Listening/reading log #19 (April 2021)

Another month gotten through somehow. And no matter how much else I have to do, I’ll keep going here on the site.

For now, let’s get to the business: more music and more great writing from around the communities here. This time I’m covering another set of two albums that are extremely different in tone and execution, so depending on your taste or just your mood right now hopefully you’ll like at least one of them.

Yeti (Amon Düül II, 1970)

Highlights: Hard to pick one out considering the nature of the music, but Eye Shaking King kind of sums the album up. Cerberus is also catchy

If an album cover ever gave me a first impression that the first minute of listening confirmed as true, the cover on Yeti sure as hell did. This album was recorded by Amon Düül II, a German band that came out of a late 60s Munich artistic and political commune called Amon Düül. The history of this commune and the projects that came out of it is interesting — there was apparently an Amon Düül I as well that operated alongside II as a separate group, but it seems like all the musicians with talent joined II, and they ended up being the ones remembered as more than a footnote.*

And these guys certainly deserve to be remembered. Yeti is a classic German rock album that I just got around to hearing. Quite a rough listen, especially the first time around — it’s a double album that runs for 70 minutes, and the entire second part of it consists of improvisations that wear me down a bit. A lot, even. From what I understand, at least some of the members of Amon Düül II had LSD habits, and you can kind of tell from the music here. But they also clearly had more than enough talent to make some really memorable music, mainly on the first record, which features some great tracks like “Cerberus” and “Eye Shaking King”. I also like the multipart Soap Shop Rock that opens the album.

A lot of the music on Yeti feels apocalyptic, which certainly fits some of the song titles and that Grim Reaper swinging his scythe on the cover. Great stuff if you’re in the mood for it (or if you’re consuming a certain substance maybe, but I don’t advocate that at all. The only psychoactive drug I use is caffeine anyway.)

Midnight Cruisin’ (Kingo Hamada, 1982)

Hightlights: Dakare ni Kita Onna, Midnight Cruisin’, Machi no Dorufin

And now for something on the opposite end of the spectrum, from rough to smooth. Kingo Hamada is one of the big names in city pop, a popular Japanese style from the late 70s/early 80s that I’ve covered here a bit before, and Midnight Cruisin’ seems to be one of his best known albums — or it is now after “Machi no Dorufin” (also listed as “Dolphin in Town”) blew up online recently for some reason.

It is a really catchy song, though, so much like the even bigger newly popular “reborn hit” “Plastic Love” I can see why this song got new life on the internet. But the same is true for the title track, as well as “Dakare ni Kita Onna”, a slower song that really makes me feel like I’m sitting in a Tokyo bar in the early 80s (even if the closest I’ve ever been to doing that is playing Yakuza 0. Close enough, right?)

I’m not such a fan of some of the other slower songs — there’s a little too much sap for me in places. But the good stuff here is really good, and if you have a higher tolerance for sap than I do, you might love all of Midnight Cruisin’. Much like Aja, it’s a good nighttime listening album, only it’s a lot less depressing than that one.

So those are two albums that I only like about half of each, but those combine to make one great album at least. I don’t see any need to ignore the good parts of these albums just because there are parts I don’t like so much, you know? Maybe one day I’ll feature a few albums that only have one song each I like. But for now, the featured articles:

Getting the Read: Fighting Game Literacy (Frostilyte Writes) — I was never able to get into fighting games, and I think this piece identifies exactly why I had such problems with the genre. Frostilyte clearly knows and cares a lot about fighting games — I highly recommend checking this out no matter how you feel about the genre to get some insight on it.

I Can’t Review Vivy Fluorite Eye’s Song (Crow’s World of Anime) — Vivy Fluorite Eye’s Song is a beautiful-looking anime currently airing. While acknowledging that, TCrow here also sets out reasons he can’t review it, and they are reasons I completely understand, having to do largely with its approach to future technology.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Extra Life) — Red Metal reviews Aaron Sorkin’s new historical courtroom drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 as part of his look at the Oscar Best Film nominees. I don’t watch a lot of live-action stuff in general, but this film is one I absolutely want to see. Both as a lawyer and as a citizen (edit: and just as a human for fuck’s sake) the treatment of the defendants in the proceeding pisses me off, but it sounds like Sorkin also brings some much-needed optimism into the story (no surprise considering his other work.) At the very least, we can say we’ve progressed somewhat from 1969.

Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! (Otaku Post) — Johnathan of Otaku Post does what I said I probably wouldn’t do myself and reviews the short fanservice comedy Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! Sounds like it’s just what I expected from what I saw of it — something very comfortable and fun if you’re into the game. Anything with more of that drunk bunny girl destroyer Laffey is worth it to me.

On the Necessity of Character Growth in Anime (I drink and watch anime) — As usual, Irina brings a lot of insight to an issue in anime and other media that gets argued about all the damn time — how much does a character need to grow in a story to be interesting? Her argument might go against the grain a bit, but I find it interesting (and I pretty much agree as well anyway.)

Anime Review #54: Angel’s Egg (Or, WTH IS THIS: The Movie) (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — From Traditional Catholic Weeb, a review of Mamoru Oshii and Yoshitaka Amano’s famously strange anime film Angel’s Egg, and he brings his own interpretation to it that’s well worth reading.

The Unique & Sad Dynamic Between VTubers & Translators (Anicourses) — VTubers don’t exactly have easy jobs, and for the vast majority outside the giant agencies like Hololive and Nijisanji, it also seems difficult to get a lot of attention. Translators on YouTube can help bring these streamers to an international audience, but Le Fenette here explores the relationships between VTubers and translators and how they can get complicated.

Top 7 Characters That Fans Are Reluctant to Call Blatant Ripoffs (Iridium Eye Reviews) — In the comments of my review of Perfect Blue, Ospreyshire brought up Darren Aronofsky’s borrowing without acknowledgement of elements from that movie in his own Black Swan, along with some other examples of such “borrowing”, which are all explored in this post on the subject. I knew about the Kimba the White Lion/Lion King connection, but some of these I had no idea about.

A Grinding Pain (Lost to the Aether) — Aether brings up a subject that many gamers know all too well, especially those of us into JRPGs: the grind. And hell, I agree with him, even if I like JRPGs in general too. I don’t have time for that shit. It’s also more interesting to feel like you’ve beaten an enemy through good strategy rather than raw strength through killing common enemies and that kind of busy work leveling. But if I keep going I’ll be writing my own post about it, so be sure to check Aether’s out.

Nepiki Gaming 2.0 is here! Update + Roadmap (Nepiki Gaming) — Nepiki has established a new self-hosted site, so be sure to update your bookmarks/browsers. And congratulations are in order! Self-hosting is something I don’t have the courage to even bother thinking about, because I’m sure I’d make a mess of it. Certainly worth it if you have any technical knowledge though (or maybe I’m just making excuses for myself yet again. I don’t know.)

And finally, I don’t know if I’ve done this yet, so just in case: a general plug for Pete Davison and his colleagues over on Rice Digital. If you want more posts about the new Nagatoro anime and VTubers, check it out. Also paying respect to Saya no Uta, which is always good (but also kind of NSFW unless your bosses are really cool, and most aren’t. Incidentally, happy May Day.)

That’s it for last month. What a shit, just like every other month. At least the weather isn’t so bad right now, though. And I’m now almost effectively vaccinated against the coronavirus, so soon I’ll be able to go outside and do all those things I love doing outside, like… uh.

Well, at least I’m vaccinated. And this month, I’ll be getting around to at least one more game (finishing out Atelier Shallie soon, just powering through it) and another anime series or two, as well as one of my standard “AK complains” pieces about a game-related controversy I discovered recently that I think has some interesting implications for all of us, even if it seems like it might not at first glance. And though they may not be coming this month, I’ve gotten ideas for a few more deep reads posts that I’ll be working on soon (those things take forever to write, but I think they’re worth the trouble, even if Google’s algorithm thinks they’re too long and rambling. Well fuck you, Google; I’ll ramble as much as I want.)

I also might be shitposting on Twitter about NieR Replicant, which is an entirely new experience for me. I’ve already died a few times in unexpected ways, but I’ve played Automata so I know at least a little of what to expect from Yoko Taro and his gang anyway. Until next post, all the best.

 

* As another footnote, the Amon Düül commune also produced future members of the insurrectionist West German communist organization Red Army Faction, but this group and the band otherwise had nothing to do with each other as far as I understand. It’s interesting how the same movement can influence a bunch of peaceful guys who just want to make music and a bunch of other not-so-peaceful guys who want to overthrow governments.

Listening/reading log #18 (March 2021)

Sorry for the short break between posts and for not being very active in general lately. I’ve had a mountain of work to get through since the beginning of the year, and it’s only growing larger. But I finally have a weekend to myself (as much as I ever get any time “to myself” anyway. Being an adult really is shit, isn’t it? Or maybe I should blame myself instead for making poor life choices…)

I promise I’ll stop complaining now. I don’t have much reason to feel bad, anyway — April is the start of the overcast/rainy season here, which is my favorite kind of weather when it happens in this 60/70 degree, slightly humid climate. I think there are also particular kinds of music that go well with this weather. The following three albums fall into that category for me, though I don’t know if I can really explain why they make good “rain music.” After that, I’ll cover more excellent writing from around the communities last month as usual.

Bitches Brew (Miles Davis, 1970)

Highlights: It’s hard to break down because it’s so damn long but Bitches Brew gives you a good idea of what’s going on here

I’ve written about a lot of progressive rock here, but everyone knows that’s for weirdo shut-in nerds like me and is not cool in the slightest. No, Bitches Brew is the kind of album you bring up if you want to seem deep and cool, especially if you’re in college.

Until the late 60s, jazz and rock didn’t have much of anything to do with each other, but top musicians including Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea got together to combine the two into what we now call fusion. They weren’t the first to do this, but their work together did a lot to define the new genre, starting with In a Silent Way in 1969. Bitches Brew seems to be the big one, though, both in terms of its scope and size, a double album with a 90+ minute runtime. These are mainly spacy jazz/rock tracks like the opening Pharaoh’s Dance and the title track that make up the entire first record, along with a little more funky-sounding music like the shorter Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.

It’s all pretty hypnotic stuff, excellent to space out or study or work to, but there’s also a lot going on if you want to pay closer attention to the music. Even if you don’t like traditional jazz, you should check this out, because it’s not much like Miles Davis’ earlier work. (Also, if you want to be a real college hipster, be sure to album-name-drop his following A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Really impress that girl in your philosophy class. But more importantly, it’s good as well, so be sure to listen to it too.)

