Until then (but hopefully not.)

Politics in art and the value of escapism

Warning: it’s a real load of bullshit this time. I talk about politics, angry people on the internet, and the end of the world, and it’s probably a mess. Maybe. Judge for yourself. I had to get this out, anyway. Next time I’ll post something more normal.

I’ve written about politics here on occasion, usually in the context of law when it relates to the main subjects on this site — games, anime, etc. Anyone who knows me well in real life can tell you roughly where I fall politically (because I probably went on about it once in a caffeine-fueled rant to them, something like this one): I believe in maintaining the rule of law, in fair and equal process without discrimination, in improving both the access to and quality of essential social services like public education and health, and in rebuilding and repairing the national infrastructure. I consider one of the most important roles of government to be the maintenance of a balance between individual freedoms and the good of society as a whole. And I wish we’d have a metro system where I live that’s not a complete fucking embarrassment.

Even the shitass train and highway system in my old, long-gone SimCity 2000 save is better that what we have in my city.

But why am I talking about my politics now? Because apparently the subject just can’t be avoided, even if I were to stick to writing about games, anime, and music on this site without any reference to politics. Because the concerns I’ve brought up in past posts on the subjects of access to art, on public censorship and private pressures to freeze out NSFW/18+ work, apparently put me in the alt-right camp where some of these are used as talking points. So I’ve been told in a few conversations. Sure, I’m alt-right… even though I’d be thoroughly despised by just about everyone in that camp for most of the views I expressed above.

But no, they’re correct. I must actually be in the alt-right without knowing it. Well, it makes sense — after all, people with anime avatars and by extension anime-styled game-themed avatars are probably mostly extremist trolls. And do you like the wildly popular Attack on Titan? Be careful — it’s also a favorite of the far right.

Of course, some people believe that all art is political and so it’s only natural that the conversation involves politics. But then I don’t agree with that stance at all. Is some art political? Absolutely. Art has been used to express political ideas for thousands of years. And of course, anime and games are included in that set of work: it would be ridiculous to suggest Legend of the Galactic Heroes doesn’t involve politics for example; it can’t even be talked about meaningfully without bringing its politics up. And some works that don’t explicitly address such issues can still be examined from political, social, and economic angles.

And LOGH is more relevant now than it’s ever been since it aired.

But is all art political? Is a pure jazz album without lyrics or any apparent message like MSB political? What about an ultraviolent over-the-top gangster story like Vice City? What about a surrealistic slapstick gag comedy like Asobi Asobase, or a silly romantic comedy like Uzaki-chan Want to Hang Out? Where’s the politics behind these works? According to the definition of “political” I’ve sometimes seen used, any work of art that deals with any aspect of life at all is political. To me, this definition is so broad that it becomes completely meaningless.

And even if we agree that a more ambiguous work of art deals with politics, how can we pin down what sort of politics it espouses? The New Republic article above is a good example: the author, a professed left-winger and a fan of Attack on Titan, comments on how both left- and right-wingers have interpreted the series in very different ways that fit their own worldviews. By the end of the article, he notes that manga author Hajime Isayama doesn’t want to tell his readers how to interpret his work — a feeling that I understand and sympathize with myself. But the writer of the article seems almost to blame Isayama for not correcting posters on the virulently right-wing sections of 4chan and elsewhere about what Attack on Titan is supposed to mean. As if that would prevent such people from making their own interpretations of it anyway.1

Another problem I have with this “all art is political” argument is that it often seems to be used as a way to argue some work or other is socially harmful to justify its removal from a private platform, or to try to discourage and freeze out NSFW styles of art. I already addressed this argument here, so I won’t go through it again in detail, but the gist of my response was that if a great enough social harm can be shown to justify removing access to the work in question, I’m fine with having it kicked off platforms. However, the justification I hear so often of “because I think it’s distasteful/disgusting” without more isn’t enough to prove this kind of harm. The burden of proof on those arguing to remove access to artistic works has to be set extremely high, otherwise it’s too easy to turn out any work with anything near a sharp edge that might put a few people off. Granted, I’m not talking here about a legal burden of proof — I leave that for arguments involving the First Amendment, which this one doesn’t necessarily. But I think the concept can and should be applied in a similar way when considering not just the creation of art but of access to it.

