A review of K-On! (Season 1)

I finally got around to watching another anime standard. K-On! is one of the first names in relaxed slice-of-life comedy anime, a manga adaptation by the first-rate studio Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni.

I say it’s a standard, but K-On! isn’t universally beloved. As one of the best-known and most-cited examples of a “cute girls doing cute things” series (see also the much older Azumanga Daioh, much newer Yuru Camp, and contemporary Lucky Star) it gets a lot of disdain from some anime watchers depending on their tastes. Back in 2009 when this first season aired, I remember that “cute girls” anime trend was in full swing in the same way the isekai trend seems to be now, and along with all its popularity it also received plenty of backlash.

But was that backlash deserved? I used to ignore this genre myself, aside from Azumanga which somehow felt like an exception, being an older series and heavy on both comedy and surreal weirdness alongside all the high school slice-of-life material. Watching Yuru Camp early this year convinced me that I was wrong to ignore it, and I even found a lot to like in a pure slice-of-life series a bit later on with Akebi’s Sailor Uniform. So finally I decided it was time to watch the first season of what many consider the best CGDCT/slice-of-life series ever. Would I fall in love with K-On! like I did with Yuru Camp? (Yeah, I’m leaving you in suspense for a while this time, sorry. Unless you just want to cheat and scroll to the middle/end.)

As much as that “anime girl running to school with toast in her mouth” thing is a standard opening (so much that the Niigata prefectural government early this year complained that it was depressing rice consumption in introducing their new “anime girl running with onigiri in her mouth” campaign) this is the first time I’ve seen it in a while.

K-On! opens with Yui Hirasawa rushing off to her first day at Sakuragaoka High School. As a new first-year student, Yui is immediately set upon by representatives of every club at the school because if anime has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing on Earth more serious than Japanese high school club membership. Yui has a problem, though: she has no idea what club she wants to join. When her far more responsible childhood friend and classmate Nodoka Manabe asks her two weeks later what club she’s going to join, Yui is still drawing a blank — she doesn’t seem to have any real interests aside from eating and sleeping.

Nodoka, a new student council representative, won’t let Yui just join the Go Home Club and tells her she’ll end up a NEET if she doesn’t take some initiative, so Yui goes for the easiest and most fun-looking group she can find: the Light Music Club.* Thinking “light music” means she’ll get to play the castanets or some other easy-looking percussion instrument (which yeah, I know they’re not easy to play well and the show does acknowledge that later, so the percussionists reading this can put down their beating sticks) Yui walks into the club with full confidence and absolutely no musical training.

Club president Ritsu camping out in the music room. I don’t think they ever use the staves on the board back there to write any music, or not that I saw at least.

Meanwhile, Yui’s fellow freshmen and Light Music Club members are waiting to get a fourth member so they can be recognized as a proper club by the student council and school administration. Drummer Ritsu Tainaka, bassist Mio Akiyama, and keyboardist Tsumugi Kotobuki are specifically looking for a guitarist so they can form a four-piece band. When Yui shows up at the music room to visit, they’re all excited and assume she’s a guitarist, piling up tea and cakes in front of her to convince her to join.

Yui is surprised to learn that this club has such specific standards and finally admits with some embarrassment that she can’t play the guitar at all (and shit, maybe they should have written we need a guitarist on the flyer?) But it all sort of works out for everyone: since the student council is about to axe the club, they take Yui despite her lack of experience and promise that they’ll teach her how to play.

And since their keyboardist is the heiress to a company that owns a musical instrument dealer, they manage to get her a fucking Les Paul for her very first guitar, amazing luck for Yui. And have fun getting those calluses.

The rest of the season follows Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Tsumugi (aka Mugi as the girls call her) as they work on their music, write a few original songs, and get ready to perform in front of their classmates at their school festivals. An entire year breezes by halfway through this season, and with the new class of first-years comes an already skilled guitarist in Azusa Nakano, who makes the Light Music Club into a five-piece band. The club hits a few rough patches but gets through them, managing to write a few songs that become hits with their classmates and getting a taste for putting on live shows. And of course, they eat cake, drink tea, and screw around a whole lot while also doing their best to stay on top of their studies, but the last only really being an issue for Yui, who has the ability to actually study but not much in the way of discipline.

This is supposed to be a makeup midterm study session for Yui specifically, who screwed around so much she failed her first time around. But I like tea and cake too, I admit it, so I can’t judge them for this. (Also that lump on Ritsu’s head is from Mio’s much-deserved corrective slaps.)

K-On! is an interesting series to me largely for its impact on anime and the community (here in the West anyway, since I don’t know about the situation in Japan, but I assume it was probably a big deal there as well if not even bigger.) Like Azumanga, it was a huge hit online. It doesn’t seem to have had quite as wide of an appeal, but K-On! still received a lot of love, and I can see why, because there’s a lot going for it. KyoAni is highly regarded for good reason: the animation throughout this first season of K-On! is excellent. While I’m not a particular fan of their “squishy” character designs, Yui and her friends also have a unique look to them, and the style is recognizable and consistent.