Future Days (Can, 1973)

Highlights: Future Days, Moonshake

I’ve covered the classic German band Can once before, back when I wrote about Ege Bamyasi. That’s a great album too, but as far as “stuck inside/rainy day” music goes, I prefer their later album Future Days. These guys had an amazing rhythm section that makes the music feel almost trance-like, and Damo Suzuki’s strange half-understandable singing adds to that feeling.

Future Days is another album that used to be perfect for my study sessions and is now perfect for my work sessions. Still more hypnotic tracks like you’ll find on Ege Bamyasi and the equally great Tago Mago, but Future Days feels more chilled out than those two albums. The title track is an excellent opener, and the ending 20-minute Bel Air puts me in a nice mood. “Moonshake” provides a nice short break (kind of sounds a bit like “I’m So Green” from Ege Bamyasi, which I like too, so that’s a good thing.)

I don’t really have much more to say about this album, other than it’s another one you should hear if you haven’t already. It almost sounds like ambient music, which I don’t think would take off for a while until Brian Eno really got around to defining that genre. I also wonder if they were going for a kind of aquatic theme here with the music and the trident-looking symbol on the album cover, though from the lyrics that are on this album there’s no way you’d ever be able to tell.

Blue Reflection Official Soundtrack (Various, 2017)

Highlights: Way too many to choose from, but see below

Even though I wrote about Bitches Brew above, as you probably know already, I am a weirdo shut-in nerd who plays way too many JRPGs. A few months ago, I finally got through Blue Reflection, a somewhat unfairly overlooked/maligned game here in the States at least. Not that the mixed reviews are that surprising — it had its problems, but a turn-based JRPG about magical girls isn’t exactly the kind of game most professional critics here love to talk up in the first place.

I didn’t see anyone talking shit about its music, though, because the soundtrack is undoubtedly excellent. There are the expected driving battle themes like TIGAR Kurt, but a lot of the album focuses on calmer piano/synth-based pieces like A Small Distance and Vesicular Membrane Transporter. I’ll still talk up Blue Reflection myself (and I’ll absolutely be getting the announced sequel Second Light when it comes out here) but if this game isn’t your thing, its music is still worth hearing especially if you need something relaxing to get you through the day or the night.

Now to the featured articles:

Eyes on Transistor (Lost to the Aether) — Aether takes an in-depth and thorough look at Transistor, the game that developer Supergiant Games released following their hit Bastion, and it seems this one is a bit of a mixed bag.

FromSoftware Games Ranked (Honest Gamer) — FromSoftware has developed some of the most interesting games of the last decade or so, and I have to acknowledge that even if I am absolute, total shit at every one I’ve ever tried. Stephen at Honest Gamer gives his own ranking of their games along with his thoughts on each.

Source Code (Extra Life) — I’m pretty damn tired of modern speculative sci-fi now, even if I did try to write some at one point — if you’re curious where that writing is now, it went straight into the trash, which is exactly where it belongs. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done well. Does Duncan Jones’ speculative science fiction film Source Code get it right? Read Red Metal’s comprehensive review to get his opinion on it.

I Actually Enjoy Among Us (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte takes on the subject of the popular party game Among Us and why he actually enjoys it, addressing how and why it works for him. This is a trend I’ve completely missed out on, but it certainly looks like a great time.

Film in 500: Promare Review (WCRobinson) — New in WCRobinson’s concise Film in 500 review series, a look at one I’ve been meaning to see at some point, Trigger’s Promare.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time (Gaming Omnivore) — The Ninja Turtles were a staple of my early childhood, and while game adaptations of comics and films usually weren’t that great at the time, Turtles in Time was actually a pretty fine beat-em-up. Learn more about it from Gaming Omnivore.

Call of the Night: Volume 1 – Sexy Vampire Nights (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — I’ve been thinking about trying out a few manga series lately. I’ll probably pass on Call of the Night based on Scott’s look at it, but it might be just your thing. “Has a hot vampire girl” is a pretty decent draw for a series in any case, even if it doesn’t have much else.

A Twist “Outrage” Marketing in Anime? (I drink and watch anime) — Irina gives her usual interesting perspective on an issue that keeps coming up in the online anime circles, at least here in the West — what place does moral outrage have in marketing anime? There’s no question that a few series have been attacked, and sometimes unfairly, by some very uptight people, but overreactions to such outrages have also occurred, creating an irritating and stupid self-sustaining loop of people screaming at each other on Twitter. And sometimes that mutual outrage gets a series more attention than it might otherwise have gotten (or maybe deserved.) No matter whether you take a side on this issue, Irina’s post on the subject is worth reading.

Amazing Anime Power Often Comes with A High Cost (100 Word Anime) — And from Karandi, a post on the theme of power in anime and the toll it takes on those who use it. If the cost of power is so high, I think I’d rather be powerless.

That’s all for last month. Shorter post this time, and very late, but I hope to correct that next month. And I do have a few posts planned out including two reviews of anime, one very dark and heavy and the other extra-light and fluffy, so hopefully everyone will find something they like. Other than that, I’m currently rolling through the Dusk trilogy of the Atelier series — Gust has really taken over all my game time so far this year. Until next time, all the best.

Listening/reading log #17 (February 2021)

Sorry for being late this month, work and all that. I’ve been doing these posts long enough now that I had to look up which number this one was — either that or I’m starting to lose my mind if I haven’t lost it already.

So there’s no point thinking about it. Let’s just talk about music and great writing from around the communities as usual. Today I’m going way back into the past for still two more old prog albums (i.e. I didn’t listen to enough new stuff this month I really loved enough to write about here, so I’m being lazy yet again — but I was going to write about these albums at some point, so why not now.) One of these is very well-known and the other isn’t quite as much for reasons I can understand, but I like both of them a lot. Let’s get started:

In the Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson, 1969)

Highlights: 21st Century Schizoid Man, Epitaph, The Court of the Crimson King

Nice cover, right? As great and iconic as it is, I still find it kind of unsettling, which I guess is the point.

In the Court of the Crimson King was the debut of English prog group King Crimson, who I’ve written about a lot in these posts mainly because they’re one of my favorite bands (which I probably didn’t even need to mention at this point.) If you’ve only listened to their other albums I wrote about here, though, going back to their debut might feel weird, because it doesn’t sound much like Larks’ Tongues in Aspic or Red from only a few years later, being more of a mix of heavy rock and older classical and almost operatic sounds.

In the Court gets a lot of credit for being the first progressive rock album. Maybe that’s debatable, but it did absolutely have a massive impact on rock music as a whole, and it’s pretty easy to tell why when you hear it. The opener “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a crushing, massively heavy song with a great memorable riff and vocals, and the following “Epitaph” is also excellent, with a kind of epic feel to it and great vocals from Greg Lake. I also love the ending title track, even if its verses go on forever, because it’s just that good — it feels like this one song did a lot to establish that “classical” prog style that later bands would adapt for themselves, with its weird lyrics about the black queen and fire witches over a lot of organ and flutes and other fancy orchestration.

So maybe this is a bit pompous, but it’s the kind of music that totally earns that right because of how good it is. Out of all the songs, the only one I’m not a big fan of is “Moonchild”, which also goes on forever but apparently without much of a reason; the rest is amazing. Unfortunately, the version of the band that made this album fell apart pretty quickly, leaving guitarist Robert Fripp to keep things going all the way to the present day. Though it did mean that Lake got to go off and form Emerson Lake & Palmer with Emerson and Palmer, so maybe it wasn’t all bad. Now if they’d just shortened “Moonchild”, taken Cat Food off of the followup album In the Wake of Poseidon, and put it on here, it would have been perfect. As it is, though, it’s still an excellent album and probably one of the best debut albums ever made.

World Record (Van der Graaf Generator, 1976)

Highlights: When She Comes, A Place to Survive, Meurglys III (The Songwriter’s Guild)

Another returning band that I wrote about way back in post #3. Van der Graaf Generator is another old English prog band, and while I don’t like everything I’ve heard by them (like their 1977 album that directly follows this one, which is a near-total mess in my opinion aside from a few interesting songs) I do like this one. Partly because World Record is a weird album. It feels like a mix of older prog styles like those found on their 1970 release H to He, as well as on Crimson King that probably influenced it a lot, together with newer styles that were rejecting all the artsy, proggy, and glammy stuff like punk. Makes sense — despite that clash, frontman and band leader Peter Hammill did put out an album the year before (Nadir’s Big Chance, which is great in its own right) that got praise from Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, so maybe it’s not actually that weird.

A lot of the music on World Record is pretty harsh, and some of it sounds intentionally ugly in parts like “A Place to Survive”, a driving song with rough vocals from Hammill that can work as a nice motivator if you’re feeling discouraged but have to get up the nerve to study for a test or something. My favorite is the opener “When She Comes” though. It’s really hard for me to even describe this song, except that it’s just weird and catchy and I like it. And finally, there’s the sidelong track “Meurglys III” at 20 minutes, the piece that feels most like the typical self-indulgent prog thing on here. But hey that’s my thing after all, as long as it’s done well, and this one is. I really connect to those opening lines too.

So I’d say give World Record a chance if you want to hear something a bit bizarre but good. The feeling of it is pretty dark and I have to be in a weird mood to listen to it, but when I’m there it’s perfect.

Now for the featured articles:

Anime Recommendations: 5 Reasons to Watch Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- (BiblioNyan) — I’m always up for new anime recommendations, and Kakuriyo sounds like an interesting one, a comfortable series featuring a lot of demons, spirits, and good food. I might check it out!

Pix’s Anime Jukebox! (Shoot the Rookie) — Combining two things I like, good anime and good music, here’s a look at five great tracks from anime series. I should finish Mr. Tonegawa sometime, really.

Super Mario 3D World: The Most Fun Ever (now with extra cats) (Professional Moron) — From Mr. Wapojif, a very positive review of the new Super Mario 3D World and a critical analysis of its new cat suit feature and the benefits it brings to the game. Reminding me I still have to get a Switch.

Book Review: The Prince (Let Me Tell You the Story of…) — Outside the scope of what I usually take on here, but writer H.R.R. Gorman has an excellent blog on novels and books of all kinds. This review of Machiavelli’s classic The Prince is well worth checking out, especially if you haven’t already been forced to read it in a political philosophy class.

Is the 90s Up to Par as Others Say? (Lita Kino Anime Corner) — A perspective on the upsides of 90s anime that I mostly don’t have myself, even though I started watching anime at just that time. Lita brings up some interesting points about how 90s anime was different from 00s and 10s series along with a few examples of great series from that decade.

