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.

 

My favorite Touhou themes

No, it’s still not the end-of-month post, but that’s still on the way. By contrast — this post probably should have been written years ago, and here it is now. Talk about a post with niche appeal, anyway; a lot of readers might not know what the fuck I’m even talking about this time without some background. So let me briefly introduce you to Touhou (which I’ve done before on the site once or twice, but once more won’t hurt.)

Touhou Project is a bullet hell/danmaku shmup series created by Japanese indie game designer/music composer/beer enthusiast ZUN. Touhou is primarily about shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei and mischievous witch Marisa Kirisame along with a few other recurring main characters fighting a bunch of youkai who are also all cute girls who fire lasers and make puns at each other. This all takes place in Gensokyo, a part of rural Japan that was cut off from the rest of the world with a magical barrier in the 1880s, the result being that it now exists in its own dimension.

Touhou has been going strong for nearly three decades now, getting its start on the PC-98 in the 90s when ZUN was still a designer working at Taito. However, his work apparently didn’t get much notice until the release of Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which came out for the PC in 2002. With EoSD and its followups Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night, Touhou exploded in popularity on the indie scene in Japan and among the Western niche weeb weirdo circles that I moved in back in the mid-2000s (and that I still do today, of course.)

If you’ve played or seen gameplay of an original Touhou game, a few aspects of it probably jumped out at you, like the intricate, colorful, and often extremely difficult to dodge bullet patterns or ZUN’s famously not-so-great character portraits (which have been long beloved in the community anyway, a lot like Ryukishi07’s slightly scuffed character art in the Higurashi and Umineko VNs.)

But to me and many other past and current fans, the most standout aspect of Touhou is its music. Each of ZUN’s games come with an excellent soundtrack, with pieces generally sorted into one stage and boss theme each over six stages, along with a few extra boss themes and a main theme. As it plays in sync with all that colorful bullet hell going on, the music adds to the effect, and it’s no exaggeration at all to say the games wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable to play muted.

That said, here are seventeen themes from Touhou 6 through 8 and 10 that I rank as my favorites. Yeah, seventeen, that’s right. I couldn’t possibly have reduced this list any more than I have. In fact, I still feel bad about leaving a ton of excellent themes out of it; that seventeen could just as easily have been seventy. The only reason I’m even limiting the selection to four out of the now 20+ original ZUN-made Touhou games is that these are the ones I played when I was really into the series way back before I kind of fell out of it for a while. So if you’re wondering where your favorite DDC or LoLK track is, I’m not putting those down at all — it’s just that I’m not as familiar with those soundtracks and games in general. I’ll also be listing these by order of play if you were playing through the series chronologically, since I can’t bring myself to rank them in quality either. But that also means you get to see some of the evolution in ZUN’s sound, which is pretty interesting in itself.

1) Shanghai Alice of Meiji 17Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Hong Meiling’s theme

Starting with one of the first hard hitters in the PC-era series. I’m not sure who “Shanghai Alice” is, aside from being the name of ZUN’s doujin circle — there’s an Alice who shows up not here but in Touhou 5 and again in 7 and ends up sticking as a major character in the series — but Hong Meiling is Chinese as the “Shanghai” suggests. But then the song sounds not Chinese but western. According to ZUN, he was thinking more about the 19th century Shanghai French concession, which would explain the western sound and the “Meiji 17” in the title, i.e. 1884.

More importantly, this theme fits Meiling’s character — she’s usually considered comic relief as early stage bosses sometimes are, but she’s no joke in combat, and the fast pace of “Shanghai Alice” reflects that.

2) Locked Girl ~ The Girl’s Secret RoomTouhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Patchouli Knowledge’s theme

“Locked Girl” takes a much more somber tone than the last boss theme, again fitting for its character. I admit Patchouli is my favorite Touhou character — she’s a shut-in who lives in a library reading all day and never even bothers to change out of her nightgown, what’s not to like about that? Very relatable; I’d do that too if I could get away with it. But it’s not just favoritism working here, because Patchouli’s theme is excellent too, and a nice showcase of ZUN’s skills at different sounds and styles.