I don’t think any of the points I’ve made here are particular to a right-wing mindset. To any right-wingers who might be reading, feel free to tell me if I’m wrong, but you’re not the only ones who profess to believe in free expression, are you? On the contrary, we’ve seen throughout history that those greedy for control and power, regardless of their political stance, are happy to deny freedom of expression and to deny the public access to artistic works they dislike. For the most recent major example, see Xi Jinping’s wide-reaching crackdowns on popular culture in mainland China — anything that even smells like a hint of diversity away from the standard he and his CCP hold up seems to be a target now.

But outside of those really oppressive examples, why does any of this shit matter? There’s still another argument I’ve heard that none of the above matters very much in the face of far more serious social, economic, and political problems — another one that I’ve addressed once before.

Again, I’ll acknowledge that the entire human race faces massive obstacles, some of which may not even be possible to get over. To me and to many others, climate change is the greatest of these obstacles. Together with the threat of civilization-scale suicide by nuclear war that’s been around since the 1940s and more generally defects in human nature that haven’t disappeared or arguably even diminished very much since ancient times,2 and with COVID on top of that, it’s no wonder there’s so much talk about apocalyptic scenarios these days (at least for us humans. The roaches will still be around, damn them.)

And yet again, I say: all the more reason to have a permissive attitude towards escapist styles of art. What the hell else are people supposed to do to let off steam? Yoga, exercise, and healthy eating just aren’t enough sometimes, and certainly not now. Art has practical uses in addition to its inherent value. One of these is its use as a way to express political ideas, yes, but another is the power it holds to let people escape from reality for a while into a novel, a game, an anime or TV series or comic — and of course, there’s nothing to say the two can’t be combined in the same work.

A lot of the anger over games and other popular art forms being “attacked” or “invaded” by people with political agendas is misplaced, I think — all art should be open to criticism, and it’s impossible to “remove the politics” from anime and games since some of these works clearly deal with political and social issues. Certain right/alt-right figures in the gaming and film spheres especially have used this anger to stir the pot for their own purposes, making and inspiring arguments based on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other -isms and -phobias (see some of the criticism of the last few Star Wars films or The Last of Us Part II for examples — though of course some defenders of these works were all too happy to paint all criticism with that brush, which was completely inaccurate and disingenuous.)

At the same time, I understand the mistrust some fans feel towards the especially vocal critics who speak against works full of sexual and/or violent elements. This debate around the contents of popular media, and especially of video games, has been raging for three decades now, and for what? There’s never been proof (despite constant claims of it) that these kinds of expressions affect real-life behavior for the worse. On the contrary, it feels to me more natural to think that they act as a sort of “release valve” for people to indulge in extreme behaviors they never would in real life. If you’ve played GTA, for instance, how many wild, murderous rampages have you gone on in game? Does that mean you’d go on any in real life? Have these in-game experiences even made you more callous towards real-life suffering? Similar questions can be raised about sexual content in games, anime, and elsewhere.

I just wanted to play GTA for half an hour but suddenly I’m okay with murder as a result. Shit.

Too often I’ve heard it said with complete authority, but no factual support, that “fiction affects reality” with the implication that writers, artists, and others involved in the creative process have a duty to always create in a socially responsible way. Maybe it’s a mark of my embarrassing immaturity, but I can’t agree with that, or at least not in all cases. If the work is meant to address serious issues — if the creators opened that door — then I agree that such criticism is completely warranted. But there has to be room for pure escapism as well. Age-restricted if necessary, of course, but beyond that, without an extremely strong argument I don’t think it’s warranted to call for the removal of games or series from platforms, bookstores, or any other shops or the freezing out of such works on these grounds.

And I don’t think saying so puts me in a certain political camp. Unless that camp is “people who like lewd anime girls”, and despite efforts to make that seem like an alt-right thing, I’m also committed to helping defend democracy from the extremists who would destroy it. Quite literally: I took an oath to defend the US Constitution when I joined the bar, and I take it seriously. I’m also worried about the future of my country for perhaps obvious reasons. That said, I’m not going to simply fold up and drop this other subject, since I feel more than anything that they go hand in hand.