A Huge Step Forward in Robotics for the Earth Federation of Yokohama: The RX-78F00 (Resurface to Reality) — Any modern wonder of the world list isn’t complete without this life-sized Gundam that actually moves around now on display in Yokohama. It’s not just anime anymore.

One of the Best Isekai Protagonist (or Antagonist) | Youjo Senki (Tanya The Evil) Season 1 Thoughts (SAE with a K) — I really liked The Saga of Tanya the Evil a lot, though I thought the isekai aspect wasn’t that necessary — but Dez Polycarpe brings up some great points about Tanya, the protagonist of the anime, and her growth as a character that may connect back to her past life.

Am I Going to Buy the Mass Effect Remaster (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — An interesting look at the upcoming Mass Effect remaster announced by EA and Bioware. Remasters can be controversial; they can feel like ripoffs depending on the features offered and the improvements made (or not made) and can be a real dice roll for fans, even when the original games are beloved.

Volatile Voyages: Sea of Thieves Review (The Below Average Blog) — From Amanda Hurych, a review of the pirate-themed XBox Game Pass title Sea of Thieves. I still like pirate stories even to this day; it’s not something you ever outgrow (that concept is a stupid one anyway, isn’t it?) Unfortunately, the game sounds a bit disappointing, but Amanda also brings up some positives in it, so be sure to check her review out if you have an interest.

Fighting Games and Approachable Design (Frostilyte Writes) — I’m complete garbage at fighting games, which is probably partly why I never write about them here. But MrMKL knows quite a bit more about them and has some great points to make about approachability in the genre, using a few specific games to illustrate those points. Be sure to check out his guest post on Frostilyte’s site.

My Ideal 3D Sonic the Hedgehog Game (Nepiki Gaming) — Nep here sets out what he’d like to see in future 3D Sonic games, and I happen to agree with a lot of his ideas, especially in the sense that the 3D games shouldn’t just try to mimic the 2D ones but rather do their own thing (given of course that that thing is good.) And yes: bring back the Hyper forms and Super Tails. Come on, Sega. I know you’ve said the Super Emeralds from Sonic 3 & Knuckles weren’t canon, but you can always take that back. Do something right for a change.

Who’s There? Haato or Haachama? (The Unlit Cigarette) — If you think the VTuber scene is all cutesy stuff, you’re not totally right — see the popular streaming personality Akai Haato. Or Haachama. It’s hard to tell which is which sometimes. Despite being part of the massive agency Hololive, Haato/chama is known for doing her own thing (her horrific cooking series and reviews of her own lewd fanart are both well-known for good reason) and lately, she’s been weaving a strange horror story through her streams. If you’re not in the VTuber hole already you might not have any interest (and don’t jump in, it’s not worth it) but if you’re already in here, it’s pretty fascinating stuff especially if you’re into weird psychological/body horror.

St. Pius V Corner: Kissing KissAnime Goodbye (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb analyzes the much-lamented death of the popular anime streaming/piracy site KissAnime, asking whether it’s ever justified to pirate anime and taking into account some of the weird problems western fans of anime have faced over the decades in trying to watch it. I’d try to approach this problem from the legal perspective, but it’s honestly too straightforward to bother writing about from that angle — the moral angle is more complex, though, and this is an analysis well worth checking out.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Extra Life) — And finally, Red Metal brings us a comprehensive review of the first Fire Emblem game. Like a lot of beginnings to classic series, this game seems to be a mixed bag, though maybe I’m just spoiled having only played Path of Radiance and Awakening.

And that’s another month. It never fucking ends, does it? Well, it does eventually, but sometimes it really doesn’t feel that way, and this was one of those months for me. I shouldn’t complain about my workload, though — more work and more responsibility means more opportunity for advancement this time around, so what can I really complain about? I haven’t gotten much time to play games, but I’d at least like to try to get the next part of my deep reads series on Megami Tensei out this month. I also have a few more anime series I plan to write about, and they’re different enough in tone and scope that hopefully everyone will be able to find something they like. Until next time!

Listening/reading log #16 (January 2021)

Here’s the usual month-ending post. One day early because of my very inconvenient schedule coming up, but if anyone posts anything astounding today that I end up missing, I’ll be sure to include it in the February post.

Considering how busy I’ve been this month, I got more done here than expected: I put together another awards show and indulged in some nostalgia. I finally finished Gust’s magical girl JRPG/Mel Kishida art showcase Blue Reflection, which deserves a lot more attention and regard than it’s gotten. And I listened to all of the mind-bending six-hour-plus album series Everywhere at the End of Time in one sitting, which was probably a mistake. I don’t mean it’s not good; it is, but listening to the whole thing at once is pretty taxing, and not just because of the length.

Everywhere didn’t hit me quite as hard as it did some other people, but it still had enough of an effect on me to make me seek out lighter music to wash my brain out with. If you want the specifics, check out my review linked above, but I needed something to get Misplaced in time and Back there Benjamin out of my head (even considering the mental breakdown context they’re presented in, the original songs they’re based on are really catchy, so these uncanny twisted versions still stick in there and won’t leave.) The following albums are pretty good for that purpose. I cover those below, and then it’s on to the featured posts this month.

Hogaraka na Hifu tote Fufuku EP (Zutomayo, 2020)

Highlights: Study Me, Milabo, Ham, really the whole thing though

A while back, this animated music video started showing up in my YouTube recommended lists, and when I finally decided to check it out I was very happy I did. This was “Study Me”, a song by the Japanese pop/rock band Zutomayo (full name Zutto Mayonaka de Iinoni, but they also go by this shortened name, so I’ll use it.) The members of this band apparently don’t name themselves; nobody even knows what they look like or if there’s a stable lineup of musicians aside from the recurring singer ACAね (or ACA-ne) who hosts very occasional unarchived YouTube livestream concerts, meaning you have to be there or else you miss out on it forever.

All that’s very mysterious, but Zutomayo’s music is the reason I’m writing about them here, because it is very very good. This is one of those cases where I’m hard-pressed to say anything except “listen to it.” Great singing, great playing, and hooks that might get stuck in your head, but in a good way. Each of these songs also features its own animated video, each of which seems to tell a story that the lyrics probably tie into. They’re all available on YouTube in that form, but the EP itself is also out there if you want a more basic music experience.

A lot of work obviously went into both the music and videos, and it all paid off. “Study Me” was the one that hooked me in, but the rest of their songs are quality too. It’s a nice time to pick up Zutomayo as well, since they have a full album coming out this month that you can bet I’ll be trying to get. (Now if only physical copies of these albums were easier to get over here…)

Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls (George Gershwin, 1993)

Highlights: Rhapsody in Blue, Novelette in Fourths, So Am I, Sweet and Lowdown (but again, they’re all good)

This compilation was released in 1993, but the recordings on it with one exception were produced over the years 1916 to 1927 (come to think of it, this might have been a weird choice coming off of Everywhere considering it’s from around the same period as a lot of the music that samples, but it worked for me so whatever.) George Gershwin is most famous for his work on classic musicals with his brother, the lyricist Ira Gershwin, producing a lot of standards like “Summertime” that went on to be covered by ten billion future artists. However, these pieces are not typical musical numbers but rather solo piano pieces, some of which are versions of songs better known in their musical form.

There’s another reason these recordings stand out: some of them are written for four hands, not just two. And aside from a later recording of “An American in Paris”, every piano part on the album is played by Gershwin himself, or at least by his piano. The piano roll was a long sheet of perforated paper run through a player piano, which would automatically play back the track by reading the paper. Gershwin took advantage of this automation by writing another pair of hands into some of these tracks, creating a sound that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get at the time without having to coordinate two pianists at once.

This old technology is interesting, but it’s not really why I like this album. Gershwin was a master composer, a fact that I think is made even more obvious when his music is presented in this form. My favorite has always been the epic-length “Rhapsody in Blue”, which is probably known better in its full orchestral form (aka the United Airlines theme that the airline played on its commercials in the 90s.) Most of the pieces are pretty short and concise, though, and those are great as well.

Dream in the Street (Noriyo Ikeda, 1980)

Highlights: Dream in the Street, Adios, 愛のかけら (Ai no kakera)

And finally, let’s check out some city pop. I love a lot of what I’ve heard out of this genre — it’s another thing the internet went weirdly crazy over with Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love” blowing up again decades after it was first released, but I totally get the appeal.

Dream in the Street is in that city pop category, but it also has some Latin jazz mixed in with tracks like “Adios”. “愛のかけら” is a nice slow song that has a bit of a bossa nova feel, which is even better. And then there’s my favorite, the title track, an extremely catchy single written by Tatsuro Yamashita, the “Ride on Time” guy (speaking of, if any fellow shrimps are reading, here’s a great request for Gura’s next karaoke stream.)

This was apparently Noriyo Ikeda’s only album, which is too bad, because it’s a really nice one. Makes me nostalgic for the days when I was a guy living in Tokyo in the early 80s. Or maybe I’ve just been playing too much Yakuza 0 lately.

Now for the featured articles:

22/7 (Raven の Nest) — There are a whole lot of anime series out there to discover, and reading Raven の Nest is a good way to find some new ones. I’d never heard of 22/7, but it sounds interesting — a story about idols with a bizarre twist ending? Right up my alley.

2021 Nintendo Anniversary Challenge (Gaming Omnivore) — Unlike me, Gaming Omnivore is someone who cares about setting real goals, and this is one I can appreciate: in honor of the many major series anniversaries Nintendo has coming up this year, Omnivore plans to play at least one entry from the Donkey Kong, Zelda, Metroid, and Pokémon series each. I’ll be following, and so should you!

I Might Be A Real Blogger, Also Let me Tell You About an Anime Art Exhibition (I drink and watch anime) — Certainly no one would dispute that Irina is a real blogger, but she did write about an anime art exhibition, specifically of a showing of beautiful work by Studio 4°C. I miss going to exhibitions like this since the virus exploded — there’s something about the different kinds of atmospheres they set up. I don’t know how to describe it. I’m still very much in lockdown in one of the most virus-infested states in the union but if you’re able, this is something to check out.

Pokémon Glazed – ROM Hack Showcase (Nepiki Gaming) — There should really be more reviews of ROM hacks out there. Yeah, I’m saying this even though I’ve never done any, so I shouldn’t talk. However, if that is something you’re interested in, be sure to follow Nepiki, who here takes on the Pokémon Glazed ROM hack.

PS4 LE Unboxing: Persona 5 Royal Phantom Thieves Edition (CK’s Blog (or second site) — I can appreciate these kinds of unboxing posts sometimes. I got the steelcase version of Persona 5 Royal, but I was too cheap to go for the Limited Edition — CK here shows us what you get if you do buy it. I like those mini-artbooks and mini-soundtracks that come with some deluxe game packages, even if they’re really no substitute for the full versions you have to buy separately.