I also like some of the music featured in K-On! It would be hard to forgive the show for failing to deliver at least a few good songs given its musical theme, and it does: Don’t Say Lazy, the ending theme, is a real earworm and a nice one even if the lyrics are a bit embarrassing (but that’s in character for the band’s lyricist Mio, so it’s all right) and Fuwa Fuwa Time is just god damn good. If my school had a band that could have written originals like these and performed them as well as the girls in K-On! do, that would have been impressive as hell. The show doesn’t skimp on the visuals and animation in these sections either: the playing actually looks realistic, at least to me. The instruments themselves are very real-looking as well, modeled as they are after real-life instruments (and hey, I’ve played a Korg synth a few times — not sure what model Mugi is using though.)

A rare scene of the girls actually practicing

Being a sort-of very amateur musician myself, I thought this series would be a perfect fit for me, especially since I’ve been on this cute slice-of-life binge. But it wasn’t, not quite. At least I can say this first season of K-On! hasn’t seized me in the way Yuru Camp did from its very first episode, and that series is about girls camping, a hobby I have absolutely no interest in. It’s weird how that works, isn’t it?

Before the legion of K-On! fans breaks down my door and demands an explanation, I should clarify that I didn’t hate or even dislike this run of episodes, not even close to it. If I had, I would have dropped it halfway through, because I don’t have the willpower to keep watching something I don’t enjoy on some level. I was hoping for more, though, based both on my own expectations and on the series’ great reputation.

My problem certainly wasn’t with the very light plot, which can be summed up as “high school girls play music and eat cake and drink tea.” By this point, I’ve watched enough anime more or less like that, only replacing “play music” with “go camping” or “just mess around all day” to know that this relative lack of plot absolutely isn’t a dealbreaker for me. But I think I’ve nailed down what I do need to really enjoy such a series, some mix of the following: 1) a compelling/entertaining cast of characters; 2) comedy that hits for me; 3) atmosphere so well done that the series sucks me into its world (and yeah, this last one sounds pretty flaky and hard-to-define to me writing it out, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.) I loved Azumanga and Yuru Camp for their characters and their comedy, and Akebi got me largely with its atmosphere.

This proves I really can’t live on cuteness alone

K-On!, or again at least its first season, was somewhat lacking in those areas for me. The characters in particular just didn’t grab me, aside from one, and having an interest in one character alone isn’t enough with an ensemble cast like this to keep my interest.

The “one” above isn’t the most central character Yui. With all her clumsy cuteness, you’d think I’d have liked her as much as I do Nadeshiko or Osaka, but no. I think my issue with Yui is that everything just comes too god damn easy to her, to the point that I’m not sure what exactly I should think of her — I guess she’s a lazy layabout who secretly has genius-level natural abilities judging by what she pulls off, but that’s not all that interesting to watch taking place. She has barely any motivation to study and fails her midterm, but it just takes one night of Mio drilling math into her head to get her a 100%; she seems to have not all that much work ethic or discipline but gets to be pretty damn good at the guitar in just a year to the point that she can do great in front of an audience (though the show acknowledges she’s not nearly as good as Azusa, sure.)

The same goes for the rest of the band, more or less. Aside from Azusa and Mio, the group has barely any motivation to practice, with the goof off Ritsu and flaky Yui being the main culprits and Mugi following along and providing a constant supply of tea and cake to go along with their leisure time. They do eventually get around to practicing, yeah, but they apparently also have a chronic case of laziness to the extent that Mio and later Azusa are pretty consistently annoyed by it. But despite all that, the girls put on great shows at their school festivals. (And maybe that’s why the ending is “Don’t Say Lazy”? Are they preempting this criticism?)

Practice?! Fuck that, let’s go to the beach

This might be an entirely stupid complaint. I didn’t watch K-On! expecting to watch the characters just practicing for 20 minutes per episode. But it does annoy me a little that there don’t seem to be much in the way of consequences for their general discord and fucking around. The real problem here might be with me and my own hangups: I never played in a band, but I did play solo piano from my childhood on, enough that even though I haven’t consistently kept it up for a while now, all that practice and muscle memory is burned into my brain and I can still do decently and polish my extremely rusty playing if I put the effort in.

The point is that I know playing well takes serious practice and discipline because I had to put that work in, and the same is true of even a natural genius which I’m damn well not. We do see Yui practicing her guitar a few times along with comments from her also far more responsible younger sister Ui that she’s gotten more focused, so that’s something, but a band is going to sound like a fucking mess if they spend most of their days in their club room eating cake and bullshitting.