Yeah I picked this screenshot to place here because they’re holding hands, but it’s also relevant because The Expression: Amrilato was briefly removed from Steam for supposedly being too spicy. Which it really isn’t.

As usual, please feel free to tell me if you think I’ve lost my mind. More likely I’ve never found it.

To be more serious, I know my own life experience colors my feelings about all of the above, and though I do my best to consider my arguments fairly and without too much bias, it’s not possible to remove myself from them. It’s probably not advisable anyway, even if I could. Otherwise what would be the point of writing here? But for this reason and others, I’m always happy to hear differing opinions. In the end, after all, we’re all in the same boat — a boat that might be sinking.

 

1 This isn’t to say that an artistic work with an explicit political message is any worse than one with an ambiguous message or none at all. It all depends on how honestly the work approaches the beliefs and the issues it’s dealing with and how much or little credit it gives its audience. i.e. don’t talk down to me like I’m a child or try to pull some silly straw man bullshit to “prove” your stance is correct.

2 Here I’m starting down an entirely different path that involves history, psychology, sociology and a lot of other -ologies (all ending in eschatology, of course.) I love reading and thinking about history, but I’m an amateur at best in that field and can’t even call myself one in the others. Still, here’s my dumbass opinion: I feel we have far stronger norms these days generally speaking that keep us in line and cooperating to some extent (see international organizations and agreements that only became a standard thing after World War II — I’m not counting the clusterfuck that was the League of Nations) but in the end, human nature seems like it’s still more or less what it always has been. Read Thucydides to see a good example of that. What struck me most about his History of the Peloponnesian War, written 2,400 years ago, is how familiar all the political deceit and militaristic dick-swinging he describes felt, especially at the time I read it in the mid-2000s.

But that’s a debate that I won’t engage in any more deeply because, once again, I’m not really qualified to do so. I’m not academia and never have been. Though a gig as a law school professor would be nice — those people are so incredibly overpaid that it’s practically a crime.

Listening/reading log #22 (August 2021)

Another month spent watching the world fucking burn. I mostly spent it working, and the parts I didn’t I spent mostly watching anime and doing other degenerate kinds of things. What else is there to do? At least for now, while we’re still trapped indoors (not that I really mind, of course. Actually my state is completely open, but hell if I’m taking chances.) For the time being, let’s just get on to the usual thing: music and great writing from around the communities.

Animals (Pink Floyd, 1977)

Highlights: Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones)

Yet another set of guys who don’t need any introduction — I think even kids today know who they are thanks to YouTube (and TikTok? I don’t go there, so I have no idea.) But in case you don’t know them, Pink Floyd were another English art/prog-rock band that got their start in the 60s and went on to massive popularity with heavily concept-based albums in the 70s before breaking up soon into the 80s and suffering through legal battles over the rights to the band name. Look those up; they’re fun in a morbid way.

Animals gets a little overshadowed by two of Pink Floyd’s other big projects, Dark Side of the Moon before it and The Wall that came directly after, but I think this one deserves just as much if not more praise. Because for me, Animals is where both the music and the concept it’s based around come together to create a really cohesive and entertaining album.

Not that the concept is all that complicated. I think Roger Waters read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and just decided to adapt the idea of dogs, pigs, and sheep representing different classes of humans in an unfair, unjust societal structure (the dogs being the enforcers for the rich/ruling class pigs, and the sheep being the rest of us I think.) Maybe it works just because it’s pretty simple and straightforward, but then Waters’ lyrics thankfully aren’t so straightforward that they’re battering us over the head with the message.

And most importantly, the music totally fits the theme. Pink Floyd were great at creating atmosphere especially between Dave Gilmour’s guitar and Rick Wright’s keyboards, and Animals creates a pretty oppressive, dark one appropriate to its theme. “Dogs” is an excellent example of this, probably my favorite song on the album; doesn’t feel its 17-minute length at all. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is also catchy, and likely the one song from Animals you’ve heard if you’ve only heard one of them. Out of the three big pieces on the album, Sheep is a little less memorable, but it still works well in the concept and puts a nice cap on it with an ending that reminds me a lot of “The Knife” by Genesis with that “kill them all!” vibe.