Gushing about Bastion (Lost to the Aether) — Aether does just this in this post, forcing me to remember that I own this game in my Steam library and that I should probably actually play it one day, because he makes it sound like a great experience.

You Should Play: Carto (Frostilyte Writes) — And another post that turned me on to a game I think I may like: Carto, a map-based sort of adventure puzzle-looking game. I have a weird obsession with old maps in real life, so this sounds like my kind of thing.

The Power of Two: Tatsuhiro and Misaki (The Overage Otaku) — Welcome to the NHK! is one of the most insightful anime series out there, well worth watching for just about anyone. The Overage Otaku has some excellent analytical posts on the series, including this new piece on the weird, complex relationship between its two leads.

Reel Life #30: A Simple Plan, The 39 Steps, and Fail Safe (Extra Life) — Red Metal has brought back an old feature with “Reel Life”, a post series in which he gives short looks at some interesting films. I definitely need to watch Fail Safe.

5th Blogiversary Week: Politics in a Creator’s Works (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — The role of politics in art has always been a hot issue. The same is true for anime in particular — just get on Twitter (or again, better yet, don’t) and see how pissed off people get about the subject. Scott raises a few excellent points on the subject in this post.

St. Pius V Corner: In Defense Of The Anime Avi (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Not the first time I’ve featured a post here on the subject, but it is one that’s personal to me. Traditional Catholic Weeb gives his own perspective on the matter, and though I’m in no position to address the religious aspect of his argument, I think he does make some great points (and I agree with the conclusions he makes about the use of anime avatars on social media platforms, so you know, that helps.) Again, it would be great if “lol you have an anime avatar” weren’t considered a solid argument by so many people online, including prominent figures (blue checkmarks on Twitter, etc.) but unfortunately that’s not the world we live in.

Writing Prompt: Is it strange to not rate based on enjoyment at all? (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu brings up some great points about the role of enjoyment in rating anime. It made me think about my approach here as well, especially since I recently reviewed a work positively that was also a bit painful to get through (but I’d say I enjoyed it from some kind of weird psychological perspective even so — see, it gets complicated, doesn’t it?)

Waifu Wednesday: Ayesha Altugle (MoeGamer) — And finally, Pete over at MoeGamer takes a look at another great female protagonist (there’s no shortage of them, despite what you might think! You just have to be looking in the right places.) Ayesha, the lead of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, helps set a very different tone from the previous bright, cheery Atelier Arland series. I’ve recently started playing this, and I’m a fan of hers already. Though I also like Marion Quinn a lot so far. There’s something about a cute girl in sharp business attire. Yeah, might just be something I’m into. Okay, I’ll stop, sorry.

And that’s another month. Everyone is hoping this new year isn’t bullshit like the previous one was. I wouldn’t mind continuing to be inside — forever if possible (I still have some of those NHK Tatsuhiro tendencies; that series hit a little too close to home for me) but I’m hoping the same. Work continues to pile up, but I look forward to getting out a few hopefully interesting posts this coming month. I did just get a massive haul of artbooks and music recently, so maybe I’ll have a look at some of that as well. Until then, all the best, and thanks for reading.

A review of Everywhere at the End of Time (Stages 1 – 6)

Disclaimer: this post deals with dementia. If you know anything about the work I’m taking on in this post, this will come as no surprise, but fair warning: please skip if you don’t feel like reading about such a depressing subject. My next post will be a lot lighter in tone. It’s hard to imagine how it could be any heavier than what’s coming up, anyway.

Today’s subject might seem like it’s pretty far outside the scope of what I usually write about here. But listening to the six-album project Everywhere at the End of Time raised some points that I found interesting and that connect back to some I’ve written about here. Since getting so popular online, it’s also become a “big internet thing” or whatever you’d call it (though that didn’t seem to be the intention of the artist at all) and I have an interest in those as well. Finally, writing about this work is also a way for me to try to “unstick” the experience I had with it a bit, because it has stuck with me, and that’s not entirely a pleasant thing.

The cover of Stage 1

But it might sound like I’m being unnecessarily dramatic here, so I’ll explain. Some months back, I started seeing a thumbnail on YouTube in my recommended list of videos come up again and again: a painting of something that looks like a rolled-up newspaper without any print standing on its side. The attached video was also six and a half hours long. After seeing it so many times, I finally gave in to my curiosity and clicked the link and heard track A1: It’s just a burning memory, and then thought “okay it’s some kind of reverbed old-timey ballroom music; that’s fine, but I don’t need to listen to that for six damn hours.”

Of course, I was wrong: that’s how this project starts, but that’s not nearly all it is. After reading more about it recently, I got interested and decided to try to listen to the whole thing. Everywhere at the End of Time is a set of six albums by British artist Leyland Kirby, going by the name “The Caretaker” for the purpose of this project. This series of albums, ordered in stages from 1 to 6 and released from 2016 to 2019, is meant to depict the slow mental and emotional decline experienced by a dementia/Alzheimer’s patient.

Not exactly a light listen, not something you can just throw on while making dinner or cleaning the house, and despite its length it’s definitely not something to listen to on a road trip. This album series is an ordeal to get through and maybe not something you’d want to subject yourself to in one sitting assuming you had the time to do it. You might not even want to subject yourself to it at all.

Stage 1 might trick a listener going in without prior knowledge like it did me, because it’s deceptively easy listening, without much of a hint as to what’s coming next — it really is just a set of old ballroom music with some reverb and crackling as if it’s being played on a gramophone. But that seems to be by design, because Stage 1 is about the aged subject of the album remembering their young days and not yet realizing that they’re entering the early stages of dementia. Stage 2 sees an increase in the crackling and reverb, and the songs themselves start to become distorted, stretching out, slowing down, and suddenly cutting off or flowing into the next track without warning. At this point, the subject of the work seems to realize what’s going on and is trying to hold onto their memories, but when Stage 3 hits, it’s obvious that those memories are fading and becoming more confused. The music is still recognizable, but it’s starting to distort badly and get buried under noise.

Stage 4 represents a shift into the “post-awareness” stages of consciousness, and the music reflects that — the protagonist is now completely confused and can’t recall much of anything clearly. The last three stages take up most of the play time of this project, lasting about an hour and a half each, and they consist of a lot of noise, droning sounds with recognizable music occasionally fighting its way to the forefront but quickly getting drowned out again and disappearing. It feels in parts of the fourth and fifth stages like the catchy big band songs and ballads from Stage 1 have been stretched and distorted until they’re just a mess of random horn, string, and piano notes, as if they’re still in the patient’s mind somewhere but can’t be recalled in a coherent way anymore.

Thankfully, there’s a resolution to all this. The final stage is more peaceful — not exactly pleasant, but it’s a nice break from the nightmarish mess of the preceding two stages. And then there’s the ending, which I won’t give away except to say that it does put a cap on the whole thing in a satisfying way.

The cover of Stage 5. I see a lady in a fancy old-fashioned dress on a flight of stairs, but who knows what this might be.

So why would I listen to this thing all the way through? That’s something I asked myself before and even after I did it. There were a few things about Everywhere at the End of Time that really interested me. One was the artwork attached to each of the albums. All the covers are paintings by artist Ivan Seal, who worked closely with Kirby on the project. I’m not the hugest fan of abstract painting in general, but I really like Seal’s work. He depicts a lot of strange-looking objects that almost look like things that might exist in the real world but are unidentifiable, and I enjoy that kind of mind-trick stuff, especially when it’s not trying to just get by on shock value. Each of his covers also feels like it suits the mood of the corresponding album well.

And then there’s the effect this music has apparently had on a lot of listeners. Despite being a six-hour-plus piece of experimental music, something you’d think wouldn’t be all that popular, Everywhere at the End of Time blew up online — the artist himself posted the whole thing on YouTube, and it has over six million views as of this writing. Before diving in, I read accounts from people who claimed this album made them break down crying, that it followed them into their dreams, and that it even changed their outlook on life as a whole, making them appreciate it more, or driving them into existential despair and depression.

I tend to be pretty skeptical about claims like this. I don’t doubt that art can make people feel strong emotions, but “life-changing” is a tall order. It was enough to get me to listen, though, just to see how much there was to this thing. The worst that could happen would be that I wouldn’t care for it, and as for the depression — I’m already depressed! What more can this to do me?

Reviewing something like this is a bit difficult, but I’ll just give my opinion here: Everywhere at the End of Time didn’t change my life, but it was interesting. First, it’s obvious that a lot of work was put into it. It’s easy to be dismissive of abstract art, especially when it feels too abstract to really grab onto and get any feeling out of. These albums, however, were understandable — Kirby himself wrote the descriptions for each stage along with what he intended to express in them, all of which can be read in the text under the video, and his ideas are expressed very clearly in his music with its gradual degradation and decline from music into pure noise.

However, even though he’s very straightforward about what this work is meant to represent, he’s still able to express his ideas in subtle ways. To me the most interesting parts of the work are the first three stages, before the subject has totally lost himself to dementia and still has some memory. Kirby uses a few specific themes that come up a few times throughout these stages, but in successively degraded states. The most obvious and memorable of these themes is the opening “It’s just a burning memory”, based on the 1930s big band love song Heartaches. This song gets reprised a few times up until it’s nearly unrecognizable at the end of Stage 3, where it’s heavily distorted and stopping and starting again, as if the subject is trying desperately to remember their old favorite song but failing.

The decline isn’t a constant slope down, either; there are a few ups as on “Last moments of pure recall” on Stage 2, which as the title suggests is a return to the relative clarity of Stage 1. But things quickly take a turn for the worse after that track. Even on the fairly normal Stage 1, there are signs that all isn’t well — the fifth track “Slightly bewildered” is a kind of muffled, unassuming piano loop that passed me by at first, but looking back, it seems to suggest some early confusion both in the title and the music itself.

The final three stages are interesting in a conceptual way, but they make for very rough listening, especially Stage 4 and 5, which make up three hours and nearly half the length of the entire project. The musical ideas from the first three stages are still there in bits and pieces, but they’re very brief and disjointed when they do appear, suggesting that they’re still floating around but that the patient has perhaps stopped trying to remember them at all. These two albums are supposed to depict the confusion and fear experienced by the dementia patient after losing their coherent memories, with 20 minute-long tracks bearing titles like “Post-Awareness Confusions” and “Advanced plaque entanglements”. I guess they’re effective at that, because both albums were extremely unpleasant and even disturbing in parts. Stage 6 is a welcome change to more of a peaceful sound, even if the traditional music is still almost entirely gone, but that seems to represent the patient’s slip into their final period of life towards death.

