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

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

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

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

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

2) I can’t stop writing.

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

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

3) Online writing is still alive and well.

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

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

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

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

Is self-deprecation a bad thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Sure I guess I’ll try it: Blaugust 2022

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

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

absolute pain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #31 (June 2022)

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

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

Mellow Dream (Ryo Fukui, 1977)

Highlights: Mellow Dream, Horizon, Early Summer

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

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

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

NEWS AT 11 (猫 シ Corp., 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #30 (May 2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bakemonogatari Part I by Nisio Isin

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

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

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

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

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from the rabbit hole: Two years in VTuber Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usada Pekora

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

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

Nekomata Okayu

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

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

Pomu Rainpuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

To be fair, however, there are also sensationalist “pro-VTuber” types on YouTube who feed off of usually bullshit nothing sorts of “drama” for clicks. You can sometimes tell these types by their thumbnails. One video maker who doesn’t fall into that pit is Depressed Nousagi: I linked a couple of his videos above because he’s an actually impartial guy who does research and puts together interesting and informative videos on VTuber history, as far back as that goes, anyway. And I have to support a fellow depressed nousagi, don’t I?

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

A change in my situation

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

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

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

life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #29 (March 2022)

Usual apologies for the extremely late post. Otherwise, as far as the news goes, the world is even more fucked than ever. With impending doom coming ever closer, let’s relax once again with good music and good writing.

Pig Views (Regal Worm, 2018)

Highlights: Rose, Rubus, Smilax, Vulkan; Revealed as a True Future Tyrant; Rose Parkington, They Would Not Let You Leave (all found here)

All this time I’ve been listening to progressive rock from the 1970s, and mostly the early 70s back during the peak of that genre. But there’s some damn good prog around these days too, and not simply made by guys who sound like pale imitations of ELP and Yes and the like (who I love, but I don’t need modern copies of.) I came across the band/project Regal Worm more or less by chance after getting a recommendation and then following a rabbit hole down Bandcamp. All the music on Pig Views is written and recorded by one guy from Sheffield, England named Jarrod Gosling who apparently plays every instrument known to man, accompanied by a host of guest singers and musicians.

That’s impressive in itself, but Mr. Gosling has written some fine songs as well, though the best ones are shoved onto the front of the album. I have no idea what the fuck the above three songs I linked are supposed to be about with their obscure lyrics in typical overblown prog fashion. But they’re catchy and have great atmosphere, so their meanings if they even have any don’t make a difference to me (though I’m admittedly a big fan of 70s Yes, and you can’t beat them if you’re looking for convoluted lyrics.) I’d much rather listen to music with no meaning or obscure meaning that I enjoy than music with a clear meaning that I don’t, but I suspect that’s true of anyone who likes prog at all. Regal Worm/Gosling seems to have a sense of humor as well, and I get the feeling that some of this music is meant to be playing on the more self-important aspects of the genre — see “Pre-Columbian Worry Song”, about concerns of falling into the ocean and off the edge of the world.

My only problem with Pig Views is that a couple of the songs drag on too long, and sometimes without much purpose — I’m thinking mainly of the epic-sounding “The Dreaded Lurg” which I feel doesn’t really justify its length. But there’s nothing bad on this album, even if the second half of it falls off a bit. If you’re looking for some weirdo modern prog in the vein of Gentle Giant or Van der Graaf Generator (and I’ve read comparisons to 70s Canterbury rock guys like Henry Cow too, who I haven’t really listened to (yet)) I’d highly recommend Regal Worm, and I may look into more of their/his work and more good modern prog in general.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports (Brian Eno, 1978)

Highlights: 1/1

More weird shit! But this one is a classic, sort of. At least it’s a classic in the ambient genre, and I’ve looked at ambient a bit in these posts, usually on the darker side, so why not go to the source? Music for Airports was created by legendary musician/composer/producer Brian Eno for exactly the purpose you’d think from the title: this album contains music made to be played at airports. It’s been years since I’ve been on an airplane or in an airport, so I had to imagine what it was like back when I had to haul ass through those long concourses. It might sound weird since air travel is so often seen as a hassle, but I actually miss that typical airport atmosphere, especially when it’s not crowded.