So I’d recommend checking out Animals. Especially if you want to feel depressed about the horrible uncaring bullshit society we live in. Don’t look to Pink Floyd for happy positive funtime music, but you already know that if you’ve heard or seen The Wall. And best of all, Doug Walker will never get his hands on this album, since it never had a film adaptation.

Siren of the Formless (City Girl, 2020)

Highlights: “Serene Tears, Elysian Eyes” and “Devote Ember” are nice, but it’s all very even

Well, maybe you don’t want to meditate on how fucked society is and how we’ll probably destroy ourselves sometime this or next century because of faults inherent in human nature that have existed since the Stone Age. If that’s not your thing and you’d rather relax instead, here’s a better option. I’ve covered City Girl once before, but she (at least I guess she, though again I’m not sure; could be a group for all I know) has put together quite a few albums that are posted in full on YouTube and are also available on Bandcamp and other platforms for sale.

Siren of the Formless is another nice album for chilling out and sitting back in your chair on a rainy morning, full of smooth, slow lo-fi tracks. I especially like the combination of acoustic and electronic instruments; there’s plenty of synths together with what sound like piano and actual strings being played, and they blend together well.

As for the songs themselves, there are a few that I especially enjoy like the ones listed above, but the whole album itself sort of blends together when I listen to it. In some cases, that would be a bad thing, but here it works, and it feels intentional as well. The album cover fits the contents perfectly — it feels like I floated through the whole album, like that girl floating in that lake. Not sure how to describe it in a less artsy pretentious way, but that’s just the feeling I get from it.

If you’re not generally a fan of “easy listening”, I’d still give this a try, because it’s the tasteful and well-thought-out kind rather than the artificial-feeling plasticy kind. I’ll keep following City Girl myself, and I’ll be on the lookout for similar stuff coming out on YouTube and Bandcamp and elsewhere.

MSB (Masahiko Satoh & Medical Sugar Bank, 1980)

Highlights: Ridin’ Out, Fly, May Fly, Overhang Blues

And finally, Japanese jazz, yeah. Why not. YouTube keeps dropping these recommendations in my sidebar and I’ve started listening to them. It seems Japan was really big on fusion in the late 70s and 80s (see my very first one of these posts featuring Casiopea) which makes sense when you listen to say the OutRun or one of the early Sonic soundtracks. There has to be a web connecting this jazz/fusion stuff with city pop and new jack swing and leading to that music I heard so much of in my childhood.

This particular album was created by pianist Masahiko Satoh and the strangely named band Medical Sugar Bank. MSB is a fully instrumental jazz album, though it varies a whole lot in tone from piece to piece. I only like part of it, though thankfully the larger part that falls into the more fusion-sounding funky category like “Ridin’ Out” and “Fly, May Fly”, songs that remind me a lot of the really good stuff off of Casiopea. I’m also pretty all right with the ending free jazz freakout “Overhang Blues”, probably because it’s just short enough to make that controlled chaos really work for me.

The rest of the album roughly falls into two categories: more sections of dissonant avantgarde horn wailing that I can only take in small amounts, and “heavenly” sounding pieces like Saga Unknown that I don’t care for in any amount at all. The latter gets too close to standard smooth jazz for my taste, just the kind of easy listening I don’t like as opposed to the kind on the album just above this one. It also probably doesn’t help that some of these tracks sound like they feature a lot of soprano sax (see Nebulous Suspicion for example.) Not that the soprano sax did anything to deserve its reputation — it’s a fine instrument, but Kenny G has kind of defined its sound after all, and he didn’t do it any favors in my opinion. Though if you want to hear it really done well, check out John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things.