3) Septette for the Dead PrincessTouhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Remilia Scarlet’s theme

And it turns out the big bad boss of Touhou 6 is a small vampire girl. Remilia might not look intimidating at first, but like a lot of the other girls in Touhou she has serious magical ability and can fuck you up with it. Remilia also claims to be the daughter of Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes, aka Dracula, the 15th century ruler of Wallachia in modern-day Romania. She’s confirmed to be over 500 years old, but her claim of descent from Dracula is a lie according to the Touhou wiki.

Even so, she’s powerful, and her stately theme fits her character perfectly. “Septette” is famously based on the third movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. They diverge pretty quickly, but the beginning of “Septette” is very similar, showing some of ZUN’s western classical influence.

4) U.N. Owen was her?Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Flandre Scarlet’s theme

Of course I couldn’t leave out this iconic piece. “U.N. Owen” is the theme of Flandre, Remilia’s younger sister they keep locked in her room because anyone having contact with her other than Remilia and a select few others ends extremely badly, usually as a splatter of blood and guts on her wall. Flandre’s theme is appropriately chaotic compared to her sister’s, and her fight is hard as hell. Even getting there requires you to beat the game at least on normal mode to unlock the extra stage, which is no small feat itself. I do like how Flandre’s theme is a little playful as well, though — she really just wants someone to play deadly danmaku laser games with and doesn’t seem to fully appreciate her own power.

The “U.N. Owen” in the song’s title is also a reference to an Agatha Christie novel, though I still don’t get the connection there. Maybe it’s all just meant to fit the generally western theme of the game.

5) The Doll Maker of BucurestiTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Stage 3 theme

Continuing the more western, European sound with “Doll Maker of Bucuresti”, my first pick from Touhou 7. The stage themes in these games are often considered character themes by the fans, even if they technically aren’t meant to be, and when the stage is dominated by one enemy character she ends up with two of them in a game (and sometimes more if she comes back to fight later on.) “Doll Maker” perfectly fits Alice Margatroid, pictured above, a returning character from the PC-98 era who ended up becoming one of the most prominent usually non-player characters in the series (maybe thanks in part to a remix of the next song on the list by IOSYS that got insanely popular in the mid-2000s.)

6) Doll Judgment ~ The Girl Who Played With People’s ShapesTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Alice Margatroid’s theme

And here’s Alice’s other PCB theme, the proper boss battle one this time, and it also fits with her character very well. Alice is one of my favorite characters in the series, usually depicted as somewhat of a loner who lives in a house in the woods with all the autonomous dolls she makes for a living. Despite the ominous sound to her PCB themes, Alice after this game is usually a friend to the protagonists, especially Marisa (though that relationship is sometimes depicted as more than just friendly, and sometimes extremely complicated. It’s been long accepted that the fandom makes up most Touhou lore.)

7) Border of LifeTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Yuyuko Saigyouji’s theme

One of my favorite final boss themes from Touhou, Yuyuko’s theme is a great mix of beauty and power that the series is known for. It fits especially well considering Yuyuko has an extra-tragic story, even if the fandom has made her into a bit of a joke character thanks to some of her lines during her appearance as a player character in Touhou 8. Well, that’s on ZUN, isn’t it? But this is still one of my favorite themes of his.

8) Song of the Night Sparrow ~ Night BirdTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Stage 2 theme

Sometimes early stage themes aren’t quite as impressive as the mid- and late-stage ones, even according to ZUN himself, who writes notes for each of his songs he puts out with the games. But “Night Bird” stands up very well to a lot of the other pieces in Touhou 8, with plenty of tension building the player up to what’s coming next. And it’s no good scoffing at early stage bosses anyway — Mystia Lorelei, the stage boss and night sparrow of the title, doesn’t put up much of a fight on the Touhou scale, but she does have an interesting gimmick that can really annoy you your first play through. My favorite section starts at 1:27, which is perfectly synced up to Mystia’s appearance (where she starts shooting at you before her fight proper even begins — pretty common in Touhou games to have bosses drop in on you during the stage itself.)