The cover to Stage 6. You can probably elicit some emotion from a few people just by showing them this image based on what I’ve seen.

Reading comments under the full project on YouTube, some people have said that they connect strongly with these albums, especially those who have family members and friends suffering from dementia. Even dementia-sufferers have commented that Everywhere at the End of Time is an accurate depiction of what it’s like to have the disease — stretch each stage out from a number of hours to a number of years. It makes a lot of sense to me that some listeners might have broken down while listening for this reason. It’s a reminder of what can happen to the brain, taking away the personality and everything that makes it and leaving a shell of a person behind.

It might also explain why I didn’t break down or have my attitude towards life changed by these albums. Because I can’t connect with it on such a personal level: the closest I’ve experienced to this was near the death of my grandmother, who thankfully only had some mental confusion very shortly before she went, and then she only seemed to be living back in the past, mistaking me for one of her long-gone brothers and my mother for one of her aunts, things like that. I think a lot of people have such stories. If you have a much more personal and bitter experience with dementia, though, this work might really shake you.

If you don’t want to listen to Everywhere at the End of Time, I totally understand that. It’s very interesting, a piece of abstract art that comes off as thoughtful and well-made. It’s also a hard listen. After finishing it, I thought back to a post I wrote last year taking on arguments being made by some critics that a game that’s not fun to play and puts the player through an intentionally miserable time (specifically The Last of Us Part II) can make for a more meaningful experience somehow than a game that is fun. I stand by everything I wrote then, but I do think Everywhere at the End of Time is the kind of depressing, hard-going artistic work that gets it right. It’s thoughtfully produced, subtle, and has proper respect for its subject matter.

Here on the site, I’ve written about games that I feel also successfully take that approach. Saya no Uta, like Everywhere, is intentionally ugly in parts and can be hard to get through for that reason, but it also uses those elements to address ideas about mental health by getting into the mindset of someone suffering from severe delusions. You can make the same case for the early Silent Hill games. These are rightly regarded as classics, even though they’re not entirely fun experiences.

And as with those games, I can’t give a massive, “everyone should hear this” sort of recommendation to Everywhere at the End of Time. You might argue that you can just as easily get down the experience of feeling pain by slamming your hand in a car door or something, and why the hell would you do that — and I wouldn’t blame you for feeling that way. Listening to Stage 5 does feel like the aural equivalent of doing that for 90 minutes. But it’s probably not possible to express the idea of dementia through music without this kind of pain, so if you don’t want to hear it, better just avoid it.

As for me… I was very impressed by this work, it did make me feel something (even if I didn’t break down and cry at it), and I’m probably never going to listen to it again. That shouldn’t be taken as a negative judgment, of course — it probably speaks more to just how effective it was at achieving what it set out to do.

Listening/reading log #15 (December 2020)

We’re at the end of the year, finally — now for 2021. Not that changing the year by one number makes that much of a difference in reality, since it’s just another bit of distance of the Earth revolving around the Sun, but maybe there’s a real psychological effect in changing years. We humans made up the calendar, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. So let’s hope for better things this year as we collectively give a middle finger to the last one.

And let’s also do the usual end-of-month thing: talk about some good music and good writing. This month, I’m returning to two bands that I’ve already covered twice before. But these are both really good albums, so it’s excusable I think. The holidays are all about being comfortable anyway, and I’m totally in my comfort zone today. On to the business:

Discipline (King Crimson, 1981)

Highlights: Discipline, Matte Kudasai, Thela Hun Ginjeet

When I wrote about King Crimson’s album Red a while back, I mentioned that the band broke up shortly after it was released and wouldn’t reform for seven years. Discipline is what they came back with, “they” being constant Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, returning jazz/prog drummer Bill Bruford, and two new guys in bassist Tony Levin and guitarist/singer Adrian Belew.

80s Crimson is completely different from 70s Crimson in sound. Instead of the heavy rock, Discipline and the following two studio albums are done in a New Wave style that gets compared to Talking Heads a lot but is more technical and weird in a different way. Adrian Belew is a bit of a neurotic goofball like David Byrne, but I like his brand of strangeness too, and he’s also an excellent guitarist with an interesting experimental edge just like Fripp. Discipline mixes things up with the fierce fast-paced “Thela Hun Ginjeet” and a nice love song in “Matte Kudasai” (aside from love songs never being much of a King Crimson thing in the 60s and 70s, check out the title — “please wait” in Japanese. Were these guys also weebs before it was cool?) “Discipline” is also an insanely precise instrumental that shows off all their talents, with Fripp and Belew’s guitars going off into different key signatures and meeting up again.

I still think Red is the best album Crimson put out, but I also like that the band has changed things up so much throughout their run (well, they’ve changed their lineup a lot too, aside from the mainstay Fripp) and the 80s version of the band made a lot of good music. I also recommend the excellent live album Absent Lovers, which includes some great songs from Discipline and the following albums Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair along with a few old 70s standards like “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II” and “Red”.

Fragile (Yes, 1972)

Highlights: Roundabout, South Side of the Sky, Heart of the Sunrise

When I said I was in my comfort zone this post I wasn’t kidding. I’ve already written about The Yes Album immediately preceding this and Close to the Edge immediately following it, so I had to write about Fragile too; I couldn’t leave that gap in there. Also, like those albums and Discipline above, Fragile features Bill Bruford on drums, making this his sixth appearance in these short reviews up until now. He really is a great drummer, so he’s deserving of that great honor.

Fragile is also just a really entertaining album. Everyone reading this probably already knows the opener “Roundabout”, either because it’s an old rock radio standard in its shorter edited form or because it was the ending theme to the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and was featured in seventy million of those “to be continued” meme videos. But there are other great epic-length songs on Fragile, including the multi-part ultra-complicated super-proggy piece “Heart of the Sunrise” and my personal favorite “South Side of the Sky”, a driving heavy song about people desperately trying to cross a snowy mountain range with a really nice piano solo in the middle from Rick Wakeman. Unique among these albums, Fragile also features shorter solo-focused pieces for each band member to show off in, which are pretty fun as well.

I recommend Fragile highly together with The Yes Album and Close to the Edge, especially if you have any interest at all in that classic early 70s progressive rock period. Yes made a lot of other good music, especially in the 70s and on the 80s pop standard album 90125, but to me this run of albums contains their best work.

Now that I’m done with my fanboy nonsense, reviewing albums I’ve listened to since I was in high school like a lazy asshole instead of expanding my horizons, let’s move on to the featured articles from around WordPress:

In Memoriam: Adobe Flash (Nepiki Gaming) — Flash has been a big part of many of our lives, especially for anyone who grew up on the internet in the late 90s and through the 2000s and even the 2010s, which I have to imagine covers almost everyone reading this. Nepiki gives a eulogy for the now discontinued program.

The Romance of Space as an Ocean (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott examines how certain science fiction works treat space like a massive ocean and the romantic aspects of that theme. I love space operas as well (watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes, it’s great!) and I can relate to the feelings he expresses here.

Beginner’s guide to indie (2020): part one (Later Levels) — Kim at Later Levels has posted a series on indie games, which as you know I’m all about. There are some interesting-looking titles she brings up I haven’t played either. In the same vein, her review of the indie sort of-visual novel VA-11 Hall-A is worth reading. I loved that game. Still waiting for that “coming soon” semi-sequel though. Maybe we’ll get it this year.

The Traditional Catholic Weeb Speaks: Nichijou Revisited (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — A review of Nichijou, a weird comedy anime series that I vaguely remember from years ago. Traditional Catholic Weeb’s detailed and comprehensive post got me interested in it again, and I might finally get around to watching it now.

Lightning Warrior Raidy (PC/FMTowns/PC-98): A Surprisingly Solid Dungeon Crawler (Detailed Review) (NSFW) (Guardian Acorn) — Annie Gallagher takes on Lightning Warrior Raidy, an old and famous (or maybe infamous?) h-game. Not safe for work as the title suggests, but if you’re not at work and otherwise okay with it, I suggest checking this review out.

My 5 favourite games I watched other people play in 2020 (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Ever since the invention of the Let’s Play way back in 2007 or around then, people have been watching other people play video games online. This might seem strange, but some games can be interesting to watch in the context of someone else’s playthrough if their commentary and personality add to the experience (and given how many VTuber game streams I’ve watched in parts lately I certainly can’t say otherwise without being a huge hypocrite.) Wooderon here addresses some of his favorite games to watch others play paired with a few particular streamers.

Looking Back: 2020 Post Mortem (Frostilyte Writes) — This was a shitass year all things considered. I don’t even really have to say that. But thankfully, some of us have been able to do something productive with the crap 2020 gave us. Frostilyte here looks back on his own year and what he got done blogging and gaming-wise. I should also thank him for being one of the people who finally convinced me to start on the Yakuza series, which I recently started at 0, so I’ll do that here. Thanks!

Early Impressions on Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Yakuza, here are Aether’s first impressions of the recently released Yakuza: Like a Dragon, a game that takes the Yakuza setting and feel and combines it with a turn-based RPG mechanic. An interesting combination, but does it work? Aether takes that question on in the above-linked post.

Evangelion Sword Exhibition at Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Resurface to Reality) — I love the idea of an Evangelion-themed exhibit like the one described here at Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. As usual, I regret not being able to visit it myself, but reading about it is interesting.

Who I Want for Roommates or Neighbours in Quarantine (Anime Edition) (A Geeky Gal) — Meg at A Geeky Gal considers the following: which anime characters would you have as roommates during quarantine? A question to be carefully considered since you’ll have been stuck with them for nine months as of this writing.

December 2020 in Summary: Hindsight Is 2020 (Extra Life) — Red Metal’s overview of his last month of blogging. I don’t usually feature end-of-month recaps on other sites like the one I’m writing here right now because that feels a bit weird to me, featuring that kind of post in a similar one like this. But this one contains Red Metal’s takes on some excellent movies like Ben-Hur, The Twilight Samurai, All The President’s Men and others that should be read.

Some of my favourite openings! (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — And Yomu takes the time to write about some openings he likes. I’m a fan of #6 on the list myself.

And that’s it for the year. I’ll get more into my own plans for this year in an upcoming post, but the extra-short version is that I have a ton of games I’m either working through or have lined up in the backlog, so there should be no lack of game-related material in 2021. The same is true for anime, which I’ll keep writing about as well, along with music and the occasional pissed off set of complaints that you’ve come to expect from me. The same goes for my deep reads posts, though the latest one I’ve been working on has been giving me hell. I hope to have it out sometime this month, though.