That brings me to the one character in K-On! I really like so far: Mio. She has drive, discipline, and a backbone, and on top of all that she’s the only one in this first season with much of a real character arc, being forced to get over her shyness a bit so she can take the role of lead singer when Yui slips up and forgets her lines in their first performance. I don’t dislike Mugi, Ritsu, or even Yui although I complained about her a bit — they’re all fine. Same with Azusa, who also has plenty of motivation but unfortunately gets manipulated with cake bribes (which again I admit I completely understand.) But Mio is by far my favorite character at this point. Without her there grounding the rest at least somewhat, K-On! might have been a hard watch for me.

Then there’s the comedy, which doesn’t always hit for me. I think it’s pretty hard to write about why I find some jokes funny and not others — shit, I found Osaka’s sata andagi scene in Azumanga hilarious and I absolutely can’t explain why except that I really probably do have brain damage. K-On! does have some good bits, my favorite probably late in the season when the imposter Yui shows up (I won’t spoil it, but see if you can detect her) but too many of the jokes get repeated or fall flat for my taste.

The absolute worst offender for me in this regard is the club’s teacher advisor, Sawako Yamanaka, a former metalhead and Light Music Club member herself. I was on board with her “nice teacher turns out to be a weirdo/irresponsible shit” role for a while, sort of a Yukari going back to Azumanga (or for a better analogy, Chug-sensei from Yuru Camp — Yukari never made a pretense of being nice) until she started turning into a bit of a Kimura. I guess she’s meant as comic relief, but even so, I ended the series nearly hating Sawako for just this reason.

Oh God please shut the fuck up

I have no idea why Sawako’s character had to go in this direction. Even her enthusiasm in dressing the girls up in sometimes embarrassing costumes might have just been linked back to her theatrical rock past, her pining for her student life and the potential boyfriend who got away and all that tied up with it. But then she occasionally turns into a pervert and gets near-gropy with her students and god damn is that a dealbreaker for me.

If you’re new to this site or just haven’t read it for very long, you might think I’m being squeamish or prudish or something, but I can assure you I’m not. I love a good h-game, I’ll freely admit that. Stick around for a while and you’ll probably see me posting about one soon enough. But there’s a particular character type that shows up in anime every so often, the aggressive sort of pervert who’s more or less tolerated by the surrounding characters for some inexplicable reason, that gets under my skin to such an extent that I can’t stand it. At least Sawako doesn’t actually do anything beyond being a fucking creep sometimes (again, a bit like Kimura) but still, holy hell. (And now you might say “Okay, you loved Azumanga, but what about Kimura in that case?” But being a creep was his entire thing, and almost every other character recognized him as one and acted accordingly, which is largely not the case here aside from some sideways looks and comments and the occasional exceedingly deserved slap.)

And yeah, I know it’s all just meant to be more comedy, but I still can’t help feeling this way.

There’s also Mugi’s very occasionally expressed thing for yuri that I have no problem with (I mean I have a bit of a thing for yuri too, honestly) but it also comes out of and goes nowhere.

K-On! has clearly captivated a lot of fans since it started its run 13 years ago, to the point that people still watch it and talk about it on a regular basis. And again, I can see the appeal. All the complaining above might make it sound like I hated this series, and I don’t want to give that impression because it would be the wrong one. I enjoyed some of the cake-eating and tea-drinking fun times the girls shared, and I really liked the attention to detail surrounding the music and performances when the show focused on those elements. Details like Mio being left-handed and the difficulties that presents with finding a suitable bass, or some of the references that obviously weren’t just shoehorned in with Mio going on about how great a guitarist Jeff Beck was when asking Yui about her influences in the first episode, or about how Ritsu is basically a schoolgirl non-alcoholic/not constantly stoned version of Keith Moon (and I understand he’s her favorite drummer, which completely makes sense given her temperament and playing style — in fact she and Mio feel like they have a Keith Moon/John Entwistle sort of dynamic going on. Now I really want to hear the girls’ take on “Heaven and Hell.”) I get the impression the original manga author Kakifly has a real love for this music too.

The Who comparison only goes so far, I guess. Yui certainly isn’t a Pete Townshend and there’s no Roger Daltrey around either. But be sure to listen to Live at Leeds anyway, one of the best live albums ever recorded.

So if I absolutely had to say whether I liked K-On! or not with no other qualifiers, I’d say I liked it. Drowning myself in this fluffy slice-of-life feels almost therapeutic now, and KyoAni did a great job with the production. Aside from the bits that include Sawako prominently, I didn’t really dislike any part of this first season. I’ve also heard that the second season of K-On! is stronger than the first, and I think I enjoyed the first just enough to want to continue watching based on that recommendation. Ritsu claims they’re going all the way to the Budokan, and if they do, I’d like to see how they make it there.

And hey, the final performance was mostly nice and heartwarming too, and again “Fuwa Fuwa Time” is a good enough song that it probably salvaged all the not-so-great parts for me.