So I’m fine with the concept of “music for airports”, but even though Mr. Eno was a key figure in the development of the ambient genre and this is considered a great ambient album by a lot of people, I’m not in love with it myself. The big problem I have with the album Music for Airports is most of it doesn’t feel right for an airport. The only piece that seems to fit very well out of its four tracks is the opening “1/1” with its pleasant repeating piano loop — that one really makes me feel like I’m walking through one of those extremely long hallways with the massive windows looking out to the planes taking off and pulling in. But the following “2/1” features a vocal tone that makes me think of a synthesized chorus of angels, which is not a mental connection I want to be making at an airport, and especially not before boarding an airplane. “1/2” contains the same vocal synth tone but has more going on, though it still doesn’t relax me. The closing piece “2/2” is all right, but “1/1” is the only standout here in my opinion.

Still, again, Music for Airports is considered a classic in the ambient genre, so check it out yourself — maybe you’ll like it more than I did if you’re more inclined towards ambient. It’s also historically important, so if you’re deep into 70s and 80s musical movements beyond the most obvious pop/punk/disco/etc stuff this is an album you have to hear in any case. Eno made a whole series of these albums as that Ambient 1 title suggests, though the later volumes of Ambient seem a little vaguer in their purposes (like his following album Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, which I don’t even know the meaning of. The Plateaux of Mirror just sounds like a James Bond movie to me.)

That’s all for the music. Yeah, both albums were bizarre progressive/experimental stuff this time, but if you want some more potentially satisfying music, check out my last post in which I went on at length about my favorite Touhou tracks. Now for the featured posts from around the communities:

While My First Impressions Were Tepid, I’m Warming Up to Night in the Woods (Adventure Rules) — I started Night in the Woods a few years back and only got an hour or two in before being annoyed out of the entire experience by the protagonist and her college freshman-ness, for lack of a better term. But I think I wasn’t being fair. For one, I was kind of like that when I was that age, so she might have just been reminding me of myself too much, but it looks like her attitude and the hometown she’s returned to are all tied into a pretty interesting story. Read Robert’s post for more insight on all that. I might have to give this one another shot one day.

Anime Review #77: Chuunibyou – Take On Me! (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb brings his usual depth of analysis to the film Take On Me!, which is not about the 80s synth-pop group A-ha as you might think but rather a followup to the first two seasons of the anime Love, Chunnibyou & Other Delusions. I liked the first season back when I watched it last year, but not quite enough to watch the rest, so I can’t make any comment on this movie myself. But be sure to check out the above review if you’re interested (and I agree that Nibutani is the best girl in the series — her fighting with Dekomori was also a highlight of that first season.)

Winter Anime 2022 That Froze Over For Me (LitaKino Anime Corner) — With so many anime series airing every season, some of them just aren’t going to stick with you. Lita here gets into some of the less impressive anime of the past season and why they didn’t work for her so well.

Slow Loop Finale Impressions, Whole-Series Review and Recommendation (The Infinite Zenith) — After my extremely positive experience with Yuru Camp (and more on that soon once I finish the second season — I’ll also be checking out the film once it’s out/available!) I’ve been thinking I shouldn’t be so closed to the slice of life genre. I don’t know whether Slow Loop would necessarily be my thing (I was bored by the first episode of the extremely acclaimed slice of life Non Non Biyori if that tells you anything) but as with many of these series, there seems to be more to it than just “several girls hang out and do things together/shoot the breeze/etc.” Though a show just about that could be all right as long as it’s done well. I liked all the endless conversations in Monogatari after all, so I can’t just count a show all about banter out either.

Anime Corner: The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! Review (Never Argue With a Fish) — From Chris Joynson, a review of The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, a comedy that I thought was a bit overlooked last season and the season before (or was it before that even? Time is moving too quickly.) His take on the series is pretty different from mine, but it’s always interesting to see different angles on anime and other sorts of works.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Sweets & Psychedelia (Professional Moron) — Mr. Wapojif sets out his thoughts on the classic children’s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I say children’s film, but though I haven’t seen the whole thing in a while I suspect it would still completely hold up today, maybe even better than it used to for me, thanks in part to Gene Wilder’s excellent performance as the title character. It’s a good thing no one ever made an updated film version that didn’t live up to the first or the original novel at all, isn’t it?

Day Sixteen: Don’t Look Up (March of the Movies 2022) (The Visualist’s Veranda) — Kapodaco spent the month watching and writing about films, but unfortunately one of them was Don’t Look Up, a film that seems to have pissed a whole lot of people off with its general approach. I agree with Adam McKay’s message and agenda and all that, being someone who doesn’t want to see all of human civilization burn itself to fucking ashes. But I don’t get the impression that this sort of movie is going to help the situation.

