My favorite Touhou themes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #28 (February 2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joji — Nectar Like You Do

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

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

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

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

Franz Ferdinand — Franz FerdinandThis Fire

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

Chirinuruwowaka — Atelier Escha & Logy Vocal AlbumMilk-Colored Pass

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

Casiopea — Make Up City Gypsy Wind

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

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

_

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Listening/reading log #27 (January 2022)

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

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

Yellow Magic Orchestra (Yellow Magic Orchestra, 1978)

Highlights: Firecracker, Simoon, Tong Poo

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

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

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

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

Remain in Light (Talking Heads, 1980)

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #26 (December 2021)

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

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

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

Odessey and Oracle (The Zombies, 1968)

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

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

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

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

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

Let It Bleed (The Rolling Stones, 1969)

Highlights: All of it

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the featured posts this month:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update, part 3 (11/1/2021: First impressions: takt op.Destiny)

I promise this is the end of this weird posting marathon I’ve been on lately, and also the end of the stupid unwieldy titles these posts are getting. The usual end-of-month post is still on its way, likely up this weekend.

For now, however, I have one more fall season anime series I want to write about. And the show has a bizarrely written title too! What a coincidence. Yes, it’s takt op.Destiny. Or Takt Op. Destiny, or however you want to write it. Afterwards to be known as Takt because I’m already tired of thinking about how the title should be written.

Our title characters, Takt and Destiny

Our story opens with an overview of the global situation, which is pretty shit: Earth has been invaded by monstrously strong otherworldly beings called D2s that have caused great destruction and disrupted human civilization in general. For some reason, these guys really hate the sound of music — it greatly aggravates them and sends them into attack mode, and conditions have become so intolerable that people have been scared off of playing any music at all.

This world without music is pretty fucking miserable, but there’s a man who wants to bring that music back: one Takt Asahina, who shows up in a town square one day and starts playing a piano that’s been roped off. The people around are happy to hear music after so long, but the sound of Takt’s playing aggros a nearby D2 who falls out of the sky and begins wreaking destruction around town. But Takt has brought a weapon with him: Destiny, a girl in a frilly red dress with a giant sword-gun and magical powers who he commands with a conductor’s baton.

Destiny is a “Musicart”, or a manifestation of the power of music from a particular score. As we learn in the second episode, however, she wasn’t always a monster-destroying magical girl — this Destiny used to be a normal girl named Cosette, living with her older sister Anna and with Takt, the son of a famous conductor killed by a D2 attack years earlier. Takt is an excellent pianist, and despite their seemingly thorny relationship, Cosette loves his music, and it’s also pretty clear that they care a lot for each other — but of course that’s all blown up when yet another D2 attack kills Cosette and rips Takt’s right arm off. Luckily, the spirit of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (the really famous one, yeah — titled “Of Destiny”, so there’s where her name comes from) is around to fix Takt’s arm and to revive Cosette, though she’s no longer Cosette but rather this strange, robotic-acting Musicart warrior.

Destiny and Takt now have a kind of psychic link, though because of inefficiencies in how she fights, she has to drain his life force to operate in battle. Anna is still around for her friend and her little sister, however, and with the help of another far more experienced Conductor/Musicart pair, the group determine that they have to get from the US west coast to New York to have Destiny fixed at a special facility so she can continue fighting without killing both her and Takt in the process.

Anna and Takt, left, meeting with conductor Lenny and his magical music girl partner Titan. I like Lenny’s alto clef tattoo, dude must be a violist.

That’s quite a premise, isn’t it? Sounds a little ridiculous, even by sci-fi anime standards, to have pieces of music manifest as magical girl sorts of beings who fight killer aliens. And maybe it is ridiculous, but fucking hell if it isn’t completely working for me so far. Apocalypse/post-apocalyse? Yes. The power of music harnessed as a weapon? Absolutely. Cute girls in frilly outfits firing lasers? It should go without saying by now, but of course.

