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

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

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

The cover of Stage 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven things that remind me of my childhood

What is it about nostalgia that’s so popular? It seems like it’s always been a thing to look back fondly on certain aspects of the past. You can probably go back to ancient Sumeria, assuming you have the means, and find people talking about how great the 2230s BC were and how kids these days just can’t appreciate the songs from back then. Nostalgia is also part of why I write on this site — not the entire reason or even close to it, but sometimes I do dig back into my own past to get some ideas about what next to watch/read/play/listen to, though, and on occasion a new game or anime series will even make me remember some long-forgotten piece of that past.

Just as a break from the usual, and because I don’t have my next posts prepared anyway, I’ll write about some things that give me those nostalgic feelings. Starting with…

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

That’s how old I am now, yeah. I don’t hate the 3D games or newer games in general like some people do, but to me the Genesis/Megadrive Sonic titles will always be the best (and Sonic Mania is up there as well, though a lot of that might have to do with how much of the spirit of those games it captures.) In particular, Sonic 2 brings me back to my days as a babby gamer — one of my first game-related memories is playing as the invincible 2-player mode Tails running behind my older cousin, who always insisted on playing as Sonic, and helping him beat Dr. Robotnik.

I guess that’s not the Floating Island in the background, is it? Just some other island. This used to confuse me as a kid, since Sonic 3 & Knuckles also had an island setting.

The music also has a lot to do with those feelings. I think this is really the first game BGM that was burned into my brain. I’ve written about a bit of musician and composer Masato Nakamura’s work on the first two Sonic games here before, but it’s worth revisiting for how damn catchy and good it all is. I also love the soundtracks to the following Sonic CD, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, but I think Sonic 2 will always be the standout for me in terms of music, even if I have to give the best game award to the combined S3&K (my favorite platformer period, even more of a favorite than any of the Mario games from the same period, though I love those as well.)

OutRun

This wasn’t by design, but it seems now like a lot of the games I write about fall under the Sega umbrella. That became especially true after Index Corporation dissolved, causing a bit of a freakout among fans until Sega bought Atlus, creating a new subsidiary also called Index Corporation that also became the parent corporation of Atlus and then was renamed Atlus itself and merged into that company (or something like that.) So now all my MegaTen stuff on the site is technically Sega-related as well.

OutRun is another Sega game I remember playing in my faraway distant childhood. This racing game originally came to arcades in 1986, but it had a very long life and was still popular by the time I came around and got coordinated enough to understand and play a game like this. I was lousy at it and I still am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have nice memories of it that take me back to the early/mid-90s. Once again, the music is a big part of this nostalgia trip — the original BGM is very short, consisting of just three main racing themes and a short high score screen theme that you can’t hear all the way through during normal play because of the 30-second “insert your initials” timer. But I’m not alone apparently, because for a while there’s been a whole subgenre of music called “Outrun” that seems to take a lot from 80s electronic, creating a kind of retro-futuristic sound. A bit like future funk, which I really like.

Playing OutRun in Yakuza 0 has only reminded me how fucking bad I am at it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

It’s been a long time since I actually watched Evangelion, but I still have fond memories of it as the first anime series I ever watched in a serious way. This might be hard to believe, but before this show, I really wasn’t into anime at all. Admittedly, I was way too young back in 1998, when I watched Eva through 100% totally perfectly legal means and not in Winamp in 360p, to get all the themes Hideaki Anno probably meant me to get. Back then I really just liked the style, the massive robot fights, and the weird religious symbolism. Eva also introduced me to my first fictional sort-of crush in Captain Misato Katsuragi, years before “waifu” became an English-to-Japanese-back-to-English loanword.

Classic waifu. I miss that 90s anime look sometimes too.

Winamp

Yeah, speaking of Winamp, that reminds me of my childhood too. It’s still the best Windows media player program in my opinion, even if it has been dead for several years now. Remember all those skins?

The Beatles Past Masters Vol. 1

Now all right, I’m not so old that the Beatles are from my childhood. But I did grow up hearing a lot of them as a kid in the 90s, because they did come from my mother’s childhood, and she played the hell out of the above compilation. Later on I got into the Beatles’ more artsy out there stuff starting from the 1965 album Rubber Soul on, but as a kid I knew them from their early poppy stuff, which is exactly what Past Masters Vol. 1 contained. And the songs are still really good, even if they don’t have that weird edge. Nothing wrong with some good pop music like A Hard Day’s Night, even if I’ve heard it so many times I never need to hear it again in my life.