There’s More to Dress-Up Darling Than Marin (Side of Fiction) — A look at last season’s big romantic comedy hit My Dress-Up Darling, focusing on the perhaps less noticed part of the central pair in that series, the male lead Gojo. He’s an interesting guy for sure (I say only four episodes in now, but I’ll probably be writing about him and the series in general at some point too.)

The 94th Academy Awards’ “Best Picture” Nominees Ranked from Worst to Best (Extra Life) — I really, really don’t give a fuck about the Oscars — the most I’ve cared about it ever was when Will Smith famously slapped Chris Rock in a move that made the ceremony relevant again for a lot of people, at least for a while. But Red Metal’s film analyses are always worth reading. There are at least a few on this list I should make an effort to see.

Look at these Preposterously Long Videogame Titles! (Arcadia Pod) — Some game titles are stupidly long for no reason at all, and Stephen K. gives us some of his favorite examples here. I thought that Summertime High School one was a joke, but knowing how lengthy some light novel titles can get I can believe it. My own favorite is still Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army for its double colon title (though of course that “Shin Megami Tensei” was only shoved into the NA and I think EU titles for us westerners who didn’t know what Devil Summoner was, but they only ended up confusing us more — that’s just the way with these poorly localized titles.)

Two Years in Japan Review (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu expresses his feelings about leaving Japan after two years spent there teaching. It sounds like it was a moving experience, and certainly one worth reading about.

Politics, as Usual, and My HOT Take on Rushia (The Unlit Cigarette) — This is yet another big case of VTuber drama, but one that says a lot about the whole performer-fan dynamic (that I got into purely by chance in my Needy Streamer Overload review about a week before this story came out.) The short version is that a popular Japanese VTuber named Uruha Rushia was exposed for potentially having a boyfriend, maybe, possibly, during a stream in which she received a message from a fellow online performer — a male one. Truly a horrible thing, isn’t it? If you’re wondering what the big deal about that is, you’re certainly not alone, but despite a lot of support from her fans, Rushia ended up terminated from the agency Hololive after its company Cover claimed she’d broken her contract by exposing certain information she was legally bound to keep quiet about.

It sounds like Cover is probably on solid ground with that claim, at least judging by the reaction from Rushia’s now-former colleagues (though Rushia’s role in that is up for debate too considering a possible betrayal of confidence made against her that led to the breach this post also gets into.) But this mess also raises a lot of questions about where the boundary lies between a VTuber’s online persona and their private self. The Unlit Cigarette featured a look at the Rushia situation last month that’s well worth a read, even if you don’t have a general interest in VTubers. There are plenty of weird social implications to get into here, after all, and those are relevant to a lot more people than just us weebs.

That’s all for last month. Almost nothing about games this time. Usually I try to keep a balance going there, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. But I’ve got a couple of games I’m probably going to finish soon that I’ll certainly be writing about, not this month but maybe in May, along with some anime I’ve got lined up, and maybe even the start of another deep reads series depending on how things shake out. My sense of impending doom isn’t going anywhere in any case, no matter what I do, so I may as well do whatever I want within reasonable boundaries, right?

On that note, I’ve started writing fiction again and have two short stories done in extremely rough draft form. I think I’ll be sticking to this format, at least until I retire in one hundred years assuming I live that long. A novel is just out of the question with my schedule. But I’m finding the short story format to be a pretty interesting and rewarding one, even if everything I’m writing is still terrible fucking hackwork. It will probably never see the light of day unless a relative finds them all on a hard drive one day after I’m dead and bothers to try publishing them. But until then, they’re safe and hidden where they belong (for now, at least.) Until next time, anyway.

 

Listening/reading log #28 (February 2022)

Time for the end-of-month post a bit late again. But what a fucking month it was. The invasion of Ukraine isn’t something I’ve commented on here or elsewhere almost at all until now, because it’s not the sort of subject I write about on a regular basis, and what can I add to this discussion anyway? But I have always used the beginning of these posts to vent on heavy matters, so: to hell with Vladimir Putin, hopefully quite literally, both for this and many other past and present crimes, not least of which is using the threat of nuclear war as a shield while he ravages a smaller neighbor.