And small girls with massive appetites? Sure, that’s fun too, I like the contrast. Though Destiny is more of an artistic concept possessing the body of a girl who may or may not still be sort of alive, so it’s not quite the same. Those pancakes do look great though.

The presentation is excellent so far as well. To be expected from a Madhouse production, in collaboration with Mappa who are no slouches themselves. The fight scenes are pretty nice-looking, and the more everyday mundane scenes of Takt, Destiny/Cosette, Anna and co. hanging around, driving, and talking are nice and detailed as well. Whoever worked on Takt who was responsible for the scenes in the diner must have visited an American greasy spoon roadside sort of place at least once, because they got it exactly right, down to the massive plates of great-looking heart attack-inducing food — see above; that pancake stack isn’t even much of an exaggeration, though you’d probably have to ask for a special order to get one that high. And that’s not the only meal scene so far. Damn, another anime that’s going to go out of its way to make me hungry. I thought I’d had enough of that with Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, but there’s no avoiding that good-looking anime food.

That attention to detail extends to the music in the show. Makes sense, music being an all-important aspect of the story, but Takt feels specially designed for musicians and especially for pianists to watch. Takt doesn’t seem to have to play the piano to fight D2s with Destiny’s help; she’s already shown that she can just detect them on her own, though music does bring them out of hiding. But then Takt naturally wants to play every chance he gets, and so far the show has indulged us with plenty of great old music (all or almost all helpfully in the public domain too) — the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” and the first of his “Moonlight Sonata”, Duke Ellington’s “Take the A-Train”, and pretty sure there’s something by Scott Joplin and a few other pieces I’m too rusty to put my finger on just now. It’s all good, though, and if I get some Chopin and Tchaikovsky at some point I’ll be very happy.

Cosette being possessed by Beethoven’s 5th is maybe too obvious considering how insanely well-known it is — it’s exactly the one that comes to mind when people usually think “Beethoven”. But it’s still a great piece so sure, it works. The mix of sternness and beauty fits the character well enough anyway.

All of the above would just be a lot of fun spectacle without compelling characters and an interesting story, but thankfully, it looks like we might have those as well. I like the prickly relationship between Takt, a sullen, moody artistic type who just wants to be left to play his piano in peace, and Cosette, who’s more excitable/cheery. And even when she’s possessed by Destiny and takes on more of a robotic personality, the two still have that sort of playful bickering going on. The question of whether Cosette is still somewhere in there, existing alongside or as a part of Destiny, is also unclear — while we learn that Musicarts essentially have their memories and perhaps even their old personalities erased, we’ve also met the Musicart Titan, who’s an excitable and energetic girl with a clear personality herself. Seems like finding out what’s going on with the Destiny/Cosette thing is going to be one of the main plot points, anyway.

There seems to be a bit of a Fate-style Master/Servant thing going on with these magical battle pairings, only they don’t have to fight against each other. I do wish using the power of the Magicart required playing your instrument, though; it might be more interesting than just waving a conductor’s baton around.

So while I’m not usually into the typical “aliens attacked and now we have to fight them etc” story, I’m really liking Takt so far, because it takes that form and does something different with it, and it’s something that works. It might not be for everyone with its out-there premise, but it’s certainly for me, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Listening/reading log #23 (September 2021)

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

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

Mirage (Camel, 1974)

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

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

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

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

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

Utamonogatari (Various, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOWERS (TOWERS, 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the featured articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happens, anyway, see you next post.

More YouTube channels to watch during the quarantine (part 2)

When I wrote the first part of this post series 16 months ago, I didn’t imagine we’d still be in this shitpile by September 2021. Yet here we are, still in the midst of it. Everything is technically open where I live, but fuck that shit. I have the good fortune to be able to work from home anyway, which not everyone does obviously. (And here’s another reminder that America doesn’t give its teachers nearly enough credit or compensation. They’ll have to hope for that in the afterlife, because hell if they’ll find it on Earth.)