9) Plain AsiaTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Keine Kamishirasawa’s theme

Keine has one of the more interesting jobs in the Touhou series, even if she doesn’t show up so much these days — she protects the human village of Gensokyo from youkai threats through her power of hiding/erasing history so they can’t find it. Or eating history, which she can do in her animalistic form that she turns into during a full moon, which just happens to occur during Imperishable Night, so you’ll be seeing her again later on. I’m still not sure exactly what “eating history” involves, but there are a lot of weird concepts in the Touhou universe that you just have to accept.

No matter what pair of characters you’re playing as (these team-ups being another unique aspect of 8, at least at the time) Keine presents a fair challenge. But trying to play “Plain Asia” is way more of a challenge. ZUN really went nuts on the piano for Touhou 8; might be part of why it features probably my favorite Touhou soundtrack.

10) Love-colored Master SparkTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Marisa Kirisame’s theme

In Touhou, sometimes you have to fight your friends, and so it is in stage 4 of Imperishable Night. If you’re playing as Marisa and Alice, you have to fight Reimu, and if you’re playing as Reimu and Yukari, you have to fight Marisa (and you still have to fight one of them if you’re playing as Sakuya/Remilia or Youmu/Yuyuko, but I forget how that breaks down.) I think Marisa might have had a few different themes throughout the series, but “Love-colored Master Spark” seems to be the most associated with her, and I can hear why. It has more of a rock sound, maybe thanks to the electric guitar-sounding synth in there, and fitting with Marisa’s somewhat wild and carefree attitude.

Now that I think about it, Marisa is sort of the Sonic the Hedgehog of Touhou in that sense, making the rock-sounding theme even more appropriate. I don’t know if anyone else has made that comparison, but it feels right to me. Does that make Reimu a non-oblivious version of Knuckles, then? I’m not sure. Maybe this character match-up doesn’t actually work so well.

11) Cinderella Cage ~ Kagome-KagomeTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Stage 5 theme (or Tewi Inaba’s theme, why not)

“Kagome-Kagome” is another great stage theme that builds up the excitement as you approach the final parts of the game and hope to any and all gods or spirits or whatever else you like that you don’t run into a stray bullet or get boxed in by a pattern without a bomb to clear the screen. The title might be familiar — the main melody is based on a song that accompanies an old Japanese children’s game of the same name.

No idea what that has to do with moon rabbits or Princess Kaguya or anything else that Imperishable Night is about, but the piece works really well here anyway. “Kagome-Kagome” is also the closest thing stage mid-boss Tewi Inaba has to a theme as far as I know unless she received one later on. Usually these mid-boss-only characters don’t get much popularity, but Tewi is a pretty big deal in Touhou, even being featured on the Wikipedia page for the obsolete kana that’s part of her name. Do you have the distinction of being featured on the Wikipedia page for a dead letter? I certainly don’t, but if I had the chance I’d want to get on the page for ȝ.

12) Reach for the Moon, Immortal SmokeTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Fujiwara no Mokou’s theme

Apologies to true final boss Kaguya for not including her theme Flight of the Bamboo Cutter ~ Lunatic Princess in this list (there’s her honorable mention anyway) but I like this extra boss theme more. Mokou is hell to fight, and her theme reflects that. If I ever got to be a boss in a game, I’d also want a theme with as cool a name as “Reach for the Moon, Immortal Smoke.” This one is the badass sort of piece that brings out the edgy 13 year-old in me, though I’m pretty sure that’s not what ZUN was going for.