I hope he ends up knocked off of his throne at the very least. And if he ends up suffering the same fate as a Ceaușescu, a Mussolini, or a Gaddafi, well, that would be fine too. Ideally, the man should be in the dock in The Hague, but since my country doesn’t recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court (because we have our own war criminals right here in America and God forbid they should be held to account for their own misdeeds) it’s hard for us to make that sort of argument — except right now, when a world leader openly defies international borders, human rights, and common sense.*

I don’t have a personal connection to Ukraine, but a large part of my family were refugees in the past and the effects are felt to this day, so this still feels like a personal matter. And even if I didn’t have that sort of background, I’m sure I’d feel the same, as should anyone who’s not brainwashed or heartless. Anyway, I realize none of what I’m writing here is very brave, especially since unlike many in both Ukraine and Russia I’m in no danger of being arrested or shot in the head for writing such things. But I just felt like expressing these thoughts.

If you also have the luxury to not be worried about your survival right at the moment, let’s check out some music and some excellent writing from around the communities as usual. I took a slightly different approach to my music section this time, however — I didn’t really listen to any full proper albums that I felt like writing about, but I also had some pieces of albums and a lot of single songs that either came from albums I otherwise don’t feel strongly about or that were never on albums to write about, or just a few curiosities I stumbled over, and these never fit into that typical “album review” format I use in these posts. So this is a deviation from the usual, a rough mix of songs all thrown together, but I’ll return to the regular format next month.

Various — 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Original Soundtrack — (LEUCINE)

Starting with my favorite piece out of part of a soundtrack I’ve been listening to a lot the past week. I played through 13 Sentinels on the PS4 and loved it, but it didn’t get much love over here back when it was released. Hopefully that changes when it comes out for the Switch soon, because more people need to play this game.

Part of that appeal is its soundtrack. “(LEUCINE)” and the other 13 Sentinels battle themes are amazing in how well they build tension, fitting perfectly into the giant mech vs. kaiju battles of the game’s combat sections. The softer pieces that mostly play during the adventure/investigation parts are nice as well — the soundtrack is great as a whole, but these battle themes stand out to me.

Also, if you’re confused by the album cover, I get that. It really doesn’t look like the cover to an OST for a game about giant mechs fighting kaiju monsters. Only the small robot hints at this even being a sci-fi game. But that girl on the cover does have significance to the game’s plot, and if I say any more, I’d have to get into spoilers, which I won’t. So just be sure to check out 13 Sentinels if you haven’t already. If anyone ever tries to excuse Michael Bay’s shitty Transformers movies by saying “they’re just movies about giant robots fighting, of course they’re dumb!” just know that this game fucks that excuse up completely.

Joji — Nectar Like You Do

Now this sort of song I’d normally never feature here. It’s not really my kind of music, this slow, romantic-sounding stuff. “Like You Do” is a nice one for sure, a great choice to sing under some girl’s window if you’re lovesick over her as long as you can hit those high notes. I also like the strange video that goes along with it (are those fish eggs and a chain floating around in red jello? Aside from the chain, I’m probably wrong, but no idea what else those could be.)

But though I think Joji is certainly a talented guy, that’s still not reason enough for me to feature this music. The real reason I know about Joji at all is because he’s the same guy who was making stuff like this six/seven years ago:

If you’re not familiar, this singer/composer Joji aka George Miller used to make both music and bizarre comedy videos with his friends on YouTube playing characters like the above Pink Guy. The main character in this whole thing was a disgusting misanthropic mess of a man called Filthy Frank. Joji got famous making music like the above song and also videos in which he and his buddies acted like idiots in public and baked hair and even worse things into cakes and ate them. It was either absurdist comedy or moronic depending on how you look at it (probably both really, and the people who took part would likely agree based on what I’ve heard.)

The common feeling now is that Joji was smart to retire all these characters back before comedy like this became culturally way less acceptable, and I agree — even a few of the lines in the above song wouldn’t fly today, and that’s apart from its intentionally offensive tone. The fact that he was able to make the transition from this stuff to performing songs people cry over at the bar or sing at their weddings is pretty damn amazing. Now Taylor Swift’s famous transition from country to pop music doesn’t seem so impressive.

Franz Ferdinand — Franz FerdinandThis Fire

This is one of the songs that played a whole lot when I was in high school, about ready to get out of that miserable hellhole. Good song, a lousy time in my life, but the music is still remembered fondly. This stuff brings back memories of studying for those fucking IB exams. If any other readers had to take the IB, let me know so I can send you my best wishes. And thanks to Shoot the Rookie for reminding me about this song/band over on Twitter during her song share event.