So here’s another post about good YouTube channels to check out if you need extra time to pass while at home. I hope this is helpful, and not just another excuse for me to write a fairly low-effort post because every day after work this week I only had the energy to watch a screen with flashing colors on it.

I’ll break these channels down into four categories again, though different ones this time, starting with:

1) Informative/documentary/etc.

First, a few channels I somehow missed last time that I want to add to this category:

CGP Grey — This guy has been around YouTube for a long time, and I’d say he’s a must-watch if you’re into history or political science at all. CGP Grey’s videos somehow manage to be both in-depth and concise, a trick I could never pull off myself. I’d recommend anything he’s put out, but his discussions of efficiency in voting systems are great (and not at all dry like they might sound — Grey also manages to always be entertaining.) They’re not all about history and politics, however: I found this one informative, though I’ve been following its instructions for about 20 years now without realizing it.

Periodic Videos — I got a lousy grade in chemistry class in high school, partly because I was being a complete no-effort shit at the time (and as a result getting a figurative but still massive ass-kicking and sorting myself out just in time to get a respectable four-year average and to get into a respectable university, but that’s another story.) I found actually studying that stuff from the textbooks and doing labs miserable, but I’ve come around, and now I follow Periodic Videos, a channel run by a group at the University of Nottingham. This channel mostly contains videos focusing on specific elements from the periodic table as their name suggests, featuring interesting background and experiments that sometimes include explosions or super-frozen objects.

Really, I get the impression this group might just like exploding, freezing, and melting objects, which I can understand. It does make the videos a little more exciting wondering how large a mess they can create with these chemicals in a safe and controlled environment.

I’ll also throw Solar Sands in this category. This guy creates interesting videos on art criticism and related subjects.

His “Let’s Build an Anime Girl” video is also pretty thought-provoking. Though I don’t agree with his conclusion that drowning in theoretical immersive fictional worlds at the expense of “real life” is a bad thing, because it’s honestly all I’m looking forward to in my own life. If anything really, I’m sad that I’ll probably be dead before we have that kind of technology. Fuck you, theoretical future people.

2) Music

I’d like to tell you the name of the first channel I’m featuring in this category, but it doesn’t have one. I’d also like to tell you the names of the songs the artist releases on this channel, but the songs don’t have names either, and neither does the artist really (though they go by x0o0x_ on Twitter.) So I’ll just post one of their recent songs:

So ”     ” is really good. But be sure to check out ”     ” as well:

These and the rest of their songs are just god damn good, not much else to say about them. I like the dark feel of them combined with their energy, and the illustrations by stdio_nameraka match the songs perfectly. Not sure why the maker(s), including the singer, have decided to remain anonymous otherwise, but that’s their deal.

If you like solo piano as much as I do, you might also be interested in Pan Piano. This channel features another anonymous musician who plays covers, largely of anime and game music.

Her playing is obviously the only reason I’m subscribed to this channel. Why else would I be?

Well, yeah, Pan’s cosplay is obviously part of the appeal of her videos, and I suspect she wouldn’t have quite so many fans without it. But she is a fine pianist on top of that — I’d like to be this good one day, or at least close to it once I brush up again. Also, she recently put out what I consider the best video on YouTube so far:

And if you’re looking for a guy who talks about music theory, why some music might sound good to your ear while other music doesn’t, and how good or shitty various music-making software is, check out Tantacrul. This channel might fit just as well in the first category above, but it’s all about music, so I’m putting it here. I especially liked this video about how modern TV producers use stock music to try to manipulate viewers’ feelings as opposed to letting the viewers’ feelings result naturally from what they’re watching.

3) Bizarre/unsettling horror

I’m generally not a fan of horror. When it’s done well, it can be a good time (though certainly taxing, but I guess that’s part of the point) but most of what I’ve seen is more of the eye-rolling sort, if it doesn’t manage to go all the way over to that “so bad it’s funny” territory. Some filmmakers seem to think it’s enough to just have a spooky ghost haunting, an alien invasion, or a demon possession in their story for me to give a shit about it.