Until next time, I wish you extreme prosperity, maximum happiness, and whatever else your heart desires this year.

Listening/reading log #14 (November 2020)

Well look, it’s December already and cold as fuck suddenly. I like winter better than summer, but that still doesn’t mean I like below freezing temperatures. I’m not that much of a masochist.

But what better time than to listen to some nice unplugged music, maybe around a fire with coffee spiked with at least 1 part whiskey out of 4? No, not even Irish cream, I mean whiskey. This month I’ve picked a few albums that I think fit that setting, along with the usual great, insightful posts from around the community here.

Please to See the King (Steeleye Span, 1971)

Highlights: The Lark in the Morning, Female Drummer, Cold, Haily, Windy Night

Last month, I started my post by recommending Steely Dan, and this month I’m recommending Steeleye Span. The names are remarkably similar, but these guys have absolutely no resemblance otherwise, because Steeleye Span was an English band playing originals and adaptations of old English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh/etc. folk songs.

Please to See the King mainly features singing and a bunch of acoustic instruments (but no drums, weirdly enough — even though “Female Drummer” is a song on this album.) Most of the songs are pretty catchy and memorable, with plenty of energy behind them. And they seem to deal with common problems from the old days, such as being a young woman disguising yourself as a man so you can join the military (“Female Drummer”), getting knocked up by a knight who runs away from his fatherly duties (“Cold, Haily, Windy Night”), and meeting the Devil (“The False Knight On the Road”.) And there’s even a nice innocent-sounding song about a bird that’s actually about something else entirely (“The Lark in the Morning”.)

I really don’t know anything about the folk music of Britain and Ireland — all I’m familiar with are these songs and Thin Lizzy’s version of “Whiskey in the Jar”, so I’m a total novice in this area. But I know I like this album. It’s good music, that’s all. A few good songs to drink and sing along to as well if that’s your thing.

Greatest Hits (Simon & Garfunkel, 1972)

Highlights: I Am A Rock, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Scarborough Fair, and most of the rest of it

Does recommending a greatest hits album fuck up all my credibility and kick me out of the serious music critic club? I guess it probably does, but hey I don’t care, because I was never in it and wouldn’t want to be anyway. And Greatest Hits is the only Simon & Garfunkel album I ever owned, and I’ve owned it for a very long time now, so I’m putting it up here. If you don’t know them, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were an American folk-rock duo who put out some great music back in the late 60s/early 70s. Simon was the music guy and Garfunkel the vocals guy, but they both sang in a lot of their songs and captured a sound that nobody else could imitate.

The songs are mostly really good as well, with some absolute classics you’ve probably heard like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Scarborough Fair” (the “parsley sage rosemary and thyme” one), “Mrs. Robinson”, and “Sound of Silence”. “I Am A Rock” is a great one too — I can really connect to the protagonist of that song, what a surprise. A couple of the songs here don’t do anything for me, but I like most of them, and I think these guys are well worth checking out.

I do have to single out one song with a terrible message, though: Cecilia. Your girlfriend cheats on you and you beg her to come home and then rejoice when she does? Personally, I’d change the locks and tell her to go to hell — and I’d expect to receive exactly the same treatment if I did that to her. You’re just asking for trouble otherwise, aren’t you? Maybe I’m the weird one in this case, I don’t know. I did mention I’m not a fan of NTR recently, so it’s no wonder I don’t like this song. (edit: I just found the other interpretation of “Cecilia” and I like that one a lot better. I had no idea about it until now, but then I wasn’t raised Catholic — if you were, maybe it would have occurred naturally to you. Okay, this is enough about one song, on to the next album.)

Das Lied von der Erde (Gustav Mahler, 1909)

Highlights: It’s all good

Okay, so maybe this one doesn’t fit the theme so much. Really, I’m just posting Das Lied von der Erde (or The Song of the Earth) here because I’m tired of some people dumping on late 19th/early 20th century Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.

Well fuck that. Just listen to this work of his, apparently produced at a depressive period of his life (which really comes through in the lyrics.) The song itself is supposed to be based on some old Chinese poetry that was translated into German and adapted to be set to Mahler’s orchestral compositions. The various parts hits all kinds of tones, starting with “The Drinking Song of the Earth’s Sorrow” which sure sounds like a depressed drunk dude yelling about the sorrows of the Earth, and then moves on to quieter, more contemplative sections, and then back to the sweeping material.

The performances in the modern recordings we have are usually great and the whole thing feels like a ride, even if I still don’t have much of an idea about what the point of it is. I guess to lament about how life sucks and we’ll eventually die anyway? If that’s the message, then I can completely understand it, but as with Magma’s Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh, there’s probably something deeper going on here that I’m not getting. Anyway, this is one work to use if you want to show someone that classical music isn’t all stodgy, boring stuff. Maybe it still won’t work, but that is a misconception I’d like to blow up completely.

Now on to the featured posts:

Revisiting my view on Anime Gatekeeping (I drink and watch anime) — Irina again examines the issue of gatekeeping in the anime fandom(s). It’s a complicated problem, and one that I have my own opinions about (more on the game side, but some of the problems there are similar.) Whether you agree with her approach, Irina takes on the issue with a lot of care and insight, so be sure to check it out.

#Controversed: Don’t Attack Actors and Voice Actors, Be a Force of Positivity (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Apparently some people have attacked voice actors online because they don’t like certain characters they voice, which is completely insane. Scott addresses this problem and calls for civility and positivity in this post.

Autumn Adventures in Kyoto (Part 1) (Resurface to Reality) — A tour of some beautiful parts of Kyoto in the autumn from browsercrasher. Again, I wish I were there. And it’s more than just the virus keeping me from traveling. But maybe one day. At least great travel posts like these can let me go there in my mind.

Why I love autumn (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Continuing the theme, Wooderon expresses his love for autumn. It’s my favorite season as well, but sadly it’s finished where I live because we’re below freezing here now. At least we actually had an autumn this year — it’s not a given where I live that it will last more than one week from blazing hot to freezing cold. I hate this place.

Watch Out, They Move, They Diss You Loud! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(c)-Characters: Akihiko and Mitsuru (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his ongoing Persona 3 analysis series with this look at two of my favorite characters from that game, Akihiko and Mitsuru. If you only know Akihiko from his appearances in the Persona Q and Persona 4 Arena, read Aether’s analysis to discover how much deeper of a character he is than the cardboard cutouts those games present.

I Love Meta-Gaming (in Hades) (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte uses Hades and Monster Hunter World to illustrate how meta-gaming can add a lot of value to your gaming experience. It’s the kind of thing you might not actively think about too much, but it makes a difference!

Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019) (Extra Life) — Is the newest Rian Johnson film better than The Last Jedi? Red Metal gives his answer to that question in this thorough, indepth review of Knives Out.

The Anime Encyclopedia – A review (Reasons to anime) — If you were wondering whether The Anime Encyclopedia is worth buying, read Casper’s review. Really, any reference book that craps on anything Disgaea-related without even bothering to know who the characters are is fit only for $1 bargain bin hell, or better still a garbage dump.

Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland – Meruru, Warrior Princess (MoeGamer) — And finally, if my review of Atelier Meruru DX didn’t convince you to buy that game right away, check out Pete’s feature on it. Anyone who thinks video games are lacking in strong but realistically flawed female characters needs to play an Atelier game, because the series is full of them, and Meruru is one such protagonist. (Now I just need to find the time to play Atelier Totori…)

And now for the final month of this cursed year. I have a few more post ideas to work on, and I’d like to finish 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim before the year is up — but no guarantees, since it seems like a very long game with a lot of twists and turns. It’s great so far, though. I also have a few VNs I’m still working through, including a certain newly released kinetic novel about catgirls working in a bakery. What could I possibly be talking about? Maybe you’ll find out soon. Until then!

Listening/reading log #13 (October 2020)

I’m writing this a few days before possible absolute freakout time here in the States. We’ll probably be okay though. And if we aren’t, then we aren’t. Let’s just ignore that shit for right now and talk about some good music and good writing from fellow bloggers, because there’s not much else to do at this point aside from your civic duty if you’re an eligible citizen. And if you’re a non-American reader, please forgive all our social media meltdowns that will happen either way on Wednesday morning.

Okay, fine, that’s all I’ll say about it now. On to the music. This time the emphasis is on smooth relaxing stuff for maybe obvious reasons.

Aja (Steely Dan, 1977)

Highlights: Black Cow, Aja, Deacon Blues

Yeah, I like this album. And I like Steely Dan in general. I know people have shit on these guys for their music being too smooth or slick or whatever but I don’t give a fuck, because they sound good to me. If you don’t know them or only know their name from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Steely Dan started as a full band doing sort of jazz-influenced rock stuff in the early 70s (their first album Can’t Buy A Thrill is great too, and “Do It Again” is another one of those “you’ve definitely heard it even if you don’t know the title” songs.) However, they soon morphed into basically two guys, Donald Fagan and Walter Becker, and a bunch of session musicians playing much more jazz-influenced stuff that has very little or nothing to do with rock music anymore and shouldn’t be judged on that basis anyway.

But that’s fine with me, because these guys knew how to write good songs that stick in your head. The opener “Black Cow” is an interesting one about the narrator chewing out his cheating lover along with a reference to the Black Cow cocktail, a drink I’ve never had and never will (Kahlua, half-and-half, and Coca-Cola — the first two sound okay, but cola mixed with alcohol has always tasted horrible to me.) And then there’s the big hit “Deacon Blues”, a melancholy one about a musician who never quite makes it but keeps playing seedy clubs even after his dreams are dead. The title track is nice and calm too, and also less depressing unless I’m missing something.

Aja is a great album to play late at night when you’re in a weird mood or coming down off of a buzz. It sets that kind of mood that for me is unsuitable for any other time. Very relaxing and smooth, but a downer if you pay too close attention to the lyrics. Which seems to be the case for a lot of Steely Dan. Messrs. Fagan and Becker weren’t the happiest guys, at least when it came to how they expressed themselves in their music. Not that I need any help being a depressive myself, so the effect on me is minimal. Anyway, I like it.

Piano Collections NieR:Automata (Various, 2018)

Highlights: Really the whole thing

Speaking of depression, here’s an officially released piano arrangement album based on the soundtrack of NieR:Automata. As acclaimed as this game was, I have seen people say they didn’t like it, but I haven’t seen a single person not at least praise its soundtrack. Both the compositions and performances are as amazing as they were for the much less praised earlier PS3 titles.