Chirinuruwowaka — Atelier Escha & Logy Vocal AlbumMilk-Colored Pass

Speaking of that song share event, one of the songs I posted on Twitter at the time was the OP theme to Atelier Escha & Logy. As much as I like Atelier, its music doesn’t always stand out to me (though it’s always at least pretty good, just not always standout amazing, you know.) But this theme is an exception. It’s just a good catchy as hell song. I also like the kind of rough vocals that match the feel of the music well.

Casiopea — Make Up City Gypsy Wind

I’m going to make a statement here that some might consider criminal: aside from their excellent debut album, I don’t care for a lot of what I’ve heard from Casiopea. I almost completely hate their second album Super Flight with all the cheesy synth tones gooped into it and the horrific vocoder nightmare of “I Love New York”, and I’m pretty cold on most of the rest of what I’ve heard, which feels like it’s sliding too much into generic doctor’s office waiting room music.

But before all the hardcore 80s fusion fans hang me, I want to say that I do like “Gypsy Wind” from their third studio album. It sounds like a tropical breeze feels, which is something I haven’t felt in an extremely long time, but I have enough of a memory of being in Hawaii once when I was a kid to connect the two.

_

Just a few days ago, the group      released this song, titled ”    “. I still don’t know what kind of weird invisible characters they’re using to make those untitled titles. I’m sure there are some typeface experts out there who already know the answer.

I’ve featured this nameless group before, and I’m always happy to see a new song out of them. This is another good one, though my favorite song of theirs is still _. I’m also a big fan of the artist who does their illustrations — just check out this horror, though not if you have a problem with creepy face paintings-within-paintings staring at characters within the larger painting and probably freaking them out as well. I’d hang this in my house if I owned one, but then I’m a fucking weirdo as you know.

xx — イワシがつちからはえてくるんだ / A Sardine Grows from the Soil

Finally, something very different from the rest. “A Sardine Grows from the Soil” is one of several songs created by the same person with the free Vocaloid-style software Utau. This person is talented as hell, or was, at least, since they’ve vanished from the internet. There’s a reason I’m not naming the creator of this song: for whatever reason, they specifically requested that everyone forget about them, while leaving permission to at least keep sharing this and several of their other songs (see also here and here, and also The Bluefin Tuna Comes Flying, which is a kind of companion piece to this one) as long as they’re uncredited.

Not sure what that’s about, but I like their work. I’m not even sure who all the characters are in these videos aside from Teto Kasane, the pink-haired girl in the center singing — she’s a sort of off-brand Vocaloid with some popularity. The lyrics are also interesting; all in Japanese, so I’m sure I’m missing some nuance, but though their meanings seem obscure they all have a pretty dark feel to them. And thanks to this guy for making a piano cover of “Sardine”. It’s pretty damn good and I’d love to learn it myself, but I don’t have four fucking hands to play it with. Feels like a Gershwin-style piano roll for the 21st century.

That’s it for the music. I hope you liked the different format. I’m out of individual songs to talk about, so next time it will be back to the full albums as promised. Now on to the featured articles:

Breath of the Wild Retrospective (Frostilyte Writes) — I’ve never been the biggest fan of Zelda, even if I can appreciate its quality. I know there are plenty of classic games I’ve missed out on. But is Breath of the Wild one of them? Though it was popular, this open-world title seems to have been a bit divisive. No matter what your feeling about it is (or even if you don’t have any, because like me you haven’t played it) you should read Frostilyte’s article on the game.

13 Sentinels Is Damn Good When the Training Wheels Come Off (Adventure Rules) — Speaking of 13 Sentinels again, from Adventure Rules, a series of insightful posts on the game. I’ll be following it, and you should too.

OneShot: Darkness, a Cat Thing, and Story-Driven Puzzles (Professional Moron) — Mr. Wapojif takes a look at OneShot, an excellent indie game that uses fourth-wall-breaking in an innovative way to tell a unique story. If you haven’t taken my word on the game yet, please read his post and then play OneShot; you won’t regret it.

Lake Review (Honest Gamer) — A review of the indie game Lake, one I hadn’t heard about before reading this post. Sounds interesting, although not without some technical problems. I can appreciate these kinds of relaxation games better these days, anyway.

Wordplay and Double Entendre in Bloodborne (Meghan Plays Games) — I haven’t played Bloodborne, but from Meghan’s post, it sounds like there’s a lot there to like — including some clever wordplay! And as someone who plays around with words, though usually with shit results, I’m all about that wordplay, especially when it’s actually done well.

