Listening/reading log #21 (July 2021)

Another month has passed. Two months in this case, since I skipped June. But I guess I picked a good time to return. Since many of us are once again confined to quarters thanks to this shitty mutation of the coronavirus that’s ravaging the Earth, you might have time to listen to all this music and read all these excellent posts from around our communities.

First to the music, as usual. Next month, I plan to cover some very modern music, but this time around I’ll be going way back and listening to two old classics that I remember hearing in my childhood and high school years — but they’re not from my childhood, rather from my parents’. I’d actually quit listening to all of these guys years ago because I’d heard their music so much, but lately I’ve been going back, and it’s been an interesting experience. On to it:

Rubber Soul (The Beatles, 1965)

Highlights: Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, Nowhere Man, Girl, In My Life

Yeah, these guys really don’t need me talking them up, do they? Everyone knows about the Beatles already. But that doesn’t mean their music isn’t still worth talking about. These four dudes from Liverpool, England were massively influential and changed popular music with their work, which spread throughout the decade of the 60s, moving from somewhat sugary pop/rock in the early part of that decade to artsy and even experimental pop/rock by the end.

I like both of these well-known early and late periods of the Beatles’ music, but what happened between them? These guys started shifting their tone in 1965, most noticeably with Rubber Soul, widely known as their “transitional album” and sometimes as their first “serious” album. At first, it might be hard to spot the difference, since the album is still full of short catchy songs that are mostly about love and relationships and all that old stuff. However, the tone is very different and often darker here than you’ll find on something like A Hard Day’s Night. You still have peppy upbeat songs like the opener “Drive My Car”, which I’ll forever remember from my childhood as the song the local morning news played over the traffic report. And there are still fairly straightforward love songs like Paul McCartney’s Michelle, just the thing for playing under some girl’s window to win her affections (you know, as long as she’s named Michelle — if she’s not, you might just piss her off even more than you have already.)

But then there are songs about disappointment and wrecked and even toxic relationships, starting with John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood”, maybe the most famous song about blue balls ever recorded, and ending with a pretty big overreaction from the protagonist (at least according to the popular reading of the lyrics.) Lennon’s “Girl” is even darker in a way, describing a bad relationship that’s hard to escape, and Run For Your Life goes so far as to have the singer promising his girl won’t escape their relationship alive. What the fuck, guys. It’s hard to imagine all those girls screaming over the Beatles playing that song, isn’t it? And now there’s even a non-love song with “Nowhere Man”, which is just kind of depressing as shit, but still excellent of course.

Rubber Soul is an interesting look at how the Beatles changed their sound and approach, capturing that sound right in the middle of its shift — with Revolver in 1966 they’d be almost completely in that later “art” period. But aside from the historical interest it holds, it’s also just a really good album in its own right. Also yeah, George Harrison plays a sitar for the first time on “Norwegian Wood”; there’s your bar trivia fact for this post.

Live at Leeds (The Who, 1970)

Highlights: the whole thing really, but listen to Heaven and HellAmazing Journey/Sparks, Young Man Blues

Another band that doesn’t need a lot of talking up. But I listened to this thing so much in high school that I damn near wore the CD out (yeah, dating myself here once again.) The Who were another one of the British Invasion groups back in the 60s along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — like the Stones, they had a harder edge, playing their take on old American RnB and blues, but like the Beatles they also delved into some more artsy/ambitious work later on, writing the famous rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

The Who were also by all accounts an amazing live band, one that I regret I was never around to actually see play. But at least we have great live albums like Live at Leeds. This album captures these guys at a high point, just coming off of the success of Tommy, and it gives us a listen to the wide range of their work — from short singles from their earlier days like Substitute to medleys of their then-recent work with “Amazing Journey/Sparks”. Most of these are originals, but they also cover a few old classics; see “Young Man Blues” and Summertime Blues, which most people probably know better in its original Eddie Cochran version.

It’s easy to tell from this album alone why this band was and still is so revered. All four of these guys were excellent performers: Roger Daltrey’s vocals, Pete Townshend’s guitar (and writing, since he did write most of their music/lyrics), John Entwistle’s bass, and Keith Moon’s drumming, all of it. Moon famously used to go nuts on his drumkit (and in his life generally speaking) but it fits well with the band’s style — it’s easier if you actually see them in action as you can here, playing “Heaven and Hell” live one year later.

But even without the visuals, there’s a lot of energy and talent on this album and it all comes through. The Who also recorded some great studio albums that I might get around to looking at later on.

And now on to the featured posts:

Catherine: Full Body Review (WCRobinson) — Catherine is a PS3 puzzle game classic that started a few debates back in the day over its frank depiction of relationships and both their emotional and sexual aspects. The PS4 remake Full Body adds a new character to the story along with some other interesting features. Be sure to read WCRobinson’s review for an in-depth look at the game.

The Awesome Combo Trainer of Them’s Fightin’ Herds (Frostilyte Writes) — I am absolute trash at fighting games, but I still like reading Frostilyte’s thoughts on them. The animal-themed fighting game Them’s Fightin’ Herds certainly seems like an interesting one to check out if you’re into the genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru (Lost to the Aether) — Dipping back into June for this one, but it’s well worth the trip back for another of Aether’s visual novel reviews. Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru might sound like it’s not made for manly men, but Aether absolutely destroys that misguided idea in his review of the game. Also, the art on that title screen is familiar — I’m positive I know that artist, but I can’t place the name and it’s driving me a bit crazy.

Donkey Kong Country (Extra Life) — Red Metal gives his thoughts on the classic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country in this extremely in-depth review. How does it hold up after all these years? Check his post out to find out.

AILBHTAY: Kino’s Journey (2003) (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott reviews the classic Kino’s Journey, one that I somehow haven’t watched yet. Now I have yet another old series to add to my backlog, because Kino seems to be well worth a look.

3 Episode Rule – The Aquatope on White Sand (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m watching the currently airing anime The Aquatope on White Sand, and it’s promising so far, with very high production values and an interesting premise. See this post for more on why you might want to pick it up as well.

Full Dive: This Ultimate Next-Gen Full Dive RPG Is Even Shittier than Real Life! – Well this name is quite the mouth full. (Natural Degeneracy) — Normally I’m down for a good ecchi/fanservice-filled series; you know me. This one doesn’t sound like it quite lives up to its potential, but you might find something to like — see this review for more. Also, one of the characters looks a lot like Etna from Disgaea.

Hyouka – Review (KSBlogs) — Hyouka is an anime I’ve been thinking of picking up just because of how damn good it looks, and this detailed review of the series has gotten me even more interested in it.

Trying Out My New “Positivity” – Pomu’roll at the End (The Unlit Cigarette) — From Valsisms, an account of trying to be positive even in the face of absurdity. If you’ve ever had a bad or bizarre job interview, and who hasn’t, you will likely be able to relate. (I also want to second her plug of Nijisanji EN at the end — I’ve already admitted to falling down the VTuber hole long ago, and since writing that post back in December mostly about Hololive talents, rival agency Nijisanji has introduced two sets of new English-language VTubers. And they’re all entertaining, so be sure to check them out if you’re into that. (I 100% simp for Rosemi Lovelock and I’m not ashamed to say it. But God, what’s happened to my life.))

The VTuber Bachelorette: Mori Calliope (Pinkie’s Paradise) — Speaking of VTubers, Pinkie is putting a select few in the spotlight on her blog, including everyone’s favorite rapping grim reaper Mori Calliope. I like Mori’s down to Earth attitude, and while I’m not much for rap she’s obviously a talented singer/musician as well. But how would she make for a girlfriend? An interesting question, but there are some serious complications involved that Pinkie gets into (and it’s not just the fact that she’s a 2D anime girl — not that that stops some people!)

MY TAKE ON MOST FAMOUS ANIME WAIFUS – Thiccness Alert (FreakSenpai) — And speaking of waifus, FreakSenpai gives us some personal thoughts on a few popular anime characters that many fans pine for. All I have to say is: good taste!

How Square Enix Ripped Out My Heart & Then Stomped On It: Final Fantasy XV (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — I lost track of Final Fantasy many years ago, so I can’t comment personally on the subject, but Trailing Sleeves gives a personal account of the Final Fantasy XV experience here, along with some thoughts about how effectively (or ineffectively) it tells its story.

Summoning Salt: Ode to Speedrunning Docu Excellence (Professional Moron) — Summoning Salt runs an interesting YouTube channel, producing documentary-style pieces about the history of speedrunning. His videos usually focus on one game each, or even on an aspect of a particular game, and how their challenges are taken on by the most skilled speedrunners in the world. Mr. Wapojif highly recommends this channel, and so do I!