Piano Collections totally does justice to twelve of the songs from the game with just a piano. And that’s all there is on this album: one piano, at least as far as I can tell. So if you’re not into solo piano stuff this is one to skip, but even then I’d suggest giving it a little listen to see how well pieces like “Copied City” and “Vague Hope” adapt to this format. It’s mostly pretty relaxing too, at least if you can get past the sad feelings brought up by a few of these if you’ve played the game (“Voice of No Return” and “Vague Hope”, those are the ones for me.)

Cafe de Touhou 3 (DDBY, 2011)

Highlights: Locked Girl, Scarlet Tea Party

Another game-based album, but this one is a fan work. Maybe it’s weird to throw in a doujin album based on a series about magical girls shooting lasers and bullet hell patterns at each other. I don’t know. But I know that I like DDBY. I covered Tokyo Active NEETs a while back, and like their work, this is basically jazz takes on BGM from the Touhou Project series. However, DDBY gets a more chilled out feel to their music in parts, and the effect is more relaxing than the NEETs’ aggressive approach. Not that I like one more than the other; it just depends on my mood which I prefer at any time.

If you can’t tell from the characters on the album cover, this is based on music from Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which like all the other Touhou games has an excellent soundtrack already. I couldn’t find much about this album around so you’ll have to take my word this time, but I did post a link above that contains a sample from the group’s own site (“Vintage Girl”, based on Flandre’s theme, the blonde girl on the left with the Christmas light wings who will kill the shit out of you hundreds of times if you even manage to reach her.) My favorite on the album might be “Locked Girl” — best girl Patchouli for some reason isn’t featured on the cover, but her theme gets a really nice sort of bossanova-sounding treatment.

Honestly I could fill these sections up with Touhou doujin albums, there are so many of them out there. I only own a few myself, but I love the ones I have. ZUN is a great composer anyway, but these arrange albums really add to his work outside of the context of his games.

Now for the featured posts:

The Writing on the Wall: Why The Last of Us Part II Was a Predictable Disaster (Extra Life) — Here Red Metal follows up on some of the issues he raised in his review of The Last of Us Part II, connecting these with the extremely questionable approaches certain game producers, developers, and journalists have taken towards the audience of gamers. If you have any interest in these or even if you’re just part of that audience (and if you’re reading my site, it’s likely) then you should check this article out.

Mommy’s not here, gotta fight! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(b) – Characters: Yukari and Junpei (Lost to the Aether) — As long as Aether keeps writing analyses of Persona 3, I’ll keep posting them here. This part breaks down two of the most interesting and maybe most realistic characters in any Persona game.

Medium Matters: School-Live! II (Confessions of an Overage Otaku) — Anyone who’s enjoyed a manga or visual novel and then was disappointed by how the anime handled the source material can relate to this post. Overage Otaku uses the example of School-Live, a manga-turned-anime about high school students trying to live normally during a zombie apocalypse, to show how exactly that kind of mangling can happen.

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle (Lex’s Blog) — Sometimes adaptations go really well, though, like the subject of this post from Lexine: a thorough review of the original novel that the Ghibli classic Howl’s Moving Castle was based on.

Film Review: Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) (Mid-Life Gamer Geek) — Mid-Life Gamer Geek reviews the new Borat movie, which is something I wasn’t expecting at all this year, but it seems like Sacha Baron Cohen’s style to come out of nowhere and surprise us with a sequel after a decade or however long it’s been since the first one. At least this time maybe we won’t have to hear people saying “VERY NICE” over and over like we did back then. I hope not anyway.

The Song of Saya – A Continued Look at Gen Urobuchi’s Earlier Work (Jon Spencer Reviews) — I’m always up to read another take on Saya no Uta, and Jon Spencer has an interesting one, raising a few issues that I hadn’t thought of. But I won’t spoil them — do yourself a favor and read his post.

The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (Professional Moron) — And here’s a review of just a plain novel. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote some crazy fiction that was often a criticism of the Soviet system he lived under, which as you can imagine got him into trouble with the authorities during the repressive reign of Stalin. I haven’t read The Heart of a Dog, but I want to after reading Mr. Wapojif’s post on it.

Indie Variety Hour – Steam Autumn Festival (Frostilyte Writes) — I missed out on it, but Frostilyte has covered the Steam Autumn Festival lineup of featured indie game demos, playing and writing about a select few that look interesting.

Genshin Impact has me addicted (Nepiki Gaming) — Nepiki is addicted to Genshin Impact. I hope he can get some help with that! But it does look like a nice game, an interesting mix of gacha and MMO. For my part, I’m done with the hellish world of gacha. I already fell into a different entertainment-related hell recently; I can’t take two.

Truth About Anime Blogging: Expectation Vs Reality (Anime Everything Online) — Even though I’ve written about anime, I wouldn’t call myself an anime blogger. Silvercrowv1 can, though. This post breaks down some of the myths associated with blogging in general and with anime blogging in particular that writers should consider before diving into a project. I like to use the word “fuck” in my writing too much for most advertisers to probably be comfortable with, but if you want those ad dollars you should absolutely read this to gain an understanding of what it might take.

Funimtion VA and script writer Jamie Marchi responds criticism on edited English Dubs (Matt-in-the-Hat) — The quality of anime dubbing is something people get into heated debates about all the time. Which is already kind of pointless when the subs option exists, but it certainly shouldn’t extend to the sort of threats that Funimation VA Jamie Marchi has reported she’s received. On the other hand, I don’t think her response to the critics helps — it looks to me like yet another “paint every person giving negative feedback with the crazy brush” tactic that we’ve seen so often, along with a typical sex-based insult that I think is both low and beside the point (and partly related to the issues Red Metal raised in the first link above about disdain for the audience.) I guess I’d be pissed if I received such threats too, but is that an excuse? No matter how you feel about that, Matthew is a great writer to follow, so be sure to check his blog out.

Uzaki-Chan wants to Hang Out!: Nothing unseen about it. (Shallow Dives in Anime) — Another interesting take on the Uzaki-chan anime that riled so many people up. It’s also nice to see the Unseen Japan site account get poked in the eye a bit. To be fair, they do raise important social issues, but then they proceed to trash their credibility by getting mad over anime girls, which I see as both a waste of time and effort and a ridiculous stand to take in the first place. But then I’m obviously biased about that. In fact, maybe this is a subject for a separate post.

Blogtober 2020 – Doki Doki Literature Club (Gaming Omnivore) — And finally, Gaming Omnivore joins the Literature Club.

That’s all for this month. As for the coming month — maybe it’s too early to make solid plans at this point if I end up living in SMT4-version Tokyo here in a few days. If I don’t, though, you can expect more stuff on anime and hopefully a couple of games (though I’ve had too much work lately to get through what I’m playing right now.) And maybe a post full of complaints. You like those, right? I hope so. Until next time.

Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020)

No, I didn’t forget — the monthly recap is here. And this marks a full year of them. It’s weird to think, I had the idea for this post series when I was at the office, which is somewhere I haven’t been now for the last half-year since the work-from-home plan was put into place. But I’m okay with that. I would honestly be fine with never leaving my apartment again. In fact, I’ll just sign up for that Singularity thing where we get to become consciousnesses in a massive universal computer network or a simulated universe or however that’s supposed to work.

As usual, I’m going to highlight some excellent posts from around the community here, but first, here are short looks at a couple of albums. This time I wanted to do something more seasonal. Everyone likes Halloween and it’s October now, so here are two real classics that I like but also find to be spooky. Well, maybe more unnerving than spooky. I’d include that Boards of Canada album I covered in the very first one of these posts, but I already wrote about it. It’s pretty chilling too; check it out if you’re into that.

Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen (The Residents, 1978)

Highlights: not even going to try

The Residents might be the most bizarre band ever created. It’s hard to call them a “band” actually; the names and even the number of Residents have always been unknown, and some of what they do involves other media like film or falls more into the realm of performance art than music alone. And even though they tour and do live shows, the performers always wear various disguises, most famously giant eyeball-helmets, sometimes with top hats and full formal suits included. Maybe that’s where Daft Punk got their own helmet disguise idea from?

However, I didn’t pick Duck Stab to highlight because of any of that. It’s rather because this album creeps me the fuck out. None of it’s “scary” exactly, but it can be kind of unnerving in parts. The Residents are known for their deconstruction of pop/rock music, and you can hear that happening right here — most of these songs should sound pretty close to normal with beats, melodies, verses, choruses and all that, but everything is just “off” enough to sound completely bizarre instead. Some of the songs sound intentionally ugly, like the opener Constantinople that seems like it was made to try to get you to turn the album off in its first ten seconds. Or Semolina, which sounds like a Beach Boys song produced in Hell. Laughing Song and Birthday Boy are genuinely creepy as well.

Listening to Duck Stab, I get the feeling that the Residents could have easily made a good album full of regular rock and pop songs if they’d wanted to. Even though a lot of it’s ugly, this music is also interesting and even catchy sometimes. It’s very obvious that these songs weren’t just some shit they threw together but were written, probably with a lot of care. The Residents just chose to make the songs fucked up on purpose, with clashing instrumental parts and vocals and lyrics that almost make sense but not quite, resulting in something that I think resembles an Uncanny Valley effect for music. Captain Beefheart did the same sort of thing in the 70s; this reminds me a lot of his album Trout Mask Replica. It’s worth looking up Duck Stab if you’re into that kind of strange music (and if you haven’t heard it, look up Trout Mask Replica too!)

Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (Magma, 1973)

Highlights: no

More weird stuff from the 70s. And yeah, the title is meant to be written that way. Both the album and song titles, and even the lyrics themselves, are written in a fantasy language that sounds a lot like German but isn’t quite. Magma was a French band, however, and the only French prog band I know anything about. Like the Residents, these guys were known for their strange compositions, but Magma’s are different. Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh has separated tracks with titles but feels like one full piece, almost like an old opera with characters singing and sometimes yelling and ranting in this fantasy language over organs, pianos, and pounding bass and drums.

There’s a story behind the whole piece that looks spiritual in nature, but I can’t tell what’s going on with it. Maybe it’s an extremely high-minded concept album like Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans about some esoteric religious ideas. But I just think the music is cool aside from whatever the lyrics might be about. The first parts sound ferocious and martial and can even get a bit frightening with the main singer’s ranting and yelping and more singers joining in, but the tone softens and gets more peaceful in the second half of the album. From the flow of it, I can believe there’s a story being told here, even if I don’t really get it.