But maybe I’m just a jerk who still doesn’t truly get it. I’ve heard K-On! called the peak of this CGDCT/slice-of-life anime genre, but I think if I’d started with this instead of Yuru Camp, I might not have tried getting any further into this genre considering my biases not too long ago. But maybe I will get this series when I start watching the second season. Feel free to tell me exactly what I missed in the comments: that’s what they’re there for. If you’re really skilled you might even get me over my near-compulsive dislike of Sawako, though good luck with that if it’s your plan.

Either way, I’ll be continuing the series after starting/getting through a few more in the backlog, so look forward to more on K-On! at some point. Until next time!

 

* Language note that most of you probably know about already: the title K-On! comes from keion, short for keiongaku or “light music.” Just like Yui, I’d never heard the term “light music” before hearing about this series years ago, but apparently it’s another term for pop. Not exactly easy to play either.

The future is in our hands: “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” and “C Kara Hajimaru ABC” from Kaiji

Following up on a post from a few days ago, today it’s a look at the opening of the first season and ending of the second of Kaiji, the anime adaptation of one of Mr. Fukumoto’s most famous gambling manga. I’ve written a lot about Kaiji already — it’s one of my favorite anime series, the story of eternal debtor and failed gambler Kaiji Itou:

I wrote a while back that I’m not big on punk, but I do like some of the classic late 70s/early 80s punk: the Clash, the Ramones, the really well known stuff, since I haven’t delved too much into the genre beyond that. This song came out a bit later than that — this version of “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” is a cover of the original from the Blue Hearts’ 1987 debut that I’ve heard was a big landmark album in Japanese punk. I’m far more used to the Kaiji OP cover, but the original sounds great too, and the cover itself isn’t too different from the original anyway.

On top of just being a fine song, “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” is a great fit for Kaiji and for the opening sequence, which really sums up the frantic feel of a lot of the series. If you haven’t watched Kaiji but have watched last year’s Squid Game, it’s pretty much Squid Game before Squid Game, only better (I did like Squid Game, but I thought it had a few serious trip-ups. I might still check out the second season.)

Kaiji is also the rare case of a series in which I love the first season’s opening and pretty near hate the second season’s. “Chase the Light” is just not my style at all. But be sure to check out the second season’s ending theme C Kara Hajimaru ABC, or “ABC Starting at C”, by Wasureranneyo, also a very classic punk-sounding song though a much newer one.

Who’s that girl hanging out with Kaiji? You’ll have to watch the series to find out.* It’s only 52 episodes long! Yeah, I get if you don’t feel like trying it out for that reason, but I promise it’s worth a try.

 

* Spoiler: she never actually shows up in the anime, though she’s referred to. She would show up in a hypothetical third season based on her appearance in the manga, but since we’ll never get a third season, this is the only time we’ll see her animated.

Another classic anime theme: “Nantokanare” from Akagi

Today and tomorrow’s posts deal with two more anime opening themes from series that are connected in my mind forever, even if they don’t have much in common other than the same creator and genre. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about both these openings before, but they can always use a second look, especially since both are from relatively old anime at this point (and the songs themselves are far older, especially the first.)

First up is Mahjong Legend Akagi. Sure, on the surface it’s a series about people playing mahjong, but it’s really far more than that. Original manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto is known for his gambling stories full of psychological games and power struggles, and Akagi is packed full of them. Several years ago I wrote a complete synopsis of the first episode of the anime here, one of the few posts from back then that I’m not completely ashamed of now. (Partly kidding, it’s not all that bad, but still, eight years ago — I can’t believe it’s been that long.)

Back to the subject: you wouldn’t be able to tell from this OP that Akagi is about a insane teenage gambling genius who uses his skill to take on the yakuza in incredibly high-stakes mahjong matches. The OP animation does fit the feel, though: just the protagonist Shigeru Akagi walking around 50s Tokyo, and with the still under construction Tokyo Tower in the final shot before the 1 pin tile gets slammed down, a nice touch.

The song is also fitting, a real classic this time. Akagi aired back in 2005, but the OP theme “Nantokanare” comes from the 1972 album Furuido no Sekai by Japanese folk-rock group Furuido.* It has a wistful feel that fits well with the series — though it does get very intense, Akagi himself is an extremely cool and collected guy with an attitude that suits the feel of the opening. The full song is worth hearing, along with some of Furuido’s other work. Maybe I’ll feature them separately later on.

But tomorrow I’ll be back with that related anime OP. Some of you might already have guessed exactly what song that’s going to be. For the rest, I won’t spoil it. Until then!

 

* Another language note: I’m not sure whether these guys are supposed to be pronounced “Furuido” or “Fluid”. Google lists the band’s name as “FluiD”, but in Japanese their name is written 古井戸, meaning “old water well.” Since that’s pronounced furuido, I’m inclined to just keeping calling them Furuido despite Google disagreeing with me. I know Google knows everything and all that but I feel pretty confident, though it’s possible that the Furuido guys themselves intended for there to be a double meaning in their name.