Having a Tea Party at the Umineko Manor (Kyu-Furukawa Gardens) (Resurface to Reality) — I love the visual novel series Umineko no Naku Koro ni. But what I didn’t know for a long time was that the Ushiromiya mansion featured in the game is based on a real place, and apparently you can have a tea party there, just like Beatrice the Golden Witch sometimes did while she was tormenting Battler in the meta-world or however that went (it’s complicated.) A good idea if you can make it when things open up a bit once again.

What’s (In My Opinion) the Worst Parts About Anime (Side of Fiction) — Our friendly overlord Jacob loves anime, but he also has a few problems with the medium as it stands today. I’m partly but not totally on board with him, though I do get his reasoning, and he raises some issues that are worth talking about.

I’m Having Trouble Adapting to the Anime Community off WordPress (I drink and watch anime) — Irina brings up a new trend among anime bloggers of shifting off of WordPress and onto other platforms, talking about what she sees as the pros and cons of this shift. I do use Twitter sometimes, but I’m more or less of the same mind — WordPress is where I’ll stay, even if/when Automattic forces us to use their new extra-shitty text editor. I’m just waiting for that axe to fall.

Anonymity on the Internet is Slowly Dying (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Anonymity on the internet is indeed dying, and Yomu gets into detail in this post about how that’s happening and how we might fight against this trend and protect our own privacy online.

Nestle and Cargill financing child slavery for their chocolate industries, yet SCOTUS rejects a lawsuit to stop them from getting sued by those formally enslaved. (Ospreyshire’s Realm) — Finally, apologies for getting heavy here at the very end, but this is an important subject that hasn’t gotten much talk. Nestle is well known for being one of the evilest companies on Earth, even worse than Activision-Blizzard (which yes, I am following that case, and possibly more on it later.) So it’s not a great surprise that major food-producing corporations Nestle and Cargill were sued in the US over allegations of using child labor and essentially promoting slavery in Cote D’Ivoire for the purpose of chocolate production. The lawsuit was thrown out by the US Supreme Court on jurisdictional grounds, which basically means that the case might have merit but still can’t be heard for technical reasons. Ospreyshire here writes about how this was a bad ruling and why these companies should be held to account for their actions.

And that’s all for this month. I hope I’ve acquitted myself for skipping the last one. As for what you can expect from me moving forward — more anime reviews are certainly on their way, and I have a couple of other features I’m planning, including the next deep read post (probably up next unless I decide to revise it a whole lot.) Until then, all the best.

A review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions

On a moonlit night, just before returning to school, newly minted high school student Yuta Togashi steps out onto the balcony of his family’s apartment to put out boxes of trash, a bunch of “magical” trinkets he collected as a kid that he’s grown out of. While he’s outside, a rope suddenly drops from the balcony above, and a girl Yuta doesn’t recognize climbs down it — a girl wearing a frilly dress and a patch over one eye.

The next morning, Yuta goes to school, putting this strange occurrence behind him, only to run into the same girl in his homeroom class. The girl, Rikka Takanashi, is now wearing the standard school uniform but still has that eyepatch on. She addresses Yuta dramatically, proclaiming that her covered eye is pounding and falling to the floor. In shock, Yuta realizes that this girl is suffering from the condition known as chunibyo.

If you’ve played Fire Emblem: Awakening, Rikka is basically doing Owain’s “my cursed sword hand” routine here

So begins Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, the first season of a comedy/drama/slice-of-life/romance anime produced by Kyoto Animation. KyoAni as it’s commonly known is very well-regarded, famous for its high-quality work. And Chunibyo is one of its more popular properties — the series has had at least two cours aired on TV along with several OVAs and a film. This series has almost as confusing a watch order as fucking Monogatari from what I’ve seen, but this post only covers the 12 episodes of the first season from 2012, so hopefully that will keep things simple.

But just what is a chunibyo? This is something I wondered for a while after seeing the title of the anime come up again and again in discussions online. Chunibyo (or more properly chuunibyou, with those long vowels written out, but for consistency I’ll stick to the series’ English transliteration) translates as “second year of middle school disease.” In a broad sense, it refers to the “cringy” behavior of eighth-grade-aged students who are just gaining a sense of self as adults and are desperate to distinguish themselves — for example, by insisting on drinking “adult” beverages like black coffee or writing fancy-sounding poetry.

Cool jacket!

Chunibyo focuses on a more dramatic version of this “disease”, in which the student believes they are different from others and have special powers. Yuta immediately recognizes Rikka’s advanced case of chunibyo because he had it bad for a while himself, dressing up in a black jacket with a high collar, wielding a wooden sword, and calling himself Dark Flame Master.

Of course, Yuta is past all that now. After being a prime chunibyo kid at his old middle school and then snapping out of his delusions, he purposely chose to attend a high school across town to ensure none of his classmates would know him. But this fresh start that Yuta wanted is pretty much ruined when Rikka (who witnessed Yuta performing his dramatic chunibyo routine in a self-mocking way when he thought he was alone) identifies him as Dark Flame Master and tells him that he has to join forces with her, the avatar of the “Wicked Lord Shingan.”

Yuta tells Rikka to cut that shit out — he’s done with all that delusional behavior, and he advises her to drop the act as well. But Rikka firmly insists that she has real powers, revealing her covered magical right eye to Yuta (the magical look provided by a gold-colored contact lens.) She also insists on having Yuta’s help in “finding the invisible boundary lines”, whatever those are, and to that end she starts a school club called the Far Eastern Magic Society.

It changes its name after absorbing the one-member Napping Club. I don’t know why this club only has one member, because it sounds pretty good to me.

Despite his annoyance, Yuta is dragged along by events in just the way you’d expect from a high school comedy/drama/SOL/romance anime protagonist. So he joins Rikka’s club along with their senior Kumin and the extra-chunibyo middle schooler Sanae Dekomori, who joins her “master” Rikka and wields her long twintail hairstyle like whips to beat her enemies with.

Initially, Yuta is pretty down about all this, but he gets more enthusiastic when his crush, the popular sporty cheerleader Shinka Nibutani, asks if she can join as well. Shinka is just about the last person Yuta would have expected to have any interest in a club like this, but Yuta certainly has an interest in Shinka, so he brings her along to the club in the hopes that she’s joining because he’s a member.

Will Yuta be able to finally get away from all this chunibyo business, despite seemingly not doing very much to get away from it by joining Rikka’s club? And will he find love with his crush Shinka? Spoilers regarding that and related plot matters follow, because it’s not possible to talk about Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions without getting into the love part of the story further down — it’s just as much a part as the chunibyo and the other delusions are.

Pictured: Shinka, confessing her love to Yuta… in his dreams.

But first, some points about the presentation, because that was the first aspect of Chunibyo that really struck me. As expected of KyoAni, this show looks beautiful, with nice, smooth animation and a lot of detail. I would never claim to be an expert in animation, but I know what looks good to me, and Chunibyo does. The same goes for the characters themselves — they’re all distinctive-looking without standing out too much, except in the ways they should when they’re acting out their fantasy magic-using selves.

Speaking of that, I also liked how Chunibyo uses its action sequences. When Rikka and Dekomori (the two serious-business chunibyo types throughout most of the series) get into their fantasy fights and start casting spells, this actually plays out on the screen in magical battle sequences complete with giant weapons and explosions.

Rikka doing battle with her older sister Toka, who also wants her to cut this chunibyo shit out.

Of course, none of this is actually happening, and the show uses this fact for comedic effect when it switches away from the magic battle between Rikka and her older sister to show them sparring with a metal spoon and a wooden stick.

This approach fits well with the general feel of the series. Chunibyo is not magical realism or anything like it — there’s never any doubt that these magical powers are completely made up, just imagined by the students pretending to use them. But the difference between fantasy and reality is still a major theme of the series.

At first, this difference is played for comedy, with Yuta having to deal with Rikka’s dramatics and Dekomori’s even more dramatic dramatics. Plenty of typical anime high school hijinks occur, including the usual beach trip and school festival, and there’s some slice-of-life messing around with Dekomori and Shinka constantly locking horns and Yuta’s goofy best friend Makoto trying and failing to confess his love to their equally goofy senior Kumin. Nothing too unusual in that sense.

Are girls you don’t know crawling through your bedroom window and waking you up in the morning? That’s how you know you’re a high school anime protagonist.

However, the core of Chunibyo is that love story and the emotional attachments that form between our two leads. And it’s pretty damn obvious that Shinka isn’t the female lead opposite Yuta in this tale. Yuta’s interest in her fizzles out pretty quickly when he realizes that she has no interest in him and that her outwardly sweet personality is something of a put-on — though she does turn out to be a solid friend to both him and his true love interest later on.