But no. I don’t have any problem with ghosts or aliens or demons, but I need a little more than just these elements to care about horror. Thankfully, there are a few interesting and creative independent projects on YouTube that I think get the genre down pretty well, certainly better than most Hollywood films today do. And the best channel I’ve seen so far in this regard is Gemini Home Entertainment.

Gemini is a running project by one Remy Abode, who creates these 80s/90s instructional VHS-style videos that start pretty normal and pleasant but always end up running off the rails into bizarre and uncanny horror. Though it’s not clear at first, all of the videos up until the most recent as of this writing tell a cohesive story, and one that’s pretty damn terrifying once you really understand it. If you’re a fan of slow-building psychological horror, I’d recommend Gemini. No dumb jumpscares here, but what it offers is way more effective in my opinion. I especially found the video “DEEP ROOT DISEASE” genuinely upsetting in exactly the way I think it was going for.

And if that was too taxing for you, try taking some Thalasin! It’s a new drug that’s supposed to improve your emotions. Or turn you into a character from a Junji Ito manga. I didn’t know what to expect watching this one and might have pissed myself as a result. I didn’t, just to be clear, but I can understand why someone would.

And if you’re not familiar with Junji Ito, look him up before watching the Thalasin video, and if you don’t like what you see of his work, probably don’t click that link. Without giving the twist away, it’s really not to be taken lightly — and now you can’t complain that I didn’t warn you beforehand. That Gooseworx is a creative one in any case.

4) VTubers

And finally, of course here’s an update on those virtual YouTubers we all love so much. Since first writing about them back in December, the world of English-language VTubers has expanded quite a bit. Hololive English has recently had additions to its lineup, including “Hololive Council” or EN Gen 2 as I’ve heard most people call it, even though apparently we’re not supposed to call it that. It’s good stuff, with plenty of interesting and varied personalities to suit just about anyone’s tastes.

My personal favorite in the bunch is Ouro Kronii, the “Warden of Time” who wears a giant floating clock over her head that resembles a helicopter’s blades. And of course that’s the only remarkable thing about her design. Always looking respectfully, of course.

She also provides good life advice:

Kronii’s streams have a nice chilled-out feel that I like. Even though I can’t really catch much of any of them because holy shit, I have too damn much work to do and how am I supposed to follow all these VTubers? I really hope that afterlife I was talking about has all these VODs in stock so I’ll have something to pass eternity with.

On top of all that, the other major VTuber agency Nijisanji started its own English-language branch this year, with two generations already pretty well established. I’ve already talked them up a bit in end-of-month posts, but all six VTubers in the group so far are a good time to watch, and they have great chemistry together. I’m partial to Pomu Rainpuff — she’s a strange one, very entertaining and certainly dedicated, practicing one song for nine hours straight. Her Google Earth tour of Akihabara was also interesting. Pomu really likes maid cafés I guess, can’t blame her.

But my favorite in this particular group is probably Finana Ryugu. She’s streamed both Nekopara and VA-11 Hall-A — truly a mermaid of culture. Her “safe for work” narrations of the 18+ scenes in the Nekopara games alone are enough to put her in the eternal hall of fame.

Also, credit to Rosemi for playing Age of Empires II. Still a great game worth the attention after 20 years, though she earned her reputation as ruiner of all France in that stream.

That’s it for now. If we spend still another 16 months in this hell, I’ll be sure to write a part 3 in this series. Until then (but hopefully not.)

Listening/reading log #22 (August 2021)

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

Animals (Pink Floyd, 1977)

Highlights: Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones)

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

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

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

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

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

Siren of the Formless (City Girl, 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

MSB (Masahiko Satoh & Medical Sugar Bank, 1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!