My favorite rare/impractical musical instruments

If you’ve ever been in band or seen an orchestra, you might be familiar with the normal set of instruments sorted into the percussion, woodwind, brass, and string sections. There are dozens of interesting instruments in your standard symphony orchestra, some of which are also popular for solo performances (most of all the piano, along with some of the strings) and some not so much (bassoon? French horn? Definitely the triangle.)

But then there are the instruments that don’t even usually play in the orchestra and that barely get any attention except among the truly hardcore types, many of which are extremely low- or high-pitch versions of the more standard ones — think your standard soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones you find in a lot of jazz as compared to the more unusual sopranino and bass types, but even those are commonly used instruments compared to some. Today, since I don’t have any other ideas, I’ll run through a few of my favorites of these unusual instruments.

Contrabass flute

You know the flute, that small instrument with the light, flighty sound to it? The flute and the even smaller and higher-pitched piccolo are usually included in orchestras and show up in other contexts — the flute even features in some rock music (see Jethro Tull.) So we know what a flute sounds like. But this is also a flute:

The contrabass flute is the second-largest and second-lowest-pitched of the flute family, just above the subcontrabass that’s too ridiculous even for me. I really like the sound of the contrabass flute — it’s a versatile instrument judging by what this guy above can do with it. I also like how it’s shaped like a 4.

Sopranissimo saxophone

Speaking of saxophones, here’s one on the extremely high end of the spectrum, so high-pitched that it’s apparently difficult to even play. Your standard saxophone is easy to at least make a sound come out of — I’ve played an alto sax before, though extremely poorly.

But the sopranissimo, also known as the soprillo or piccolo saxophone, is only for the elite, far rarer than even the relatively rare sopranino. This instrument was theoretical for a long time; according to Wikipedia the technology to produce the first true sopranissimo only existed a short time ago, and the first of their kind were manufactured in the mid-2010s.

Sadly for this instrument, it’s really not in demand due to its combination of being so expensive to produce and so hard to play. All the more reason to enjoy it when you can. If I ever win a huge amount of money so that I can do whatever I want, I’ll buy one of these along with a contrabass flute and spend some time figuring out how to play and write for them.

Hurdy gurdy

Some instruments used to be popular and later fell into obscurity. That fate befell the harpsichord, which was displaced by the piano, and it extra-befell the hurdy gurdy, which wasn’t really displaced by anything as far as I can tell. This string instrument was commonly featured in western Renaissance music and has a unique sound that can still be found, albeit rarely, in music today.

Modern varieties of the instrument are sold online, but you’d probably need to dig around to find one, and they look to be a lot more expensive than your typical guitar or similarly sized string instrument. This seems to be true of any rare instrument, but the hurdy gurdy also looks like it takes some real upkeep to maintain in good condition. Still, it can be worth trying out if you want to be known at your school or in your social circle as “the one with the weird medieval musical instrument” if you think you can accept the responsibility of such a title.

There are plenty of other strange and interesting musical instruments out there that I haven’t covered like the completely ridiculous octobass, a massive version of the double bass that seems designed purely to hit the brown note. But if I kept writing about unusual instruments like these I’d be writing all day, so see you tomorrow with something new.

A look forward to next season: “Comedy” from Spy x Family

I didn’t make any secret of liking Spy x Family a lot last season. Just like almost everyone else who watched it judging by the other reviews and the extremely high ratings, so my own late opinion was nothing special. So of course I’m looking forward to the second cour of Spy x Family coming this fall.

Everything about Spy x Family was quality including the music, and especially the ending sequence paired with the song “Kiseki” or “Comedy” by singer/composer Gen Hoshino:

Typically if I prefer one theme over the other, it’s going to be the opening over the ending. For some reason that’s the case nine times out of ten (or in a few rare cases like Call of the Night I’ll like both of them equally.) The OP “Mixed Nuts” is a good time, but “Comedy” is more memorable to me. Or maybe I just like its smooth classy sound. I don’t know much of what else Gen Hoshino has done aside from the pretty all right catchy love song “Koi”, but if at least some of his other music lives up to “Comedy” I’ll have to check it out.

More action, more comedy, more Anya expressions

Take this as still another recommendation to catch up on Spy x Family if you haven’t already, but just as long as you like fun characters and an exciting story full of mind games (and quite literally mind-reading in Anya’s case.)

A short one today, but I’ll be back with more tomorrow. This month has been interesting, forcing me to think of something to write about every day. I hope I can keep it going until the end of August so I can satisfy my obsessive side.

And something new: “Daten” and “Call of the Night” from Call of the Night

I’ve been writing about some old anime the last couple of posts, so how about a theme from a brand new one? Unless you’re reading this twenty years from now, assuming this site is still up then.