And of course, Yuta’s true love interest is Rikka, the embarrassingly dramatic girl who dragged him out of his short “normal” high school life and back into chunibyo land. At first, one might wonder why the hell Yuta goes along with any of Rikka’s nonsense, but the show does a good job at creating a convincing emotional bond between these two, and one that leads to a believable romance between them.

What Rikka calls exchanging contact info

Considering all this, I think there are two ways Chunibyo could have easily gone astray and ruined itself, at least for me. One would have been building a story where Rikka’s chunibyo delusions are depicted completely as a positive, especially with regard to their effect on Yuta. I can easily see a path where Yuta’s rejection of his old childlike wonder about the world is shown as a more or less bad thing, and where he’s saved by Rikka and her magical eye and invisible boundary line hunt and all that.

Thankfully, Chunibyo avoids this kind of simplistic approach. It also avoids the opposite approach where Yuta has to save Rikka and make her into a “normal” person, though near the end the story it looks like they’re headed that way. But in getting close to Rikka, Yuta realizes that her delusions are not just a game to her but rather her way of coping with a massive loss she suffered early in her life. In dealing with the situation, Yuta has to consider both her feelings and what he knows to be true, and the ending plays this out in a pretty mature and realistic way.

The other wrong turn that Chunibyo might have taken was to get really melodramatic with a long stretch of misunderstandings between Yuta and Rikka. I feel it’s too easy for series like this one to indulge in a lot of drama that ends up feeling manufactured just to stretch the story out, with characters failing to communicate well beyond the point of reason or acting in uncharacteristically stupid ways. Like someone pretending not to see something right in front of them, this is never very convincing.

But Chunibyo again avoids this pitfall. There are some misunderstandings near the end between the leads, but thankfully they’re resolved in a pretty natural-feeling way once Yuta realizes how to properly express himself to and connect with Rikka. It also helps that this first season is 12 episodes long — just long enough to fit all those slice-of-life and comedy shenanigans in along with the more serious dramatic material, and without any need for filler. With the arguable exception of one episode in the middle that focuses on Makoto and doesn’t really connect to the main storyline, but at least it doesn’t involve any especially stupid plot turns. And one such episode out of 12 isn’t bad.

The slice-of-life stuff is a nice break from the dramatic parts anyway.

On the whole, I liked Chunibyo. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d get going in, especially with the hyper, headache-inducing OP. But KyoAni has a strong reputation for a reason. They clearly don’t just take any old crap to adapt into an anime and put serious effort into their work, and that’s all reflected in this first season of Chunibyo. Its mix of light comedy and serious romance/drama works well and its characters are pretty fun and charming. Though the hyperactive Dekomori came close to getting on my nerves at times, but that also felt intentional, and in the end I liked her as well.

Once again, my past self is amazed that I’m recommending my third school-setting anime in a row, since I used to be part of that crowd that groaned about how common this setting is in anime (or at least was — now I guess the trend is isekai fantasy.) But hell, if the story is good, what does the setting matter? High school is the most fitting setting for a coming-of-age story like this anyway. A time in your life when you can still afford to indulge in some fantasies, but when you’re also learning about who you are and what’s important to you.

I haven’t watched any of the rest of Chunibyo, so I can’t say how well it carries on, but this first season does have an actual ending and stands on its own well for that reason. The next season, subtitled Heart Throb, seems to pick up with and continue the story of Yuta and Rikka’s relationship. I have a lot of other series I have to get through, but maybe I’ll return for more Chunibyo some day I feel like feeling that nice secondhand embarrassment remembering my own cringy middle/high school self.

What I can say is that this first season of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is worth checking out as long as a romantic comedy/drama with a dash of slice-of-life sounds like your thing. Not a dish I thought I’d like, but apparently I’m into it, or at least when it’s done right.

 

* And thankfully it seems to be coming back strong from the murderous attack on its headquarters two years ago, with a new run of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid airing this summer — all the more significant because the original director of that series, Yasuhiro Takemoto, was one of the victims of the attack. Maybe I’ll try to pick that one up again.

Anime short double feature: Are You Lost? / Magical Sempai

It’s more anime, though not what I actually had on my list next to watch. A couple of series I’ve been watching have been emotionally taxing (but good so far, but still — even I’m not completely cold and dead inside) and I felt I could use a break. So I decided to pull out two other series I’d heard a bit about from a year or two ago, before the year+ of quarantine started. Both consist of 12 half-length episodes each, about 12½ minutes per episode, though really more like 10 to 11 if you cut out the openings and endings.

Neither of these were acclaimed as great masterpieces or anything, but being shorts, they also wouldn’t be much of a time commitment if they turned out to be disappointing. But were they disappointing or not?

I’ll do my best to maintain the suspense here and not give the answer away early. On to the first entry:

Are You Lost?

Okay, so the first thing that caught my eye about this series was the poster. I admit it. It’s eye-catching, isn’t it? I guess that’s the point of a promotional poster.

But it does express the basic idea behind the show. Are You Lost?* is about four girls who are somehow thrown from their plane (or boat/other method of transportation; I don’t know if that’s specified) during a school trip and wash up on a desert island. Luckily for the lot, one of them, Homare, is an experienced survivalist, having traveled the world with her grizzled explorer father as a child.

Thanks to Homare’s training, the four are able to not just survive on this island while awaiting rescue but to do pretty well for themselves, building an effective shelter, rigging up ways to collect potable water, and gathering edible plants and catching animals for food. The show also goes into some depth about survival methods, using Homare’s knowledge taken from her father to teach both the other girls and the viewer about making it out in the wilderness.

This fire-making method seems pretty basic, I think I could pull this off at least

I don’t know the first thing about surviving in the wild. If I were left to my own wits, I’d definitely die within a few days, probably as a result of eating something poisonous. So I can’t say the tips in Are You Lost? aren’t legitimate (though I still doubt that fresh urine is sterile enough to drink safely — and I hope in all my life I never have to find out the answer.)

However, for me the appeal of Are You Lost? is more in the interaction between these four very different characters, and especially between the three much more “normal” girls (smart nerdy girl Mutsu, sporty but lazy Asuka, and sheltered princess Shion) and Homare, who straightforwardly tells the others what they need to do to survive, even if it means doing normally disgusting things like eating insects or embarrassing things like stripping to their underwear.

Yeah there are good reasons for the characters being half-naked half the time, but I still see what they’re doing here

And speaking of underwear, Are You Lost? is big on the fanservice — in fact, that seems to be just as much the point of the show as the survivalist stuff. It’s easy enough to judge from the poster, but for a story about four girls stuck on a desert island, a lot of what happens in the show doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch. Well, maybe aside from what happens in the final episode. I won’t spoil it, but it felt like an avoidable problem solved in a bit of a weird way. Then again, as I said I’m no survivalist, not even a camper, so who am I to judge?

But if you know my taste, you know I have a very high fanservice tolerance, especially when the anime or whatever it is I’m taking in doesn’t make any bones about it (so to speak I guess.) And this one doesn’t. I liked Are You Lost? — it made comedy work in the context of a harsh situation, and it had a cast completely composed of girls who were often just in their underwear, and really what more can I ask for than that.

Magical Sempai

Now to a more typical high school setting, but with just as much if not more comedy/fanservice. Magical Sempai (yeah, the “sempai” spelling does poke at my obsessive-compulsive side, but that’s how they officially transliterate it so whatever, I’ll go with it) is about a do-nothing new guy at school who’s required to join a school club. He’s not excited about the prospect and just wants a quiet place to play his 3DS lookalike.

Unfortunately for him, he drops in on the Magic Club, headed up by its sole member, known only throughout the show as Sempai. Dude finds Sempai to be cute but extremely irritating, especially since she 1) is awful at doing magic tricks and gets terrible stage fright and 2) insists he join the club, going so far as to immediately call him “Assistant”. She’s also constantly turned up to 11 in terms of both volume and personality, fitting nicely with Assistant’s usually deadpan demeanor.

Assistant has no respect for his annoying senior but still sticks around to help her with her failed attempts at magic.

A few other colorful characters show up, but these two are the core of the show. Each episode of Magical Sempai consists of a series of two to three-minute comedy skits, many of which I think are supposed follow that old Japanese comedy tradition with one boke or idiot character and one tsukkomi or straight man. I say I think because I’m no expert, but there is definitely an idiot/straight man dynamic between these two, though it’s nicely mixed up with those new additions (chemistry girl is best girl by the way, no argument.)