In any case, Magma are some interesting guys, quite different from a lot of the British progressive bands I’ve covered. I like the fantasy language element of the music as well. Reminds me of the Hymmnos songs from Ar tonelico and the made-up futuristic English/French/Gaelic/Japanese lyrics in the NieR games’ tracks.

And now, the featured posts:

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off: The Results! (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 concludes the contest co-run with Winst0lf to determine the greatest JRPG character, and the result may surprise you! But I’ll say it’s a deserving win.

You are the main character of your own life. (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — An introspective post from Yomu about how we think of our own places in our lives and how anime usually puts that in a different light. I can’t really do it justice here, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Last of Us Part II (Extra Life) — A massive and truly comprehensive review of the controversial The Last of Us Part II from Red Metal, digging into both the gameplay and the story. No matter how you feel about the game, this is very worth reading.

Introducing the Frosty Canucks Podcast (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte is now co-hosting a game-related podcast! It’s good stuff, I’ll be following it from now on, and you should too.

Rozen Maiden (The View from the Junkyard) — From Roger Pocock, a review of the mid-2000s anime series Rozen Maiden, which is about a socially maladjusted kid who gets a harem of living dolls that fight each other. This is one that seems almost totally forgotten these days, but it was insanely popular back at the time it aired. Also not quite as weird as it might sound from how I described it, though it has been over a decade since I watched it so I might not be remembering something. I do remember Suigintou being a pretty good villain, though.

Divinity, demons, and decay (Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster) — Kimimi writes about her take on Shin Megami Tensei II, a game that until pretty recently was a pain in the ass to play here since it was never officially localized. Anytime anyone writes about SMT I’m interested, and especially about the older or lesser-known titles like this one.

Freaked Out Now and Dead on Arrival. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(a)- Characters (S.E.E.S. and Protag) (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Megami Tensei, Aether’s in-depth analysis series of Persona 3 continues with a look at the unusual school club SEES and the protagonist who joins it at the beginning of the game. Nothing is what it seems at first, and Aether has some great insights about the game once again in this post.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light – Review (Nepiki Gaming) — Check out Nepiki’s newly remodeled site for a great review of this Final Fantasy game. I’ve been off the FF train for a long time now, but it’s still a rich series and a good time to read about.

Why I Hate Fan Service in Anime (The Anime Basement) — Keni over at The Anime Basement puts forward some arguments about why fanservice can be a problem and how some anime series use it in a way that’s not very tasteful. I partly disagree with him, but he does bring up interesting points, and it’s always good to get a different perspective on these matters. (I do agree with him that Kill la Kill does fanservice really well and in a way that makes sense in the context of the show, but maybe that will be a subject for a separate post someday.)

Anime I like, but haven’t talked about yet: Maria the Virgin Witch (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott writes about Maria the Virgin Witch, another anime series that doesn’t seem to get a lot of talk. It’s a pretty short series, so no reason not to take the time out to watch it — I’m halfway through it now and it’s very good so far.

Hololive English: Examining a Worldwide Phenomenon (MoeGamer) — I’ve admitted that I fell into that infamous Hololive/Vtuber rabbit hole recently, just before that English-language branch that started a few weeks ago (and you’ll know that for sure if you saw me talking up Gura’s great singing or Amelia’s interesting mix of chilled-out and weird on Twitter or in comments somewhere.) Pete here gives a history of the Vtuber phenomenon and a rundown of what makes the various personalities of Hololive special.

The Soul of an Online Community (ft. Vtubers) (Anicourses) — Sadly, though, the Vtuber thing is not all sunshine and roses, as we’ve seen recently with the suspension of popular streamers Kiryu Coco and Akai Haato over extremely sensitive international political matters (really, I’m not kidding.) Over at Anicourses, Le Fenette examines empathy and connections between fans and players in online communities, including the very active and sometimes volatile world of Vtuber fandom and how it may have contributed to cutting one Vtuber’s career short.

And finally, congrats to The Traditional Catholic Weeb and Dewbond on two years of blogging!

So let’s finally close the book on last month. These posts keep getting longer, just like my reviews. And I have plenty more coming up: I’m in the middle of a few visual novels that I may or may not finish soon, I’ve just started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and I’ve finished a few anime series I may write about soon (including even more Monogatari! So I hope you’re not tired of that.) Until next time.

Listening/reading log #11 (August 2020)

As America gets closer and closer to becoming a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game and I start to consider how to maintain a Neutral alignment (still the best alignment, no Law or Chaos for me) I’m finding comfort in music. Today I’ll be presenting two works: another old classic and one of my favorite albums ever, and something new I discovered recently. And as usual, I’ll also be featuring excellent articles from around the community in the past month.

Red (King Crimson, 1974)

Highlights: Red, Fallen Angel, One More Red Nightmare, Starless (basically the whole album except for one track that’s just okay)

I’ve written these short album reviews for nearly a year, yet until now I haven’t talked about one of my all-time favorites: Red. This album was put together by the second (or third, or fourth, depending on how you’re counting) iteration of the prog band King Crimson, which has changed lineups about twenty million times since it started in 1969. Through the years, the only constant in the band has been guitarist Robert Fripp. The other two guys on the cover are bassist/singer John Wetton (formerly of Family and later of Asia) and drummer Bill Bruford (formerly of Yes, and who’s been featured the most out of anyone in these reviews so far, also on The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.)

Red is extremely heavy, precise rock, full of memorable songs. The atmosphere this album creates is something to experience — it’s dark but not trying to be “evil” in the way some of the 70s heavy rock and metal was going for. This is one to play late at night during a coffee binge. I love every track except for the improv-sounding piece Providence, and even that’s not exactly bad, just kind of messy-sounding and out of place. But then I know people who love 70s Crimson improv works found on albums like Starless and Bible Black as well, so you might love this too if that’s your thing.

Somehow these guys just broke up right after recording Red and wouldn’t return for seven years, reforming into a totally different-sounding (but still good!) early-80s New Wave band sort of like Talking Heads. Weird stuff, but then Robert Fripp is a weird guy. He’s also responsible for the startup sound in Windows Vista if you remember that thing. Anyway, this is an amazing album that you should check out.

Bon Bon Appétit!! EP (Sugar & Co., 2020)

Highlights: it’s only three songs long and they’re all good, but I love SWEETSWEETSWEET

If Red is too dark and stormy to suit your mood, here’s something completely different in tone and style, and something so sweet that it might be dangerous to listen to. Bon Bon Appétit!! is a short EP that I might never have found if not for Muse Dash, the rhythm game I reviewed last month. Ever since learning about future funk a couple of years ago I’ve really liked what I’ve heard of it, and this is in that style, made by Shanghai-based composer ANK and a few other people operating under this Sugar & Co. name. And the name, album title, and pink as hell anime girl cover fit the contents exactly: Bon Bon Appétit!! is all cute vocals over electronic disco/funk tracks.

There was a time long ago I’d have never listened to this kind of stuff, but not anymore: it’s catchy and addictive like actual sugar is, and I like it about as much. Really nice, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out from ANK and the rest of them. There are a few other tracks in Muse Dash by the same group that I also like, so it seems like they’ve got more material around. I’ll also probably be listening to more future funk in general because of how relaxing I find it — I’ve already gotten a few great recommendations that I’m looking into further.

And now for the featured articles (more than usual to make up for my being too lazy to review more than two albums again, one of which is less than ten minutes long. Sorry!)

Mega Man 6 (Extra Life) — Red Metal completes his analysis of the original NES Mega Man series with his review of Mega Man 6, a game that gets maligned a whole lot but that maybe doesn’t deserve all of that hate. See Red Metal’s in-depth review for more.

Visual Novel Theater – fault (Lost to the Aether) — Another VN review from Aether, this time of fault, an episodic kinetic novel that I haven’t played. Sounds like an interesting premise, though I don’t think I’d be able to deal with the lack of an ending (at least there isn’t one yet, and it sounds like there might never be one from what Aether says.)

Exploring Miyazaki & Aoshima Island at Sunset (Resurface to Reality) — One day I’d like to visit Japan, but for now all I can do is keep reading travel posts like this one, a look at the Kyushu coast from browsercrasher.

Happy Birthday GoldenEye 007! (Mid-Life Gamer Geek) — A birthday tribute to GoldenEye 007. I remember the movie being all right, but the game was legendary, and Mid-Life Gamer Geek does it justice in this post.

Appreciating My Manga Collections More in a COVID-19 World (Objection Network) — Michaela reflects on the dire state of the US and the world as a whole and how it’s made her appreciate manga as a hobby. I’m all about buying physical copies too.

Fate/Grand Order Tierlist: Ranking all Caster servants! (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — I don’t play Fate/Grand Order, but I do like what I’ve played/watched in the Type-Moon universe, so reading Neppy’s character rankings for the game is still a good time. He’s got a whole series of posts on the subject going, so be sure to check it out.

The Top 5 Animes That Made Me Want to Order Take Out (I drink and watch anime) — Anime often features food that’s incredibly detailed-looking and makes you hungry just seeing it. Irina here recommends five anime series featuring great-looking food. None of these are series you should watch if you’re fasting (also don’t watch Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, speaking of great-looking food and the Fate series.)

The Uzuki-Chan Drama – Twitter imposing their morals on a foreign culture (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Having just gotten current on the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! I can say it’s fucking weird that this is the show of the season people decided to start fights about. Wooderon addresses the drama surrounding Uzaki-chan and the part moral and cultural superiority is playing in creating said drama, especially on Twitter.

Waifu Wednesday: Rorolina Frixell (MoeGamer) — Anyone with an interest in JRPGs that are a little out of the ordinary should be following Pete Davison’s massive series of Atelier posts covering what looks like the entire series. In this post, Pete highlights some of what’s great about Rorona, the protagonist of Atelier Rorona, one of the few in the series I’ve played so far. And I agree with his assessment — Rorona is easily one of my favorite game protagonists.

I Really Dig Disco Elysium’s Character Building (Frostilyte Writes) — Disco Elysium looks like it has a unique character creation system. I think I can easily get into the mindset of a sad drunken detective already, but Frostilyte’s post about the game got me even more interested in it.

The Plague of WordPress: AI Generated Posts (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu delivers a warning about the rise of AI-generated nonsense posts on WordPress that are currently misusing the anime tag. We’ll have to stay one or more steps ahead of the jerks behind this garbage.

Surgeon General’s Warning: DO NOT WATCH ANIME (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — And finally, Scott delivers a warning about the effects of watching too much anime. Sadly, it came too late for me.

That’s all for this month. I have more anime reviews and a couple of game retrospectives coming up soon, but before that I’ll be taking on a couple of tag posts. Until then, stay safe as always.