Call of the Night is a currently airing series about a 14 year-old boy, Kou Yamori, who’s absented himself from school. Instead of going to school, he’s sleeping during the day and going out in the dead of night to wander the empty streets. During one of these night walks, Kou meets and befriends the mysterious fanged girl Nazuna, who turns out to be a vampire in a shocking twist.

Kou decides he wants to be a vampire too because fuck society and being a responsible human being, a sentiment I completely sympathize with. But unfortunately for Kou, even though Nazuna gladly sucks his blood, she tells him she can’t actually turn him unless he falls in love with her, so he declares he’ll do just that much to her embarrassment.

Call of the Night is good so far, a lot of fun and very stylish, but there’s no doubt that the opening and ending themes add a lot to the experience. Both the OP “Daten” and ED “Call of the Night”/”Yofukashi no Uta” are original songs by the Japanese group Creepy Nuts, and they’re both perfect for this show. The ending has particularly grabbed people from what I’ve seen, and I can see why:

I’m not exactly a rap guy if you couldn’t tell — it’s a form of music I respect but just can’t get into that much, kind of like punk. But this song works for me. Or maybe I wouldn’t like it so much if it didn’t fit so well at the end of each episode of Call of the Night I’ve seen so far. It might fit so well because the original manga Call of the Night was named after the song — the anime getting the song as a theme must be a dream for the author.

I also love the animation in both of these and the show in general. I’ve never seen nighttime scenes depicted in anime as this series does them, making the night really look alluring. If I were Kou I’d be leaving the apartment at midnight too (and also to hang out with and get my blood sucked by my cute vampire friend/sort of maybe girlfriend? Yeah, that too.)

Take this post as a recommendation to check out Call of the Night, anyway, if that sounds appealing to you. It’s well worth a watch so far, and I’m hoping it keeps that quality up all season. Next post I’ll probably try to write about something that isn’t an anime theme — whether I succeed is another question. Check in tomorrow!

Nostalgia without the memories: “Platinum” from Cardcaptor Sakura

I just had a procedure done where part of my back was sliced up and sewed back together and now I’m sitting around trying my best not to move too much lest my sutures break open. It’s not a fun day, and this had to happen on the second day of August, a month I promised to post at least once every day. Well, I’m keeping that promise, don’t doubt it.

I started feeling a slight pain as I expected after an hour or so, so to take my mind off of that I played some music while I worked — because of course I didn’t take off from work, because I’m a fucking dumbass. And one of the songs on the YouTube playlist I had set up is “Platinum” by Maaya Sakamoto, one of the openings to the popular 90s magical girl anime Cardcaptor Sakura:

As far as anime openings go, this one is pretty damn good. Very opening-theme sounding, if you can hear that, and optimistic but maybe with a sad tinge to it. It also has a somewhat nostalgic feel to me, which is strange, because I never watched Cardcaptor Sakura as a kid and hadn’t even heard this song until a few months ago. I vaguely knew about the show back when it aired, but in just the same way I knew about My Little Pony: it was a show for girls so hell if I was going to watch it.

Of course I know better now than I used to, but I still haven’t and probably won’t ever watch Cardcaptor Sakura anyway, so I don’t know much of anything about it, Sakura herself, or that winged bear fairy that hangs out with her. For that reason I can’t say I feel nostalgic over this song in nearly the same way as someone who actually watched the series as a kid, but there’s some kind of feeling there similar to nostalgia. It might just be my brain playing a trick on me, just like it does with a lot of city pop, music created in a time and place I’ve never experienced. I don’t know, is there another term for this feeling? I’ve seen it talked about often enough in relation to city pop, because I’m definitely not the only one to feel that way about the genre.

In any case, “Platinum” is a good song and it’s helping me forget about my back and the fact that I can’t move properly for ten days. Which is okay, because pretty much everything I do involves sitting in a chair anyway, including writing on this blog. On that note, check in tomorrow for another short post about an anime theme and whatever nonsense I come up with about it.

Listening/reading log #31 (June 2022)

I originally had something depressing written in this first line, but we don’t need any more of that right now, so I changed it. Chalk it up to my temperamental nature.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the music and the posts from around the community as usual. On the bright side, the proper album reviews are finally back, so if you liked those then that should be good news. And hey, happy Bastille Day to all my French readers too.

Mellow Dream (Ryo Fukui, 1977)

Highlights: Mellow Dream, Horizon, Early Summer

Starting with something truly mellow, just like the title says. Ryo Fukui was an excellent jazz pianist who put out a lot of albums I hadn’t heard until recently even though YouTube kept recommending his 1976 album Scenery to me. So for some reason I decided to start with Mellow Dream from the following year, maybe because I liked the bird on the cover.