Magical Sempai also mixes things up by throwing in a big dash of… what else but fanservice! Sempai is extremely confident without any reason whatsoever in her magic skills, and she somehow ends up screwing up her tricks in ways that put her in compromising positions.

Like this failed rope escape trick. I left out the pantyshot in this screenshot, but it is there.

As with Are You Lost?, Magical Sempai makes no secret of what it’s aiming for. But also like Are You Lost?, it isn’t content with just giving you some anime girl boobs and underwear and calling it a day: the comedy in this show is snappy and fast-paced and most of it lands well enough. I don’t actually have much else to say about Magical Sempai, except that if you want a laugh and are not averse to some anime tiddies you should check it out. And I look forward to seeing what kind of traffic the SEO in this paragraph brings me.

I might also take this new post format up as an occasional feature to break up the longer reviews. There are some other short-format anime series I’d like to have a look at. And just as with games, I need a break from the massive epics sometimes (not that a one-cour anime series is actually much to get through, but hell, I am lazy after all. How the fuck did I manage to watch all of Legend of the Galactic Heroes anyway?)

 

* You might have noticed the title on the poster is Sounan desu ka?, which doesn’t mean “Are you lost?” but rather “Is that so?” Though it may seem like a strange title, it fits pretty well — it’s what the girls say to each other, normally when Homare is telling them that squeezing fish blood into their mouths using their shirts can help preserve their energy — with an added flavor of “seriously, you want us to do that?” But I can see why they changed the English title instead of just translating it directly, because I don’t know whether the English phrase “is that so?” carries the same connotation.

Eight years on, a few thoughts

Hey, it’s time for another deeply personal post, so if you only want to read about games/anime/music/etc. feel free to skip this one. I won’t be offended. Hell, I won’t even know, really, so it doesn’t make a difference. However, there are a few thoughts I’ve had recently about writing, and specifically about my writing here, and these tie in with the subjects I write about and with my life as a whole. So it is relevant, but still, a warning: I complain a whole lot this time, so if you don’t want to read that, please wait for my next post. Also some stuff about depression and other problems probably. But it doesn’t have such a bad ending, I promise.

Still have to admit that his image is relevant to most of my waking hours, and even to some of the sleeping ones.

This month marks eight years I’ve had this site. When I started it in 2013, I was a different person in many ways. At the time, I was just starting my final degree program, whereas now I’m a working and licensed professional. I also didn’t have much of the responsibility — or sense of responsibility — that I feel now.

Without getting into too many specifics about my life, I can’t live the way I’d prefer for reasons that have to do with family and culture.* This has caused me a lot of stress over the last few years, stress that I haven’t even been able to express — at least not as myself, in my offline life. When I hear people talking about living for yourself, doing what’s best for you, I’m reminded that I can’t do that, and moreover that a lot of people don’t understand why I can’t do that, why I feel so constrained.

This is partly a result of being brought up in (or caught between, maybe) two cultures with very different concepts about tradition and family. I’m very much an American culturally, but the traditional culture of one side of my family has also had a massive impact on me, and one that I can’t avoid. This is partly what constrains me. If I were a more naturally generous and selfless person, I probably wouldn’t feel so constrained, but I have no illusions about myself. I’m actually selfish in the sense that I really want to live the way I like, but since I can’t, I pretend to be a better person than I am. Partly in an effort to actually be that better person, maybe. I don’t know if that’s working, but I still feel bitter about it sometimes.

I’m sorry to be so vague here, but I hope my feelings come across at least. This site is one of the only ways I have to express myself in the way I’d like. And that’s where all the bullshit I write about games and anime and music comes in. I have a few offline friends who share my weeb interests, but most of them don’t. The same is true of my professional colleagues. There are certainly other lawyers out there somewhere with my interests, but aside from one who I’ve more or less lost contact with (though the contact’s not broken at least; it’s really a matter of physical distance) I can’t get into these subjects with them.

That’s not unique to law, certainly — I get the impression that the same is true of almost any professional/corporate American setting. At least when fucking Game of Thrones was running I could relate to people about that, even when it really went bad. By contrast, Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro and similar stuff I write about here obviously doesn’t work as around the water cooler talk, even if it is popular in the fringe circles I and other writers get into here on WordPress.*

And I won’t even get into visual novels. At least not some of them.

This is doubly, triply true of family. Maybe it’s a cliché to say so, but they really wouldn’t understand my interests if they knew about them. I don’t think I’m jumping to conclusions here, either — the few times I’ve tested the waters in that sense, I’ve gotten burned, so I have good reason to believe as I do.

This brings me to the main point. A few years ago, I asked myself why I was keeping up a blog. When I asked myself that question, I had been pushed out of my last job, which I was naturally pretty distressed about. Technically I’d quit to save face, but I have to be honest about it — the axe was about to fall on my neck, and I knew it. And money was an issue for me as it is for almost everyone on Earth.

In fact, leaving that job and ending the daily misery associated with it was one of the best things that’s happened in my life to this point, but at the time, I had no idea where or how I’d end up. But thankfully, I’m in a much better place now. My health and mentality aren’t perfect, but certainly better than they were before, thanks in part to my new work situation over the last few years and to certain lifestyle changes I’ve made. I’ve also become resigned to some unavoidable constraints on my personal life — agonizing over them is useless, and as depressing as it might sound, giving up has helped me come to terms with that. Hope can be a good thing, but a pointless and worthless hope can eat at you and drive you insane — this is my feeling about it, anyway.

Because of all this, I’ve found that I can’t stop writing here. At the end of June, I took what I meant to be a hiatus to deal with certain matters that were causing me issues, and I’m still dealing with them, but I’ve found that writing actually helps keep me balanced. Ever since returning to writing on a regular basis here a few years ago, I haven’t been able to stop or slow down very much. It might have to do with my obsessive-compulsive personality — I don’t use that term lightly, because I do have some actual issues with OCD, though thankfully they’re minor and manageable. So maybe writing here is a kind of obsession as well.

I’m not qualified to say anything at all about psychology, so that might be total bullshit. But if it’s true, I don’t mind having this obsession. I enjoy writing here, even or maybe especially through harder-than-usual times, and so unless I happen to just fall over one day (a real possibility given the old “fast living” habits that I’ve gotten away from, but I don’t worry about that anymore) I’ll keep going here.

Semi-related: Chiri from SZS is a pretty good example of one of the ways OCD can play out.

Maybe this long rambling load of garbage I just wrote was completely unnecessary to express this feeling, but I have a lot I’m carrying around right now, and I felt I had to unload a bit. I’m well aware that I don’t have it so bad, especially compared to at least 95% of the rest of humanity, so I don’t want to say I’ve gone through hardships — I have plenty of family who have gone through truly serious hardships, and I know friends who have been through more than I have besides. But it’s all relative, and it’s hard to keep that kind of perspective when you’re wondering about the point of your life in itself. I hope I’ve at least gotten enough perspective to resolve that sort of existential crisis stuff, at least enough that I can go on living more or less productively.

And if you’ve stuck around for all my bullshit, dear reader, I want to thank you as well for helping me with that. I am really grateful for it. Next time, I’ll post something at least marginally less self-indulgent than this post was. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be leaning towards the anime reviews since I’ve been watching so much of it lately (and a reminder to check out Asobi Asobase! Weird in a good way.) But I won’t be neglecting games either — I just happen to be stuck in the middle of a few massive ones at the moment. There are still those itch.io indie games to get through, and some of them are pretty interesting, so I’ll be taking those on in the meantime as well. Along with one game in particular that’s extremely overdue for a review. Until then!

 

* Except to note that it has nothing to do with having a kid or a wife or anything. If that were the case, I’d dive into all that headfirst without complaint.

** Not that I really expect it to make for water cooler talk. Still, this is an issue that someone could write a book about. Maybe someone already has. The fact that I’m expected to give a fuck about pro and college football and the NBA, yet my fringe interests are just that: fringe. I know “nerd culture” is supposedly mainstream now, but it feels like only a narrow band of works are actually included in that. Namely the ones that are put out by major studios and publishers.

But I don’t want to have “nerd rage” here or whatever people who complain about nerds complaining about things call it. This is a subject for a different post, really, and one that I’ve written before and might write again later. I’m nothing if not repetitive.

A review of Asobi Asobase

I’m back! More or less, anyway. The hiatus I planned was much shorter than expected for various reasons. These mainly have to do with changes to my life that I can’t really ignore anymore, though thankfully they won’t prevent me from writing here or anything like that. Just the opposite, in fact, but it’s a bit complicated. I might get into it later. And I will be posting an extra-long month-end post for July to make up for skipping the last month’s, I promise.