The Portopia Serial Murder Case (Extra Life) — Last month, Red Metal took on an old Japanese text adventure that has had a massive impact on gaming, even though many of us (myself included) haven’t heard of it. The Portopia Serial Murder Case is a fascinating game to read about, so be sure to check out Red Metal’s review.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Nintendobound) — Even more games I haven’t played, that’s today’s theme in this section of the post. Matt has a look at the DS GTA title Chinatown Wars. I owned a DS, but apparently I missed out on this one!

Yakuza: Fighting toxicity one punch at a time. (Zanfers Gaming) — Out of the Yakuza series, I’ve still only really played Yakuza 0, but even in that game alone, I could tell that there was something special about its two leads Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Kiryu in particular makes for a great role model, and not just because he can pick up a entire fucking motorcycle and beat hooligans over the head with it. This post gets down exactly why Kiryu is a man to emulate (though maybe not that motorcycle part, okay. There are probably better ways to deal with those situations in real life.)

Planetes: Fighting the Cruelty of Space (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — From Scott, a look at Planetes, one of my old favorites, though it’s not without its faults. Older anime series tend to get lost in the mix as the hot new stuff is trending, so it’s good to see classics being written about around here. I hope I’ll be doing some of that myself soon when I dig back into my anime backlog.

Anime Review #75: K-On! (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Another older anime review, this time a hard look at K-On!, one of the most iconic “cute girls doing cute things” series. I passed it by when it aired after seeing a couple of episodes, though that was when the seasonal lineups were so full of these “cute girls” series that they suffered a backlash from some fans, something like isekai is getting now. It’s worth reading about K-On! at least considering how much influence it’s had — it’s likely you’ve heard at least one of the songs from the series if you’re anywhere in that weeb sphere like we are.

Top 5 Romantic Anime that End Badly! (I drink and watch anime) — It wouldn’t be an end-of-month post without featuring one of Irina’s articles, so here’s a look at romantic anime series with rough endings. I’m not into tearjerkers, and while I can take plenty of depression in my media, I don’t go for the broken romance type unless it’s incorporated into a larger story with higher stakes than that. But romance is pretty high stakes for a lot of viewers, and if you enjoy personal tragedy and heartbreak, you’ll probably be interested in Irina’s post.

My Break-Up Letter With Last Exile (In Search of Number Nine) — I haven’t seen the anime Last Exile — I only know it from the involvement of character designer/artist Range Murata, but it’s always been on that to-watch list I keep. Iniksbane has an interesting history with the show and gives some insight about what makes a favorite series and how tastes and one’s critical approach to art can change over time.

3 Years of Gaming Omnivore (Gaming Omnivore) — And finally, congrats to Gaming Ominvore on three years of writing! It takes dedication to keep that up. Here’s hoping for many more.

That’s it for the last month. Sorry about the heavy subject matter directly at the top (and in the endnote below) and also sorry for posting a Pink Guy video near the beginning. I hope you could get through whatever the fuck you’d call that to read this. Going forward, assuming humanity isn’t all annihilated or whatever it is all the foreign policy experts on Twitter think is about to happen, I’ll be watching some anime and playing Atelier Sophie 2. Be sure to check out my first look at that game if you have any interest in cute girls doing alchemy. It’s a nice escape.

 

* It’s worth mentioning that people didn’t raise such a fuss when Putin was murdering civilians in Syria in support of fellow blood-soaked tyrant Bashar al-Assad. But what can you expect. Maybe they would have if it had been reported more widely.

And though this hypocrisy absolutely annoys me, it does make sense at least that people would be a lot more nervous about a war in Europe for obvious reasons — the comparisons between Putin and you-know-who are warranted as far as his approach to propaganda goes (denial of nationality leading to the destruction of statehood: that’s straight out of that Austrian-born dictator’s instruction manual, though he wasn’t the first to do it either.)

Listening/reading log #27 (January 2022)

Well, that wasn’t the start to the new year I wanted. But work piled on as usual. Fuck all this talk about “work/life balance” and de-stressing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s seven days off, living in a villa on Capri.

But that’s not happening this year at least, so time to keep toiling and doing our best to take our minds off the fact that God cursed us for all eternity when Adam and Eve ate that fruit off that stupid fucking tree. Thanks for that (and sorry for this blasphemy — another reason I’m mostly anonymous on this site.) In the meantime, here’s more great music and great writing from around the communities.