13) The Road of the Apotropaic God ~ Dark RoadTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Stage 2 theme

Another excellent stage 2 theme with great build-up. The Mountain of Faith soundtrack feels like it has a lot more organ in it, which I like. Not much else to say about this one except I still don’t get the deal with Hina and why she’s constantly spinning.

14) The Gensokyo the Gods LovedTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Stage 3 theme

Now here’s a fucking song. “The Gensokyo the Gods Loved” is so iconic in the series that a lot of fans refer to it as the Gensokyo national anthem. A lot of them also say it has a nostalgic feel, which I agree with. Maybe it’s partly the fact that I’d gotten used to those synth trumpets ZUN loves so much (aka the ZUNpets, if you’ve heard that term — that’s what those refer to.)

I partly love this theme as well because of its contrast with the stage boss theme:

15) Candid FriendTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Nitori Kawashiro’s theme

Again, what a piece. More organ, with a slightly rock sound this time. I’m a big fan of Nitori as well, a kappa engineer who invents all sorts of strange machines some of which show up in later non-mainline games like Touhou Luna Nights (which I own, but I’m way too horrible at — I need to try it again.)

16) Faith is for the Transient PeopleTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Sanae Kochiya’s theme

If I don’t have as much to say about the Mountain of Faith pieces, it’s not because I like them less — I just wasn’t quite as hooked on Touhou by the time 10 came out and didn’t engage with it in quite the same way. I never stopped listening to the music, though. Sanae is another interesting character, a natural rival to Reimu as a fellow shrine maiden, though they eventually end up pretty cordial with each other. However, Sanae’s theme is appropriately fierce in Touhou 10, reflecting the fact that she doesn’t let up in combat either.

17) Native FaithTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Suwako Moriya’s theme

Of course. How could I not end this list with “Native Faith”? It’s another piece I don’t have a lot else to say about except how good it is. All of Mountain of Faith feels like it has an earthy feel to it, the music included, sort of like how Imperishable Night has a spacy one. Frog goddess Suwako’s theme caps that off nicely, though once again, as an extra stage boss she takes some effort to reach.

And that’s my list of favorite Touhou themes, again, with a lot of excellent music necessarily left out, otherwise this post would be even longer than 3,000 words, which is probably already too long. If you’ve made it this far, I hope I’ve been able to show just how special the music in this series is. Touhou is well worth picking up and trying out, though unfortunately most of the games on this list aren’t available to play legally very easily. I’m pretty sure the games from Mountain of Faith on are all on Steam now, but for practical purposes 6 through 9 are only playable as downloads unless you can track down physical copies. The PC-98 games take more work to play, since they require an emulator to run, but they’re available out there as well if you don’t have qualms about less than legal methods (and I was going to link to the fansite Moriya Shrine here and say ZUN apparently doesn’t have an issue with piracy of practically unavailable games, but maybe he does, since just last month it seems to have been hit with DMCA notices, so never mind? I own copies of EoSD, PCB, and IN but I got them at anime cons back when Touhou had more of a presence in those circles than it does now. Maybe go check the subreddit instead.)

Whatever path you choose, whether you’re already a fan or you decide to check the series out or leave it, I hope you at least enjoyed the music. If you did, there’s an unimaginably massive amount of fan-created Touhou albums out there in every style for you to explore, a few of which I’ve looked at here on the site, specifically the jazz stuff by Tokyo Active NEETs and DDBY, so be sure to check on those as well. Next post, I really will be getting to the featured articles from March and a couple of album reviews, so until then.

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!

Listening/reading log #26 (December 2021)

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

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

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

Odessey and Oracle (The Zombies, 1968)

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Bleed (The Rolling Stones, 1969)

Highlights: All of it

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the featured posts this month:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocaloid songs you should hear

Before the year ends. Or after. Whenever you can get to them, you should listen to these, some of my favorites using the Vocaloid voice synthesizer software.