For now, though, I have anime to write about. Because I spent the time in between work and dealing with other unpleasant business this last week and weekend binging the fuck out of anime series, one of which was Asobi Asobase.

Back in the mid-2000s, there was a spate of anime series released that fell into a newly created genre titled “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things.” Sometimes just shortened to CGDCT, this is a widely recognized genre among anime fans, and one that I don’t think really exists outside of anime and manga. And it’s just what it sounds like: a CGDCT series involves a cast of cute girls, and they’re doing cute things. Like playing games, for one example.

From looking at its poster and synopsis, I thought Asobi Asobase fell into this category, so I passed it by. Cute is fine and all, but these shows tend to be a bit boring to me. But something about this show in particular drew me back. Not sure what exactly did it; maybe I was curious about it because it came out in 2018, long after that CGDCT craze died down, or maybe it was a few of the strange-looking thumbnails in the episode list. In any case, I decided to watch the first episode.

And then I realized I’d been tricked. At first, I wasn’t sure whether what I got was better or worse than what I’d expected, but then I ended up watching the rest of the 12-episode series over the course of two days, so there’s the answer to that question I suppose.

Wait, this wasn’t what I expected at all! Help!

The creators did a great job of hiding the show’s true nature, at least until a few minutes into episode 1. The OP is charming and cute with a slight yuri vibe, giving the impression of just the kind of CGDCT show I was expecting. Right away, however, we’re introduced to our main cast, and it’s obvious that something is off here. We open on Kasumi Nomura (right w/ glasses), a student at an all-girls middle school, explaining why she hates playing games with a flashback involving her shitty older sister forcing her to buy ice cream when she loses at a board game.

Much to her irritation, this flashback is interrupted by two of her classmates, Hanako Honda and the blonde transfer student Olivia. The pair are playing a game that involves slapping your opponent (at least according to Olivia it does) if they look in the direction you’re pointing.

Kasumi is dragged into their game by Hanako out of a desire to avoid further beatings, and Olivia gives Kasumi a good slap when she loses (or doesn’t lose? Because I think Olivia is slapping all her opponents no matter what they do.) However, Olivia screws her aim up, slapping Kasumi slightly lower than intended in a more sensitive area, and pissing her off to the maximum. So when Kasumi wins the next round, she decides to teach this new girl how to play this game properly.

Not the smoothest introduction. However, Kasumi approaches Olivia soon after to try to get her help with English, which she’s terrible at. Olivia’s parents are from overseas, and her Japanese so far has been pretty slow and broken, so everyone assumes at this point that she’s fluent in English.

This puts Olivia in a tight spot, because the opposite is true: she’s actually fluent in Japanese, having been born and raised in Japan, and she can barely speak English. She’s just been fucking with Hanako and the rest of the class because she thought it was funny. Now that she’s actually being asked to help with English, she’s afraid to drop the act she started, so she agrees to help Kasumi — as long as Kasumi teaches her about more games and pastimes. Olivia’s picked up on the fact that Kasumi hates games, so she thinks her demand will be refused, but to her shock, Kasumi accepts the deal. And before the end of the episode, the three decide to start a school club dedicated to playing games (and/or studying English?) called the Pastimers’ Club.

A few minutes past the OP of the first episode, then, it’s already obvious that Asobi Asobase isn’t quite what it claims to be at first. On the cover, it pretends to be one of those old CGDCT shows, but it’s actually a surreal comedy with a dirty streak. What follows is a 12-episode run full of mind games, revenge, blackmail, power struggles with the student council and rival clubs, competitions ending in humiliation and severe injury, and a man who shoots laser beams out of his ass. The series adds an entire cast of bizarre supporting characters to help play these bits out (including ass laser man; you’ll see how he fits into the equation if you watch.) But the focus is always on the main three Kasumi, Hanako, and Olivia and their games, which too often turn into larger, usually idiotic, schemes.

School clubs are serious business

This kind of bizarre stuff doesn’t always work for me, but as I’ve already more or less given away, Asobi Asobase did very much work for me, and I think a lot of that had to do with this central cast. Kasumi, Hanako, and Olivia quickly become friends, but they also have to deal with each other’s strange quirks. That’s where most of the comedy here comes from for me. Kasumi is studious, neurotic, and usually shy and quiet except when she gets pissed off (see above), and Olivia is carefree and generally out of it except when her public image might be at risk, in which case she panics.

But the most out-there character is Hanako. So out there that she might be the one who either pulls you into or shuts you out of Asobi Asobase. At first, I found her to be a bit much, but she quickly grew on me even if I’m still not sure why. Hanako is subdued (relatively at least) in the very beginning of the show, but we soon see how much of a weirdo she is — so much so that despite making high grades and being from a rich family with such a privileged upbringing that she has a butler, she’s shunned by the popular girls.

Stuff like this is probably part of the reason for her outcast status

This is a serious problem for Hanako, who desperately wants a boyfriend and both envies and hates the popular girls at her school for getting to go to mixers while she’s shut out of the fun. She’s also a bit of a complete and utter nutbar, though judging from my own middle school experience and my blessedly brief time as a sort-of-teacher she’s not actually that unusual for a kid her age.

Unfortunately for Hanako, both she and her clubmates are sort of weirdo misfits — the difference between them and Hanako is that Kasumi doesn’t really care and Olivia is seemingly too oblivious to even notice. So Hanako lets herself go around them, resulting in some of the strangest (and loudest) sequences in the show. I’ll admit she screams a little bit too much for me, but I enjoyed some of her freakouts, and especially her friends’ reactions to them.

The other two also have plenty of moments.

There isn’t much of a plot to Asobi Asobase. There are a few running storylines that come up now and then, but each episode is broken into four segments that are usually not connected to each other, which I think fits the type of fast-paced weirdo surreal comedy it’s going for well. The show as a whole is crazy, but there’s enough sense left in it to prevent things from going off the rails completely, which is where it would probably lose me, and I think this quick four-part format has something to do with that. These segments often end with a punchline and occasionally with a character breaking the fourth wall, but thankfully the fourth-wall-breaking doesn’t happen so often that it gets irritating.

The show is just as weird as it needs to be while remaining funny

There isn’t a type of humor that works for everyone, and that’s just as true of comedy anime series as it is of western TV comedies. Asobi Asobase is sometimes loud and often insane, but it fits really well with some of the sort of comedy I like. It feels stupid but at the same time clever and thoughtfully put together if that makes any sense. Something like Beavis and Butthead or South Park. The presentation is similar in the sense that it can be a bit shocking at times (and serious credit to the voice actors as well, because they contribute a lot to that) and the tone is pretty similar.

Or maybe I’m going way too far out on a limb with these comparisons, but this is just the vibe I got watching this. I think if you’re into the above shows, you’ll probably enjoy this series as well. And if you can’t stand Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, don’t worry, because that’s not really what Asobi Asobase is — at most it’s a surrealist take on that genre. So maybe people who are into CGDCT can appreciate Asobi Asobase even more than I can in that sense.

And as a look into the pure chaos and terror that is middle school, Asobi Asobase might be the most realistic anime ever created.

So I guess that’s a recommendation too. This currently one-season show didn’t have a proper finale really, simply ending on yet another weird joke, but the manga it’s based on is still running, and there’s talk about a second season possibly, maybe, who knows. I’m hoping for a second season myself, because I can use more of this strange brew, but anime watchers know how these things can go. I’m not holding my breath, but I’ll keep an eye out.

A review of Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro

No, I haven’t gotten so lazy now that I’m just reposting old posts — this is different from my other Nagatoro review, which was of the first four officially released English volumes of the manga (as of this writing now up to seven and soon to be eight, so I may have to revisit that at some point.) For now, though, we’re having a look at the recently completed anime adaptation, more or less covering the first six manga volumes.

Since I’ve already written about most of the source material this season of Nagatoro was based on, I might not have as much to say about it as I would otherwise. A lot of what I wrote about before pretty much applies to the anime, since it’s extremely faithful to the manga, only making a few changes to the pacing and the order of a few key events. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to say about the adaptation, though — in fact, watching the anime brought up a few connections I hadn’t quite made before in my mind, but here they are now, and even if they’re the product of a poorly socially adjusted mind like mine I’ll still go over them, because that’s part of why I write here (and then, maybe a poorly socially adjusted mind is the best kind to address these matters.)