But before I sound like way too much of a snob (forget it, I’m years too late for that) I’ll mention that all the playing is extremely professional and I can see even those tracks I don’t care for much working as nice mood-setting music. Maybe especially if you’re trying to set a romantic mood. See, I’m no romantic, so I don’t have any sense for this stuff. I’d end up playing some crazy shit like Amon Düül II and scaring the woman off (or discovering she’s exactly as weird as I am — maybe this is actually a great idea?)

So take what I have to say with a grain or a handful of salt, or sugar, or whatever. I basically like the greater part of MSB, and if 70s/80s fusion is your thing and you don’t mind a little sap you’ll probably like the whole thing more than I did. And even those sappier pieces have some cool parts in them, albeit ones that I don’t feel like pulling out and hearing again myself.

Now for the featured posts:

Let’s Get this Roadshow on the Road: SHIROBAKO the Movie (OGIUE MANIAX) — I liked Shirobako a lot, but the fact that it had a sequel movie slipped my mind until I read this review. Another one to add to the list along with the Youjo Senki movie that I need to see anyway in preparation for season 2 of Tanya the Evil. There’s so damn much to watch… but this one looks like it’s well worth the time.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Whole-Series Review and Reflection (The Infinite Zenith) — I have to admit that the concept of Uma Musume came off as weird to me at first — a bunch of horse girl idols who race against each other in derbies and also sing in concerts and do typical idol stuff. However, this review got me interested. P.A. Works already has a pretty good track record with anime as far as I can tell, and honestly the idea behind Uma Musume isn’t any weirder than that in say Nekopara, or those shipgirl games like Kantai Collection or Azur Lane (which in a way are quite a bit stranger.)

Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (Extra Life) — Red Metal has done something I could never do myself and played through and reviewed the whole Commander Keen series in depth, ending with this sixth installment. Do yourself a favor and read them all if only to understand what kinds of platformers PC-only players had to choose from in the early/mid 90s, before emulators were a thing. Feel some of that pain. I was one of those kids back at the time who had to sponge off his friends and relatives to play their SNES and Genesis, so I can relate.

Yakuza 0 – Punching human pinatas for mad cash (Nepiki Gaming) — That title says it all, really. I’ll probably be writing a review myself whenever I manage to actually finish it (which could be anytime this or next year, lacking discipline as I do) but in the meantime, you should read Nepiki’s review of Yakuza 0. I will also agree that the game provides poor explanations of mahjong and shogi — I already knew how to play mahjong so I was all right there, but I gave up on that old man’s shogi challenge two minutes in. There’s a sidequest I’m guaranteed never to finish. Good thing I don’t care about 100% runs.

In Search of… Kaiji, the Ultimate Survivor (In Search of Number Nine – an anime blog) — Kaiji is easily in my top few (top three/five/whatever, I don’t really count them) anime of all time, so I’m always happy to see other bloggers writing about it. Iniksbane has some interesting points to make about the first season of the series here, with observations that I hadn’t really considered before. Be sure to read it (and also watch Kaiji if you haven’t!)

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (Nintendobound) — All I’ve played of Ace Attorney was some of the very first game on the DS so long go that I don’t remember much about it. Perhaps shameful to say for a hybrid lawyer/gamer like myself, but that’s the fact. However, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles sounds just like the thing for me to try to get into the series again if I ever take the shot. Matt gives the game a comprehensive review here.

A Guide to Soloing Alatreon in Monster Hunter World (Frostilyte Writes) — While I’m in the process of degrading my serious gamer status or however that works, I’ll also mention that I’m not into Monster Hunter. Frostilyte is, however, and he’s written an in-depth guide to soloing a boss fight in Monster Hunter World. I really like seeing these kinds of narrow-focus but extremely deep guides, though I haven’t written any myself — they remind me a lot of the old days on GameFAQs. Those were the days. No bills to pay or any of that shit. Before I start complaining about my life again, I’ll just recommend that you check out Frostilyte’s guide if you have an interest in this game.

The Summer of Love III: Final Thoughts on Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya (Shallow Dives in Anime) — Dewbond gives his concluding thoughts on the magical girl-themed Fate spinoff Prisma Illya following a series of posts on the anime. I was already thinking about picking it up myself — I’ve already covered one Fate spinoff series, so why not another? Dewbond makes it sound well worth the watch in his post.

