Listening/reading log #16 (January 2021)

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

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

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

Hogaraka na Hifu tote Fufuku EP (Zutomayo, 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dream in the Street (Noriyo Ikeda, 1980)

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

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

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

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

Now for the featured articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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