I don’t really know if anyone who reads this weeb-centered blog needs a primer on what Vocaloid is. But in case you do, here’s a rough start. Vocaloid is a line of music creation software focusing on synthesized vocals that was first released in 2004 for use by both amateur and professional composers. However, it only started becoming what it is today when its second release came out in 2007. Unlike the first, Vocaloid 2 came along with a face to fit its new voice: Hatsune Miku, an android girl character built specifically for singing.

Miku has since become insanely popular both for her voice and her design, and apparently picking up on the fact that she was probably most of the reason for Vocaloid’s success at that point, publisher Yamaha and developer Crypton Future Media put out several more “virtual singers” to join her with their own unique voices, like the more mature-sounding Megurine Luka and the Kagamine twins Rin and Len.

You can find a load of all sorts of media surrounding Miku and her friends now, almost all of it fan-created. They’ve even gone on tour around the world in hologram form several times. But of course, music is at the core of the Vocaloid craze, and a lot of great music was and still is produced with the software, largely by indie composers. The following are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order.

6) “Donut Hole” – Hachi

After going on and on about Miku, the first song I’m posting isn’t one of hers but rather one of Gumi’s. From what I can tell she was developed by another company as a kind of spinoff Vocaloid, but Gumi has become pretty popular in her own right, and “Donut Hole” is one of her best-known songs. Not much to say about this one other than that it’s catchy and I like it. And the meaning of the lyrics is apparently pretty vague, which has given plenty of room for interpretation — and fans have gone ahead and done a lot of that.

I’m not into Vocaloid enough to care about popular fan theories about the lyrics of certain songs, but I know “Donut Hole” isn’t the only song they theorize about. I just like the music, that’s all.

5) “Online Game Addicts Sprechchor” – Satsuki ga Tenkomori

Here’s a song with a meaning that’s not vague at all — “Online Game Addicts Sprechchor” is about online game addicts. Specifically those addicted to MMOs, and especially specifically to Phantasy Star Online 2At least that’s the case in the Vocaloid rhythm game Project Diva Future Tone, where I found it first, since the video that comes along with it seen above is full of references to the MMO. Maybe the real reason was that Sega, who has a license from Crypton to develop Vocaloid games, also wanted to shill their own online game PSO2. Weird reasoning if the message of the song is “go outside”, but I can’t exactly tell.

4) “News 39” – Mitchie M

Okay, I admit that I’m one of those “the world is fucked and we’re all doomed” types, though you absolutely don’t need me to admit that if you’re a regular reader here. Still, I appreciate what this song is trying to do. “News 39″* casts Miku as a news anchor on a program that focuses on positive news, I guess to try to get people’s spirits up. Worked better in 2015 when the song was released, but maybe we need this song now more than ever, if only to distract us from that impending doom bullshit I was just talking about.

More importantly, this is catchy as hell. Mitchie M is one of my favorite Vocaloid composers, and “News 39” is one of my favorites by him. Just try to get that chorus out of your head. It’s stuck there for a week now. You’re welcome. (And if you want more Mitchie M, see also Freely Tomorrow and Viva Happy. His music is apparently all just this positive, which is maybe good medicine for someone as negative as I am.)

3) “Roki”  – mikitoP

Anyone who knows Vocaloid music won’t be shocked by my selections here I guess, because most of these composers are big names. But what the hell, they do good work, and “Roki” is another excellent song, this time by composer mikitoP. This time I really have no idea what the song is about, but who cares when it’s both this memorable and energetic. And if you like the original, be sure to check out a few covers, like this English-language rap take by Mori Calliope (yeah, getting my VTuber mention in here again, but she’s also a pretty serious musical performer in her own right, at least if her output and reception both as Mori and otherwise is any indication. Though I admittedly know fuck all about the rap genre or any of its sub-genres.)