Shangri-La – Let’s Watch a Random Anime (#6) (Side of Fiction) — Every month, Jacob spins a wheel full of anime hosted at randomanime.org and watches whatever comes up. This is a brave undertaking, and not one I’m equal to (when I went to randomanime.org, I got a painfully generic-looking harem comedy, and fuck if I’m watching that. Not my thing.) But Jacob here writes about his sixth randomly selected anime, Shangri-La. Sounds like a mixed bag but possibly an interesting one for some people; I might just check it out for the concept and because it’s another Range Murata-involved project like Cop Craft was. Murata being a character designer, that’s no guarantee of the story’s quality — I just like his designs (though maybe Last Exile is a better bet than this?) I also look forward to seeing what random anime comes up in this post series going forward.

Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #1: Sakura Kinomoto (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — And speaking of magical girls, Traditional Catholic Weeb in this new post series features Sakura Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura with a focus on the challenges she faces. The magical girl genre seems a lot heavier than I used to think it was, and that’s even setting aside the famously dark Madoka Magica.

Should Nintendo Fire Game Freak from Pokémon? (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m not a particular fan of Pokémon, but I have noticed a lot of the discontent among fans over recent entries in the series. and the role of original development team Game Freak might have a lot to do with that. I’d argue the same about Sonic Team and the Sonic series myself, but that’s another matter. (Just give the keys to Christian Whitehead for God’s sake; he actually knows what he’s doing. But I’ll save those complaints for later.)

Olympic Gold (Shoot the Rookie) — Pix1001, in honor of the recently ended Tokyo Olympics, has put together a set of predictions for which game characters would dominate in a hypothetical video game version of the competition. No arguments from me about these picks; I’d put money on all of them. Watching Bayonetta try the pole vault would be entertaining as well.

Fry Force and How to Use Anime Influences For Marketing (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Commercials tend to be hated, and for good reason: they’re trying to sell us things we usually don’t need, and they’re often doing so in the most irritating, mind-numbing ways possible, with “wacky” characters who make me wish I lived on a desert island with no access to goods or services at all (see GrubHub, Liberty Mutual, those horrible McDonalds spots that play on Soundcloud for some of the worst offenders.) However, Taco Bell has somehow gotten it right with an ad that takes serious influence from anime as Scott sets out here. Credit to the Taco Bell ad people for putting actual effort into their advertising, even if I’m not much of a fan of their food (and points for the Gawr Gura cameo — of course I couldn’t go without mentioning that.)

Cooking with Testosterone: Ahi Tuna Steak (Lost to the Aether) — While I’m not about to start cooking myself anytime soon (too busy, or lazy, or dumb, make your choice) watching Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family did make me wish I could cook like Shirou if only to be surrounded by dozens of women constantly like he is. Fortunately we have Aether, who has brought back an old series of cooking posts with his method of preparing an ahi tuna steak. I had this once; it’s good as hell. Maybe I’ll even try my hand at this one day. Can I really afford not to under the circumstances?

And from the same blog: Disgaeadventures — I don’t usually feature two posts from the same blog, but Aether also recently gave his thoughts on Disgaea 1 for PC and brings an interesting angle both on the characters and gameplay and on some aspects of them that might not be obvious at first glance. I’m always happy to see more people picking up Disgaea of course, so I had to feature this as well. (I also still promise I’m not a Nippon Ichi shill.)

Blogging Banter: Blogger Boundaries (Ace Asunder) — And finally from Solarayo, a reminder that we can see online conflict even in our usually civil blogging communities along with suggestions for trying to avoid it. One of the nice things about online communities is that you don’t really have to deal with people you don’t get along with, a luxury that we generally don’t have when dealing with family or work colleagues. Setting personal boundaries is always important in any case.

And that’s it for the month once again. Work has been especially busy for me recently, but I still intend to keep making progress through the long-haul games I’m playing. More anime reviews are also on their way. And I haven’t forgotten about those indie games in the summer bundles I bought from itch.io. And I just bought Long Live the Queen… shit. Anyway, there’s more coming. Until then.