If you don’t feel like going back to that older post, a short synopsis of the series: protagonist, known only as Senpai, is a second-year high school student, a nerdy and painfully reserved guy who only really likes art. He has a run-in with popular sporty girl Nagatoro, a first-year who loves teasing and tormenting him. But hey, of course it’s a romantic comedy and they’re really into each other but they can’t bring themselves to admit it (yet) and Nagatoro’s teasing works to help Senpai find some self-confidence and to socialize somewhat.

Speaking generally, this is a premise that’s been used before — the misfit pair who fall in love is a very old love story setup. But it’s effective when done right, and Nagatoro is doing it right (and for details on how it’s doing it right, you can check out the manga review, because all of what I wrote about it there also applies to the anime — the story wasn’t fundamentally changed in the adaptation.)

This was my first time watching an anime adaptation of a manga I was already reading, as strange as it might sound. I’m really not much of a manga reader. So all this is probably very old well-worn ground to many manga readers/anime watchers. But I was impressed by how well writer/artist Nanashi’s work translated into animation. Nagatoro especially is known for her extreme expressions that often turn cartoonish (for lack of a better term?) These work in the anime just as well as in the manga as far as I can tell, in some cases even adding to the Senpai/Nagatoro dynamic, since those expressions are always directed at or related to Senpai and his own awkward reactions.

The voice acting is great as well — the VAs they got for Nagatoro and Senpai fit their characters exactly, to the point that reading the manga again, I can “hear” the dialogue in those voices now. Sort of, anyway, since the voice acting is naturally all in Japanese. For those who prefer dubs over subtitles, since the series has just finished airing, the dub option isn’t available yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an English dub is released soon on Crunchyroll. Not a personal concern since I’m firmly on the subs side of that dubs/subs divide with a few big exceptions, but it’s nice to see strong effort being put into English dubbing of anime, and there’s undoubtedly a lot of talent that goes into that as well.

There is an interesting aspect of Nagatoro that I haven’t addressed yet, and that’s the fantastic element to it. As I wrote a while back, one of the reasons I felt I took to Nagatoro so much was because of how relatable I felt the Senpai character was. Like him, I was a loner in high school who stuck to and got very deep into my own interests, shutting everything and everyone else out. When other students were a bit sad at my high school graduation, I found it to be the best day of my life — a sort of “fuck this place that I’ve had to put up with all this time” mentality (I know, for a JRPG/anime fan to have this kind of background is shocking. College was better, at least.)

The point here is that I never had my own Nagatoro to force me out of my shell. It wouldn’t have been reasonable for me to expect one, either. Nagatoro herself is a sort of godsend in disguise for Senpai, but that’s one of the things about godsends — they don’t show up all that often. I can’t say that it’s impossible that such a thing could happen in real life, or even that it’s all that unrealistic, but it seems rare enough that it might not be a stretch to file it under “wish fulfillment” (hell, just go into any thread or comment section about this series and see how many times you read something like “I wish a Nagatoro would bully me/had bullied me when I was in school.”)1

However, I still don’t think this particular kind of wish fulfillment, if that’s what Nagatoro is, is a problem. Firstly, because Nagatoro herself gets something out of her relationship with Senpai and has her own growth. I got into this a bit in my manga review, but that personal growth progresses in the fifth and sixth volumes that make up the later part of the anime run. Though we never get into her mind like we do Senpai’s, it’s implied that dealing with her senpai is making her more empathetic towards him, unlocking some new feelings within her.

A lot of that ties in with the budding romance going on, and yes, there is a ton of sexual tension between them that both the manga and anime largely play up for comedy, especially given that Nagatoro tries to tease him in that sense but can’t really do it that well since she’s just as inexperienced as he is. But there’s also a strong element of friendship there. It’s worth noting that Senpai even breaks through to Nagatoro’s tight group of friends, which consists of a few especially rowdy girls he’d never have thought of associating with before. And he eventually succeeds, because while they’re initially pretty cruel to him, they end up backing him up when they see how well he and Nagatoro connect.

Nagatoro both insulting and motivating Senpai to make him finish a 5k run.

And secondly, this isn’t any fairytale rainbows and unicorns bullshit.2 Senpai has to make serious efforts that are difficult for him to even meet Nagatoro halfway. As a result, it feels rewarding to see him gradually break out of that shell with her help. As much as I’ve come to hate the expression, he really is constantly stepping outside of his comfort zone — if that expression was made for any situation at all, it was made for this kind. And if “wish fulfillment” like this is created even in part to encourage such healthy behavior, then I have no problem with it.

All that said, none of the sex jokes have been toned down from the manga, so that aspect of the series can still be freely enjoyed or complained about depending upon your preference. I still think it’s strange that Uzaki-chan was the series that received all the fire from the usual sources, while Nagatoro from what I could tell mostly escaped it, considering that the latter is a fair bit more provocative. Maybe those usual sources simply wrote Nagatoro off immediately without any further scrutiny. Anyway, I can’t pretend to get why the hell people get pissed off about fictional works on social media to the extent that they start holy wars over them. If you’re a sociology or psychology major, there’s a good subject for you to think about.

Nagatoro’s thesis statement

But if you don’t care about any of that nonsense, my final take on the Nagatoro anime is that it lives up to the source material. Ten years ago, if you’d told me I’d be actually enjoying romantic comedies and/or school-setting anime series, I’d have laughed at you — but look at me now. I guess I’ve changed too. I’m even hoping for a second season, but whether we get it or not, I’ll continue following the manga.

 

1 To be fair, I don’t know how many of these comments are just from masochists, or more likely from people who think they’re masochists. If so, approaching Nagatoro from that perspective feels like it’s missing the point, especially since Senpai clearly isn’t a masochist — what’s going on between him and Nagatoro is more interesting than that.

2 Not that fairytales were even like this either. Go read an original from the 1,001 Nights or the Brothers Grimm and see how pleasant it is. A happy ending more often than not costs some blood to get there, which at least isn’t something you can say about Nagatoro. No blood, but there are plenty of sweat and tears to be found here.

Listening/reading log #20 (May 2021)

Damn, 20 of these posts. This feels like a landmark somehow, though that should really be marked at 24 instead, shouldn’t it? I don’t have anything special planned anyway — just the same old great writing from around the communities and a look at some of the music I’ve had on recently. On to it:

Sunshower (Taeko Ohnuki, 1977)

Highlights: Kusuri wo Takusan, Tokai, 振子の山羊

Hey, it’s more city pop. This smooth Japanese style has been winning me over a lot lately. Well, it already had me ever since hearing “Plastic Love” like everyone else, but I’ve been listening to more lately anyway, probably to help with de-stressing. And it does the job. Sunshower is the perfect title for this album, because it sounds like the sort of music that goes along perfectly with driving along a coastal road in the summer breeze with the top down, or maybe hanging out at a rooftop pool in the middle of a city thirty stories in the air. One day with nothing to do and nothing to worry about, that kind of feeling.

Taeko Ohnuki’s singing contributes a lot to that feel — she has a really nice voice, soft and smooth, that goes along with this style well. Most of the songs are catchy as hell too — “Tokai” is the one that pulled me in, and I can see why both this song and “Kusuri wo Takusan” were put out together on a single in 2015, nearly forty years after the album’s release. There’s also a very obvious strong fusion influence here I really like (and maybe even a bossa nova one as well, though that might just be me.) And apparently a lot of these upbeat-sounding songs deal with dark subjects, like “Kusuri wo Takusan”, about the overprescription of drugs — and this was in 1977! Not much has changed, apparently.

My only problem with Sunshower is that it indulges a bit in some stupid synth tones. For example, about 20/30 seconds in the middle of “Tokai” unfortunately has a dumb as hell sounding synth gooped onto it that wrecks that section for me. Maybe you don’t mind those wacky synth tones, in which case you’ll be fine. I mind them, but I still like Sunshower a lot.

Octopus (Gentle Giant, 1972)

Highlights: The Advent of Panurge, Raconteur Troubadour, Knots (yes, really)

Shit, have I really gone 19 of these posts going on about prog and not bringing up Gentle Giant at all? Today I fix that. This English prog band didn’t quite reach the commercial success of colleagues like Yes or Genesis (and they tried but failed to make that leap into 80s pop those bands managed) but they had their own unique style — as far as I know, no one else came close to even trying to sound like Gentle Giant. Understandable, because it wouldn’t have been easy. These guys were really talented, some of them playing a load of instruments each, combining rock sometimes with a kind of medieval or Renaissance European sound, sometimes with orchestral or dance hall music, and occasionally with… Gregorian chanting or something? I know that probably sounds weird, but I can’t think of a better way to describe Gentle Giant than that.