Yellow Magic Orchestra (Yellow Magic Orchestra, 1978)

Highlights: Firecracker, Simoon, Tong Poo

For the longest time I didn’t know anything about Yellow Magic Orchestra beyond their name (which I connected in my head with Electric Light Orchestra, though I don’t think they have that much in common otherwise) and the song Kimi ni Mune Kyun, which I first heard in its Yuu Kobayashi cover version as the ending theme to the anime Maria Holic. What a damn weeb, I know. (edit: also see this Hatsune Miku cover; YMO would probably approve.)

“Kimi ni Mune Kyun” is a catchy song, but I didn’t have quite the right impression of YMO from it — I thought they were New Wave synth-pop sorts of guys, which they apparently were on their later albums. But their debut sounds very different, taking a lot more inspiration from mid-70s electronic experimenters like Kraftwerk. It’s almost entirely instrumental aside from a few vocal samples and some very distorted singing on “Simoon”, which sounds a lot like an old 40s standard filtered through 70s synths. My other favorites on the album, “Firecracker” and “Tong Poo”, are just jazzy funky instrumentals with still more electronic sound over them.

Not what you’d normally think of as big hit material, but it seems this album did pretty well. Maybe not a surprise, though, since all the members of YMO were already well-established musicians/composers before starting this project. And according to the comments under “Tong Poo”, that song was apparently played on loop in an Okinawa fish processing factory? (There’s an unexpected link with my previous post as well, nice. I still want to go to Okinawa.)

Finally, if there’s a bridge from that original mid-70s electronic music to the video game BGM of the 80s and on, it sounds to me like it starts here with YMO’s debut. There are even very short themes to computer games on the album titled as such (though I don’t know whether these were real games; maybe some actual music/game historian can clarify that.) The whole album feels very ahead of its time, maybe in part because of this connection — seems a lot of the big-time game composers were influenced by YMO and this earlier work of theirs in particular, and I can hear it. So if you’re into video game music in general, and if you read my site it’s fairly likely you are, you should really check YMO out.

Remain in Light (Talking Heads, 1980)

Highlights: Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), Crosseyed and Painless, Once in a Lifetime

Okay, well I guess I’m not being too adventurous this month. Remain in Light is still another late 70s/early 80s New Wave album acknowledged by pretty much everyone as extremely important even if they’re not into the sound. And I am into the sound, so it’s one of my favorites and has been for a while.

I’ve already brought up Talking Heads once before in one of my early month-end posts when I looked at The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, one of the best live albums ever made as far as I’ve heard. But then it didn’t seem right to just skip over their studio work, since it’s also excellent and has a pretty different feel, thanks in part to the work of legendary producer/musician Brian Eno and to the several great guest musicians who played on the album including the future soon-to-be-reformed King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew (and you can hear him on Discipline, which I’ve also covered before.)

But the greatest credit goes to the four members of the band proper. Most visible and famous of these four is singer/guitarist David Byrne, the extremely nerdy-looking guy in that “Once in a Lifetime” video linked above. Byrne was and probably still is a strange guy (see his film True Stories for more insight into that weirdness, which also had a Talking Heads album attached as a sort of soundtrack — it’s not bad!) I’m not totally sure what the fuck he’s singing about on any of these songs, but Remain in Light has a paranoid atmosphere that wasn’t unusual for the band, even starting with their early work back when they were playing alongside a bunch of punk guys in NYC in the mid-70s.

I don’t have any particular comments to make about the songs themselves other than that. It’s all good. You’ve probably heard some of it before if you grew up in the US during the 90s or 00s like I did (even though Talking Heads’ more “normal” sounding mid-80s music gets way more play, “Burning Down the House” and the like.) But this album really is as great as they all say, and you should hear it too.

Now for the featured posts:

The Aquatope on White Sand: Whole-Series Review and Recommendation After The Finale (The Infinite Zenith) — Starting with an article written in December, but that I couldn’t appreciate until January when I’d finished the anime. Read Zenith’s series review and other in-depth posts for more insight into The Aquatope on White Sand, a unique anime series that I liked a lot but that a lot of other people seem to have had some problems with. What’s new with anime, anyway — one of the fun (?) aspects of this medium is how nobody can fucking agree on anything about it.

Subs or Dubs: A Futile Argument And Yet We’ll Just Keep Having It (100 Word Anime) — Speaking of aggravating arguments, here’s one of the longest-running in the western anime world. Do you only watch dubs? Then you’re a filthy pleb! Only watch subs? You’re a snobby elitist! No, you can’t just watch anime the way you prefer and acknowledge that it’s nice we have both sub and dub options more often than we used to, with higher-quality English dubs than before. You have to fight about it. But thankfully Karandi has some great points to make about this tired debate.