So far all the Japanese jazz I’ve featured in these posts has been mostly the fusion kind, but Mellow Dream sounds a lot more like the older modal style, the kind you can hear on older classics by Miles Davis and John Coltrane and similar legendary jazz guys from back in the 50s and early 60s. It’s a bit hard for me to write about this stuff — I don’t love everything I’ve heard in this more traditional jazz style, but I do really like some of it depending partly on which instruments are more prominent in the mix. Prominent piano is a huge plus, so Mellow Dream worked for me. I’m a big fan of the piano/bass/drums combo, especially in faster-paced pieces like the title track and “Horizon”. “Early Summer” is also impressive, according to the liner notes an addition to a re-release of the album from a live performance at Fukui’s Sapporo club in 2006.

So if you like jazz, you can’t go wrong with Mellow Dream. Maybe you don’t need me to tell you — all the huge jazz fans probably know the guy well already anyway, and it’s not like I know what the hell to say about these pieces except that I like them. For some reason I find more to say about fusion. Maybe that’s why I’ve featured those albums a lot more? But this makes for excellent listening too, especially if you need some relaxation, and God knows plenty of us do these days.

NEWS AT 11 (猫 シ Corp., 2016)

Highlights: No idea, but I guess that’s not the point anyway.

And concluding with an album that isn’t so relaxing, or might not be depending on who you are. NEWS AT 11 is another sort of vapor/post-vaporwave/post-whatever album I found recommended on Bandcamp, like the dark ambient album TOWERS I checked out a while back. Produced by a Dutch musician working under the name 猫 シ Corp. (Nekoshi Corp.? I’ve seen it written as “Cat Corp.” too, which makes sense, so I’ll just use that from here on) NEWS AT 11 was very deliberately put out on September 11, 2016 — it seems to be a nostalgic look back to the period before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that shook not just America but the entire world.

The album achieves this effect by interspersing a lot of light/smooth weather report jazz and mall muzak with old ad spots with actual news report audio excerpts from the morning of September 11. But none of these excerpts deal with the attacks themselves as you might expect: they’re instead taken from the early morning reports before the attacks occurred and started getting coverage, with the very last clip ending just before the sudden cutaway to the breaking story.

The first half of NEWS AT 11 was an interesting listen. Its nostalgic effect, if you want to call it nostalgia, pretty much worked for me. I’d just started high school and was a few weeks into classes before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the subsequent “War on Terror” they sparked. So while I was still basically a kid without much in the way of adult concerns in that pre-9/11 world, I remember that world well. Both the news report and mall smooth jazz/muzak stuff sounds extremely familiar to me — not that I actually recognize any of the tunes, but the style is burned into my memory. Even the news clips take me back to those middle/high school days, most of them taken from NBC’s The Today Show that was usually on in the kitchen early in the morning before I had to leave for school. And the fact that these were all taken from that early morning of September 11, just hours and even minutes before that old world was shattered, adds a lot of meaning to the use of those clips (and even more so the fact that The Today Show was filmed live in Manhattan not far from the Trade Center.)

All that said, this nostalgic effect obviously won’t work for everyone. Hearing NEWS AT 11 takes me back to that childhood, growing up as a kid in America in the 90s, when the future seemed bright and people seemed generally optimistic and before that illusion was put to an end. Someone who didn’t grow up in that world likely won’t get as much from this album, though. I don’t know if there’s a lot of musical value independent of that either — I wouldn’t seek out any of the smooth jazz or muzak that NEWS AT 11 samples outside of this context, since I don’t actually like it much and never listened to it by choice to begin with. Now that I think of it, the same is also true for The Today Show.

I also don’t get at all why Cat Corp. filled the second half of his album with those “Weather Channel 1 – 11” tracks, which really do just sound like distorted excerpts from old Weather Channel reports and their accompanying smooth jazz soundtracks. These are claimed on the Bandcamp page to be “from a lost and found VHS”, though if that’s true then why someone was taping old Local on the 8s broadcasts for posterity is beyond me. A few like tracks 4, 6, and 8 on this side get into funky grooves that weren’t bad while they were on, but that’s about it (and 6 is sampled from Kenny G — shocked that he could make something I could tolerate for three minutes considering what else I’ve heard of his, but I’ll give out credit where it’s due. He wrote a halfway decent Persona shop theme! Though he still can’t come close to beating Shoji Meguro at that.) But how do these tracks fit the theme? I’m not sure. Maybe you can tell me in the comments if I’m missing something. (edit: I’ve seen it suggested that this part represents someone trying to block out the horrific news by switching to the Weather Channel that day. Maybe staying in bed and closing the blinds/curtains too. That angle makes sense to me if that’s what was intended by it.)

I think NEWS AT 11 mostly works as intended, anyway. Try it out, but keep in mind it’s more of a collage than a traditional album and that it indirectly deals with heavy and serious matters that might weigh on you depending.