Octopus seems to be considered their peak by some fans, and I can see why; it’s pretty damn out there while remaining grounded enough to enjoy. The opener “Advent of Panurge” combines those rock and folk styles really nicely, and I’m a big fan even if I have no idea what they’re singing about (I think Panurge and Pantagruel are characters from some Renaissance-era novels or plays; shows you how far back these guys go for their influences.) “Raconteur Troubadour” is more old folk/medieval-sounding but still a great time, and I’m also partial to Dog’s Life. Just a nice song about a dog and his owner, and who can’t like that? Though I’ve never had a dog, so I can’t exactly relate. And come to think of it, this song has some out-of-place synth fart sounds in the middle too (or maybe it’s some obscure old instrument? Probably, knowing these guys.) Maybe that’s the hidden theme to this post, irritating sounds in sections of otherwise good songs.

And then there’s “Knots”. This seems to be a controversial one — some really hate this song, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. But I like it. At first it sounds like a complete fucking mess, but it does come together at times in a satisfying way, and I get the feeling that even the messy-sounding parts are extremely precisely and purposely written. As for the lyrics, God knows what they mean or if they mean anything at all. The song could be an avantgarde retelling of Macbeth for all I know. But it could just as easily be nothing more than a weird joke on the listener. Either way, “Knots” does have a practical use as someone in the comments of the video mentions — it’s great for clearing out a party when you want those annoying stragglers to go home.

Now for the featured posts:

Itch.io Indies: Jam and the Mystery of the Mysteriously Spooky Mansion (nonplayergirl) — A review of a game that I haven’t yet played in that itch.io bundle I keep going on about. It sounds like a very quick one, so there’s no excuse for me not to check it out. Sounds like a nice time from what nonplayergirl says, especially if you like some irreverent humor, and I’m sometimes up for that.

What I Would Like to See in PlayStation’s Future (The Gamer with Glasses) — I still don’t plan to buy a PS5 (my future console money is still set aside for the Switch alone, which no I still don’t have one yet) but it’s still interesting to read the Gamer with Glasses’ hopes for the new console, including some much-needed improvements and fixes from the PS4 era.

MagiCat – If a Christmas Calendar was a game (Nepiki Reviews) — Nepiki takes a look at MagiCat, a nice-looking old-school-style platformer available on Steam. I’ve never played a game that includes a transcription into katakana of its title on the opening screen that I didn’t like, so MagiCat looks like a safe bet for me.

Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons – Episode One: Marooned on Mars (Extra Life) — PC games were a big part of my life as a kid in the 90s, but somehow I never played a Commander Keen game. This is without doubt a historically important series, but how does the first title in the series hold up? Read Red Metal’s review to find out.

East Meets West #5: Vatican Kiseki Chousakan .vs. Father Ted (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb here continues the series in which he examines and compares works from both East and West, this time putting up the Catholic-themed mystery thriller anime Vatican Kiseki Chousakan against the Catholic-themed Irish comedy Father Ted. Incidentally, this is maybe the one time I can say that I’ve seen the live-action show but not the anime.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review (The Below Average Blog) — None of these apply to me, but if you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription and a few friends who do as well, Totally Reliable Delivery Service sounds like a great game to pick up. Though the repetitive soundtrack might be a dealbreaker anyway in my case.

Anime Reviews: Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (Lex’s Blog) — People are now going out without fear after over a year of quarantine. I’m continuing my quarantine for as long as humanly possible because I hate the outside and everything associated with it. But if you’re actually a healthy and well-adjusted person who doesn’t feel that way, taking in a movie is a good way to pass time with friends or even alone if you prefer, and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train sounds like a good one to watch if Lex’s review is any indication. (Also, watching a movie in the theater alone is fine and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.)

It Takes Two to Break Me (Frostilyte Writes) — It’s not easy for an artistic work to elicit real emotion, but Frostilyte talks about his experience with the new co-op game It Takes Two and how it manages to achieve an emotional response using elements that are unique to the game medium. Interesting as always — check it out!

Visiting Ureshino, the Cheerful Hot Spring Town from Zombieland Saga (Resurface to Reality) — If you liked Zombieland Saga and you’re in Japan or are planning to visit, be sure to read here about the attractions in Ureshino. One day I will visit a hot spring inn, I swear to God. It’s on my lifetime to-do list.

Rhyme like a Rolling Stone! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(e); Characters-Koromaru, Ken, and Shinjiro  (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his excellent analysis of Persona 3, covering one of the worst and one of the best characters in the game in this post. Can you already guess which is which? Neither of them are Koromaru, though he is a good dog (in fact he could easily be the subject of “Dog’s Life” linked above.)

On Writing: Female Representation in Video Games (Meghan Plays Games) — Meghan here takes on the hotly debated issue of female representation in games. I agree with much of what she has to say in general, though not on some of the specifics — her piece might provide some counterargument to the one I wrote on fanservice a while back, but interested readers can judge for themselves. I don’t feel any differently now than when I wrote that post, but it’s still great to read different and well-reasoned points of view. More civil discussion, fewer bullshit kneejerk-reaction fights on Twitter, that’s what I say! Though we’re always civil here anyway from what I’ve seen.

Reflections: Am I too old for anime high school? (In Search of Number Nine) — And finally, Iniksbane reflects upon his feelings towards anime set in high school (i.e. a whole lot of them) at the age of 44, far removed from that stage in his own life. It’s an interesting question to consider and quite a personal one, whether you can (or should?) still relate to characters 20 or 30 years removed from you in life experience — I’ve had some similar thoughts before, but I think different people will come to their own conclusions on it. Either way, a very insightful and interesting post, so be sure to check it out.

And that’s it once again for the month. I’m in the middle of a lot of games at the moment, but a minor but annoyingly slow-healing injury to my hand has forced me to set aside some of the more action-oriented ones (most frustratingly NieR Replicant, which I was really enjoying up until then.) It is healing at any rate, but until it’s all right, I’ll probably be looking at a few of the visual novels I’ve had piled up. It was about time to get to those anyway. You can also expect the usual anime reviews — there’s at least one this month I hope to get to.

Before closing here however, I want to draw attention to yet another massive 1,000+ game bundle being sold on itch.io for $5 or more if the buyer wishes. This is the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid, the proceeds set to go to the UN Relief and Works Agency. I admittedly have a personal bias as I owe a lot to UNRWA by extension since they’ve helped a lot of my family out in the past, but they continue to do great work for the sake of Palestinian refugees. I don’t get political here all that often, but this is a major human rights issue and one that I care about a lot, so I thought I’d do a bit more than a simple retweet. (And I certainly have gotten political here before on occasion, so not like it’s unprecedented anyway.)

And of course, you also get a metric fuckton of games if you donate, so there’s that too. If you’re interested, the deal is running until 6/11. As with last year’s bundle, most of the games in here don’t look interesting to me, but a few do, so I’ll be digging through this haul at some point to find those gems. Until next time!

A review of Blend S

Have you ever felt misinterpreted by others around you? We’re all taken in ways we don’t intend sometimes, but does it happen to you constantly?

If so, you might relate to this girl. This is Maika Sakuranomiya, the central character in the 2017 comedy anime series Blend S. In the first episode of the show, Maika is desperately hunting for a job. Even though she has the full support of her family, she wants to earn money for herself so she can fund a study-abroad trip and explore other lands.

Unfortunately, Maika has a serious problem: she has an inadvertently frightening expression at times, especially when she’s startled, stressed, or nervous. She’s actually very polite and genuinely nice, but despite all her intentions, she comes off as ice cold and scares the shit out of the new people she meets, including all her interviewers. And the only kind of job she can get as a student is service-related and customer-facing, which makes her prospects even worse.

This is a good out-of-context screenshot to use in any situation

On her way home from another failed interview, Maika is passing by a café when she wonders whether she can work on her expression, so she uses their window as a mirror to test that out. The staff inside just see a girl making weird faces at them, but when the manager sees her he’s instantly struck by her and asks her to come inside. In a very lucky break, it turns out this place, Café Stile, is a coffee shop with a twist: every waitress plays a different character type. So far they have a tsundere and a little sister, but the manager Dino is looking for a totally new and daring sort of character to add to the team: a sadist. And with her stony expression, Maika is perfect for this new position.

Maika isn’t sure she can pull this “sadist waitress” role off, but since she’s at the end of her rope she gratefully accepts the job offer and gets to work.

It turns out that she’s a natural at it. A true natural, because she acts this way without even trying — in fact, while she’s actually trying to be nice and polite to the café patrons. When Maika realizes she’s accidentally said something offensive to her guests or has given them her usual cold glare, she’s mortified, but the manager tells her not to worry: this is exactly what they’re looking for. And the manager is right, because to her surprise, Maika quickly gets a sort of fanbase of masochistic customers who love being verbally abused by girls (not my thing, but sure, I get it.)