2) “World’s End Dancehall” – wowaka

Another excellent song from another excellent composer. “World’s End Dancehall” is a sort of rivalry duet song battle between Miku and her Vocaloid colleague Luka, at least judging by the animation that plays during the track in Project Diva Future Tone where I discovered it. Very fast, almost frantic (with some insanely speedy singing in parts from Miku and Luka that barely any human could replicate.) Maybe that’s part of their musical battle?

Whatever this song is about, wowaka did a great job with it. He’s sadly no longer around, having died in 2019 at a young age, but he left behind some great songs like this one and Unhappy Refrain, which I could just as easily have featured here.

1) “Shoujo Rei” – mikitoP

And finally, here’s another mikitoP song, because I couldn’t pick just one of his to feature. “Shoujo Rei” is also very different in sound and tone from “Roki”; the guy can certainly mix up his styles, and all while maintaining a high quality of work. I love the energy in “Shoujo Rei” (again, I keep saying that I like these songs’ energy, but I really do, not sure how else to put it) but it also has a bit of a sad, nostalgic feel to me. Though that might be thanks to the subject matter of the song. Somehow it all fits well with the island-ish sort of sound with that steel drum and Hawaiian guitar in the background.

“Shoujo Rei” is so good in my opinion that it actually pulls off that old “dramatic key shift” trick — hear the part starting at 3:23. That full step up at the intended climax of the song is horribly overused in pop music, usually when the composer wants to make the listener feel chills or cry or whatever. Very often it doesn’t work, I think because a song that sounds stale and expresses itself in a cheap way only falls flat all the harder when it tries to puff itself up with this trick, one that’s already overused as it is. But it can still be effective when the song is actually good. Like this one is. (Actually a couple of other songs in this list effectively use the same trick too. It really is just a matter of using it properly, I think.)

Well that was a totally unnecessary tangent, wasn’t it. I guess the point of this post, other than being something to write while I continue stalling out on various other post drafts, was that people should look into Vocaloid music, because a lot of it’s extremely good and worth hearing. This post just scratches the surface, really — my taste in this stuff is embarrassingly basic, probably in part because almost all this music is made in Japan and my Japanese skills still pretty much suck, making it hard to dig the way I’d like.

But that’s fine. Maybe you can jump into that rabbit hole instead. I have enough on my plate right now that I can barely remember where I am and what day it is half the time. In fact, writing about Vocaloid has made me feel old — I first heard about the software in 2007 when it started getting big, almost 15 years ago now. 15 years ago? Three presidential administrations ago. Fuck, I can’t believe that. Guess I’m old now.

While I deal with this recurring approaching middle age/existential crisis I have going on, I’ll try to distract myself by continuing my work and my writing. In the meantime, since I won’t be back before then, have a happy Christmas or whatever other relevant cultural and/or religious holiday/festival you choose to celebrate or not celebrate.

 

* Language note #?: The “39” part fits into Miku’s name, since mi and ku are common readings of the characters for 3 and 9 in Japanese. “39” comes up in quite a few other song titles and references to Miku for that reason.

Listening/reading log #25 (November 2021)

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

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

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

Time Out (The Dave Brubeck Quartet, 1959)

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

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

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

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

The Faust Tapes (Faust, 1973)

Highlights: ???????

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

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

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

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

Adventure (Momoko Kikuchi, 1986)

Highlights: Adventure, Night Cruising, Mystical Composer

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

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

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

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

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

And now as usual for the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #24 (October 2021)

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

Juice (Ryo Kawasaki, 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights: It’s not that kind of album really

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the featured articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #23 (September 2021)

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

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

Mirage (Camel, 1974)

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

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

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

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

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

Utamonogatari (Various, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOWERS (TOWERS, 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the featured articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happens, anyway, see you next post.

Listening/reading log #22 (August 2021)

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

Animals (Pink Floyd, 1977)

Highlights: Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones)

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

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

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

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

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

Siren of the Formless (City Girl, 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

MSB (Masahiko Satoh & Medical Sugar Bank, 1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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