Anime Review #73: New Game! (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — From Traditional Catholic Weeb, a review of New Game!, another anime that’s on that long watchlist I have. And that’s just my Crunchyroll watchlist mind you. This post got me interested in the series again, so it’s one of those I might actually get around to this year — I’m a fan of these professional job-setting anime series.

Newer Anime I Enjoyed in 2021 (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — A good list to reference for newer anime to check out from Scott of Mechanical Anime Reviews. I’m shifting to my older backlog for a while myself, but if you’re more interested in recent anime, be sure to read this!

Donkey Kong 64 (Extra Life) — Red Metal takes on the classic Donkey Kong 64. I have some vague memories of playing this, though I never got into Donkey Kong the way I did other old platforming series like Mario and Sonic. But that makes it more interesting to read about than a game I already know inside and out, anyway. DK64 seems to be a divisive one for good reason.

Extensive Analysis of Bakemonogatari: What makes it so unique? – Hitagi Crab 1 (Convoluted Situation) — In addition to all the old and new anime series I need to get around to, I also need to continue Monogatari, a task I’ve been planning for months now. And again, speaking of divisive — I’ve seen Monogatari described by some as one of the greatest and most beautiful anime series ever made and by some others as a disgusting, self-indulgent mess. If you’ve read my reviews of each “first season” series up through Nekomonogatari Black, you know which side of that divide I fall on. It’s a nuanced series, in any case (as I got into myself with my look at Nisemonogatari a bit — protagonist Koyomi Araragi is clearly not meant to be a role model in every way, but I think a lot of people see the character in a different light than I do.)

This long and unnecessary preface is my way of directing you to Edy’s in-depth analysis of the first episode of Bakemonogatari. Check it out and see what makes this series so special. (And yeah this is another cheat on my part: this post was put up in November, but I just saw it now so I see this as a correction. I’ll try not to make a habit of it.)

Trails of Cold Steel: Great from Start to Finish (The Gamer with Glasses) — I never got into the Trails series myself, but it seems to have just as fervent fans as other JRPG series I know better like Megami Tensei. Gamer with Glasses here gives us some thoughts on the first Trails of Cold Steel.

Best Games of 2021 (Frostilyte Writes) — Unlike me, Frostilyte actually played and wrote about some games that were released in 2021, so his look at the best of the past year is worth reading. It’s also a reminder that I still need to play Huniepop.

Shoot from the Hip – Belle (Shoot the Rookie) — A look at the new film Belle from famous anime director Mamoru Hosoda. Looks like it’s my sort of thing, and I’ve heard enough about Hosoda’s work to be interested in seeing some of it, so it’s still another film to check out if I can find it on a streaming service.

All ‘Encanto’ Songs: Ranked (Jon Spencer Reviews) — Something different for my site — I don’t usually look at western animation at all, and I don’t have any plans to watch Encanto, but I’ve heard it’s a good film with a good soundtrack. So if you like animated musicals in the old Disney tradition, be sure to read Jacob’s ranking of Encanto songs. I know nobody will shut up about this Bruno guy, so I assume that song is the new “Let It Go”.

A Collection of Anime OPs/EDs I Actually Like (Volume Three) (The Visualist’s Veranda) — More my style, here’s a look at some excellent anime OPs and EDs from Visualist’s Veranda. Some great songs here, and even if it were the only one on the list, any article that talks up “Real World” from Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita deserves the unrivaled honor of a place in my month-end post.

My Blog Search Criteria are Bumming me Out (I drink and watch anime) — Finally, anyone who runs a blog will understand the feeling you get when you see your stats and wonder how the hell people are finding your work through those bizarre Google searches. Even with the very meager crumbs we get from the free stats WordPress provides, a few questionable results can slip through. Irina writes about this issue in her annual look back at her search results for 2021.

That’s it for this month. A little shorter than usual again, much too late, and again I didn’t have the kind of engagement here I’d like. But work continues to pile on top of me, and unless Mr. Biden decides to cancel my student loan debt (and I believe he won’t, and it’s debatable whether he even can — but the situation here will continue to be a horrible mess either way) I’ll have to toil harder to start repaying those again soon. But I’ll keep escaping through anime, games, and music as I always have, count on that — and I’ll keep writing here. I have a few anime series in particular I want to get to very soon, and a game that I’m nearly done with that should probably be up next for review. Until then!