This wouldn’t be much of a premise for a 12-episode series, but Blend S does extend beyond this one idea, getting into situations involving all the characters, including two more new employees with their own roles (a constant innuendo-making “big sister/onee-san” type and a self-absorbed aspiring pop idol) in episodes 4 and 8. It’s the kind of show that wouldn’t be too unfamiliar to American TV audiences, at least once you get past all the anime trappings: a comedy about a bunch of misfits working together and getting into and dealing with awkward social situations.

Plenty of sweatdrops in this one, and for good reason

But then, there are all those anime trappings. Or it would be more accurate maybe to say “otaku trappings”, since this is a series that knows it has a pretty niche audience and aims directly at it. Blend S is an adaptation of a long-running four-panel comic series of the same name, and like a lot of anime adaptations of four-panel comics, it contains a lot of quick jokes and short segments worked into the context of longer episodes. I can imagine how that kind of setup could feel clunky, but each episode of Blend S flows along pretty nicely, mostly taking place at Café Stile but also giving us short looks into some of the characters’ personal and home lives.

The possible trouble some people might face with this show is that it really is deep in that otaku territory. A lot of the jokes in Blend S are either directly about or play off of common manga/anime/Japanese game themes and character types. It’s not exactly referential humor, but it does rely on the viewer generally knowing about and probably being into these hobbies.

Like this old visual novel-looking screen between scenes. I like the 90s look Maika has here.

There are a lot of examples of these kinds of jokes, but one of the most obvious turns up in the third episode, when Maika finds one of Stile’s patrons accidentally left a bag behind at their table. When she looks inside the bag, she’s shocked to find a pornographic doujin book (a type of self-published work that’s often, but not always, rated 18+.) And when the patron returns to get the book back, it’s revealed that she’s not just the owner but the author of the work. A beautiful woman no less, who in the next episode joins the café as that ara ara-type big sister character who dotes on her customers and uses the situations she sees between them and her fellow staff to collect “material” for her constantly published new doujinshi. It’s the kind of joke any watcher might sort of get, but might be puzzled by if they don’t know just how popular some of these independent artists are and the crazy schedules they can hold themselves to. And just how weird some of these 18+ doujin works can get.

Doujinshi are really serious business, not even kidding now

Some of the jokes in Blend S rely on a pretty universal “character mismatch” concept, like the polite Maika acting as an accidental sadist or the young-looking “little sister” character Mafuyu actually being a college student and the most mature and grounded in the group. However, many of the show’s bits lean fairly heavily on otaku subculture stuff, to the extent that I’d put Blend S squarely in that niche category.

And since I’m in the anime/game nerd weirdo class that Blend S is targeting, it’s probably not a big surprise that I liked it. There’s always a risk with series like this that it will all come off as cheap pandering, but I think Blend S manages to avoid that, since the main focus is always on these strange misfit characters with all the otaku reference stuff as secondary. All the dirty jokes are so over the top that they also work pretty well, fitting in with the absurd feel. If I’d ever felt pandered to, I would have quit watching, and the fact that I didn’t speaks in the show’s favor. (Though admittedly I did find the whole Dino being in love with Maika thing a bit weird. Seems kind of inappropriate under the circumstances to say the least. As far as the romantic comedy aspect of the show went, I liked the tsundere sort-of-romance between Akizuki and Kaho better anyway.)

Then there’s Hideri, who provides some of the strangest jokes in the show. That idol scene really is something. More good out-of-context screenshots too.

Even so, if you’re not part of that same audience this series is targeting, a lot of these bits will probably pass you by, and they might not do anything for you at all. All this is a really roundabout way of saying that I liked Blend S but that, unlike the last few anime series I’ve written about, I can’t recommend it unconditionally.

But that’s also not really a judgment against the show, even if it might sound like one. It’s just not for everyone. But then, not everything has to be. Wouldn’t it be boring if that were the case? On the whole, I found Blend S a nice light comedy to pick me up when I was feeling shitty, and that’s always appreciated. Even if it had one of those irritating non-endings, but since the comic is still being published, that’s to be expected.

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.

The Episode 1 anime dice roll (rolls 8 – 10)

Another post so soon?! Impossible, I know. But this helps me out, since it gives me some motivation to actually start these anime series if I know I’m planning to write about them. So really, this post is as much about me pushing myself as it is about giving you the reader my first impressions.

Setting my selfish reasoning aside, let’s get on with it, starting with:

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou

That title can be translated 15 different ways, so I’m sticking to the Japanese one here by default, but it’s basically Higurashi New from what I can tell. The original visual novel series it’s based on takes place in the village of Hinamizawa, where the transfer student Keiichi Maebara has just moved. At first glance, this kid seems to have it pretty good — outgoing and surrounded by his new friends, all living a quiet life in the countryside. However, the village contains some dark secrets that Keiichi has just stumbled upon, and one of those new friends of his is acting pretty damn weird, and hey, is that a machete (edit: billhook, sorry, it’s a billhook) in her hand, and is she right behind him?

This is pretty much the first episode of Higurashi Gou. I watched the original 2006 anime adaptation shortly after it finished airing and I remember liking it a lot, but I’ve also forgotten enough about the story in the last 12/13 years that this feels like a new experience again. And Higurashi Gou apparently takes the story in a different direction from the original works, so it’s not just a straightforward remake, which I’m happy about as well.

This first episode was really well done, with some good misdirection (almost all of it is cute slice of life-style messing around with Keiichi and the girls, just as in the 2006 anime adaptation) and nice-looking character models by Akio Watanabe, the character designer for the Monogatari anime, still another draw for me. I figured I’d like this anyway — writer Ryukishi07 tells a good story, and I’ve heard Higurashi Gou more than lives up to the original Higurashi series, so I’ll certainly keep watching.

Blue Reflection Ray

I’ve written about both the game Blue Reflection and its soundtrack, so probably no surprise that I’m writing about this as well. The currently airing Blue Reflection Ray is a new story that takes place in the same world as the game, but at a different school with new magical girls. Ruki Hanari, a transfer student (yeah, again) has extreme social anxiety that makes it hard for her to connect with her classmates. Fortunately for her, she makes at least one new friend at Tsukinomiya High School: the outgoing Hiori Hirahara. But of course, Hiori is a Reflector (i.e. a magical girl) and Ruki comes across a ring by chance that connects with Hiori’s, and we know where that’s going.

That said, this first episode is a bit confusing, because it throws a lot at the viewer without explaining very much of it. I had some idea of what was going on because of the concepts it shares with the game, but even then I was kind of lost. I’m thinking episode 2 will contain a lot of these explanations, made to Ruki before she decides to become a Reflector herself. The show also has a weirdly 90s look, at least to me. Maybe that’s just a nice way of saying it looks kind of rough, but then some of the scenes look nice, so I don’t know. It might just be me, but I don’t mind too much.

The story and characters are a lot more important than the look, anyway, and I’ll be sticking with Blue Reflection Ray to see where it goes for now — 24 episodes are planned, so it has plenty of room to develop in interesting ways. There’s also a strong yuri vibe between Ruki and Hiori, so if you’re a yuri fan, this might be worth checking out.

Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro

Of course I wasn’t going to miss out on the Nagatoro anime considering how much I’ve enjoyed the manga up until now. I was a bit worried about whether it would measure up, since this is the first time I’ve watched an anime adaptation of a manga I’m currently reading as it airs (I’m not much of a manga reader, anyway.)

But after watching the first episode of the anime, all those worries were swept away, because they really nailed it. I wrote a general plot/character summary in my post about the manga linked above, but basically Nagatoro is a sporty, popular girl who bullies the hell out of her nerdy artist senior at school (merely called Senpai; he never gets a real name) but of course she actually likes him, and again we have a good idea of where this is going. The anime is extremely faithful to the manga so far and really translates Nagatoro and Senpai’s interactions well. Great opening theme and animation, too, though the flashing colors might give you a headache if you watch it a few times over.

Not much more to say about Nagatoro, except that it’s very promising and I’ll be watching it every week. Even if I already know what’s going to happen, since it doesn’t seem like it will stray too far from the original story.

That’s all for this round. I promise I’m going to make an effort to actually continue a few of the other series I’ve written about in these posts — in fact, I’ve watched all of Blend S, and a full review will be coming soon. Probably early next month, though, because first there’s more Atelier to get to. That series has taken over my life recently and it’s not letting me go just yet. I’ve started a draft about Escha & Logy and it just keeps growing, so if you like my rambling-style posts, you can look forward to that one.