I didn’t expect to write that much about NEWS AT 11, but it really did bring up some dormant memories in me and I ended up pouring them all out. Sorry about that. On to the featured articles:

Pokémon Sun and Moon (Extra Life) — Red Metal has a look at two classic Pokémon titles. Which I haven’t played, because I haven’t really played Pokémon at all despite it being practically required playing in my age group/general fan area. No, I don’t get it either, but I can still appreciate Red Metal’s review and you should too.

Thoughts on the Obi-Wan Kenobi series (WCRobinsion) — Just what the title says. I didn’t watch Obi-Wan Kenobi, but I’ve heard it was more interesting than the typical Star Wars fare we’ve come to expect in recent years. See WCRobinson’s look back at the full series for the details.

SPY x FAMILY Episode 12 Review – Best In Show (Crow’s World of Anime) – Crow concludes his episode-by-episode look at the big hit anime Spy x Family. I tried doing this sort of thing once three years ago and it almost killed me, so I respect bloggers who can go season to season and episode by episode like this. And Spy x Family is well worth that treatment.

Final Fantasy VII Remake – Episode INTERmission Review (Honest Gamer) — I’ll keep doing penance for probably unfairly dumping on the concept of an FF7 remake years ago. Not by playing it myself, because I don’t have the time to spare considering the other things I’d rather watch/play anyway, but by linking Stephen’s review of an extra add-on story to the game featuring Yuffie. I still remember her stealing my materia in the original game and chasing her down, but I did forgive her and ended up using her a lot in my party. I liked her at the time, and maybe you do too, so check out Stephen’s site for more information on this extra episode.

My Dress-Up Darling: Whole-series Review and a Full Recommendation (The Infinite Zenith) — If I didn’t convince you to watch this anime, maybe Infinite Zenith will with this more in-depth review.

Rogue Legacy 2 Review – Stuck in the Past (Frostilyte Writes) — Is Rogue Legacy 2 worth your time and effort if you’re a roguelike fan? The title of the post might give you a general idea of what to expect, but read Frostilyte’s review to find out about the sequel’s positives and negatives.

My Top 3 Ghibli Movies (They aren’t Miyazaki Films) (Dopey Likes Anime) — A look at three great anime films by Ghibli not directed by best-known Ghibli guy Hayao Miyazaki. These films deserve plenty of attention too, so be sure to check out Dopey’s post if you have an interest.

What I want from Atlus, as someone who has spent 70% of the past 4 years thinking about Persona 5 (Eleanor Rees Gaming) — Eleanor has written in great depth about Persona 5 for a while, so she has some interesting thoughts about what we might reasonably expect and what we should hope from Atlus in the future regarding the series.

Why draw anime girls when AI can do it for you? (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — I find AI-generated images to be interesting but also sometimes terrifying thanks to the extreme uncanny effect they can produce. It’s somewhat easier to take in anime form since anime art is already stylized, and thankfully Yomu has covered some interesting AI tools to make your own waifu or hypothetical series complete with art.

Madoka Brings Back the Anime Demographic Question (I drink and watch anime) — Irina has a look at how manga and anime are classified with a special focus on the unusual overlap between shoujo and seinen (series made for girls and young men respectively) in series like Madoka Magica. Yuru Camp, Bisque Doll, and even Akebi’s Sailor Uniform that I’ve recently reviewed are all classified as seinen too, which you might find surprising. But maybe these series and their audiences aren’t always so well defined? I’m not the expert in this area, so be sure to read Irina’s post.

Vitamin C: Can Song is a Bopping, Shuffling Ode to Fruit & Veg (Professional Moron) — We listen to Can in this household. That’s to say I do, so I appreciate Mr. Wapojif’s post on their classic song “Vitamin C” from one of my favorite albums Ege Bamyasi (which I’ve featured in an earlier listening/reading log post, though I don’t remember which one.) And thanks to Damo Suzuki for warning me to get my vitamin C, or else. Or else what? It’s hard to say.

Why You Should Become a (Anime) Blogger (Side of Fiction) — Finally, Friendly Overlord Jacob gives the reader some excellent reasons for getting into anime blogging themselves. I can relate to these reasons myself, and maybe you can too.

And that’s it for last month. As for me, I’m going to be crushed by work for the next six months. I know this already. Even so, I’ll keep posting on the site on a regular basis because I’ve found that going for more than a week or two at most without writing something causes me to lose my mind. Most of all, this is why I write: to maintain my sanity.

But hopefully you can get something out of it too. I have a couple of games to cover this/next month along with plenty of anime, all from the backlog. There’s been more of a lean towards anime here just as I thought there would be if only because that’s something I can actually take part in without having to spend whole blocks of hours that I often can’t spare. I don’t see this situation ever getting better for me considering where I’m headed, but life is all about adaptation, right? And there’s plenty of anime to talk about anyway.

But as always, I’ll do my best to keep the subjects mixed up here at least slightly. At least I can commit to picking up on these monthly album reviews again. Until next time.

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.)