Unfortunately, it didn’t contain any of that later stuff, not even the 1965 ones before they really went artsy like Paperback Writer (a great song with a very dumb nonsensical story in the lyrics, but still fun) or Drive My Car (also the theme to the local news morning traffic report, specifically the “beep beep, beep beep, yeah” part. I don’t even know why I remember that. More nostalgia at work I guess.) Still really good, though.

Churros

Moving into the realm of food now, something I almost never write about here, but taste after all figures a lot into nostalgia and childhood memories, at least from what I understand. Churros originated in Spain and from there went off to Latin America and then up here to the States. As a kid, though, I didn’t know this history — I only knew them as those fried dough sticks with sugar on them that we got at the state fair I went to every year. Along with corn dogs, churros are one of my old, very unhealthy childhood favorites for just that reason. They are excellent, and I regret that I haven’t had one in years now.

Source: Licensed under CC BY 2.0, by Jude Adamson, a guy who took a photo of this churro in something called Catalan cream alongside a dessert wine. Not how I consumed it as a kid, but it does look good.

Open fields/plains

Here’s a strange one. I grew up in the suburbs, but on the very edge of them — outside the development I lived in, there was a whole lot of nothing stretching for miles, so far you could see mountains on the horizon. Since leaving that place as a kid, I’ve almost always lived in large cities, so maybe seeing an open plain like that just reminds me of the stark difference between that part of my childhood and becoming a teenager and ultimately an adult. But it might also have to do with this liminal space concept I found out about a while back, in which depictions of places you’ve never even been are supposed to remind you of distant memories or something. Obviously I don’t understand it very well, but it seems interesting. This YouTube guy made a comprehensive video about the concept. (His video on the bizarre complications of creating a real-life anime girl is also quite something, though I do disagree with him about what he sees as the more negative aspects of escapism through future technology. Still interesting, though!)

I don’t look back too often to my childhood in general — it was fine, I can’t complain about any of it; it’s just something that happened, and while being an adult has its own challenges, I can’t say I’d want to go back and relive the 90s or anything. But it’s still nice to reminisce sometimes. Now that I have it out of my system, though, I’ll go back to trying to make high-effort posts instead that take actual planning and work. Unless you want a line-by-line breakdown about why the story to “Paperback Writer” makes no sense at all, and nobody wants that. So what are you nostalgic for? Please leave a comment and join in if you feel like it.

Listening/reading log #14 (November 2020)

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

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

Please to See the King (Steeleye Span, 1971)

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

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

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

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

Greatest Hits (Simon & Garfunkel, 1972)

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

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

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

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

Das Lied von der Erde (Gustav Mahler, 1909)

Highlights: It’s all good

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

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

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

Now on to the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #13 (October 2020)

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

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

Aja (Steely Dan, 1977)

Highlights: Black Cow, Aja, Deacon Blues

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

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

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

Piano Collections NieR:Automata (Various, 2018)

Highlights: Really the whole thing

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

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

Cafe de Touhou 3 (DDBY, 2011)

Highlights: Locked Girl, Scarlet Tea Party

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

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

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

Now for the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020)

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

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

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

Highlights: not even going to try

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

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

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

Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (Magma, 1973)

Highlights: no

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

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

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

And now, the featured posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Super Happy Love Award

Did you ever think you’d see such a title to a post on this site? It’s all thanks to Frostilyte, who nominated me for the Super Happy Love Award originally created by fellow anime/game blogger Pinkie to make the internet a happier place. That’s ambitious, but definitely a commendable goal, so I’m happy to do my part. Here are the rules, quoted in full:

  1. Thank the one who tagged you and if at all please tag the original post as well. This is my first blog tag and a bit of a passion project so I would like to see where it spreads! Oh and use Super-Happy-Love as a tag!
  2. Display the Super Happy Love Logo in your post Share the rules!
  3. Choose a minimum of 2 out of these 6 prompts to answer in this blog! More is always allowed! These six prompts are as follows:
    • Tell about a person you love, this can be a friend, partner but also a celebrity or even youtuber who means a lot to you. As long as they once took breath on this earthly realm you are allowed to pick them… Tell us why you love them.
    • Write something about a fandom or franchise you love. It can be your favorite game series or about just about anything that is bigger than just a single product! Tell us why you love this so much!
    • Tell us something about a character that you love. Do you have a Waifu, a Husbando, maybe a mentor or someone who taught you a valuable lesson. Tell us why you love them.
    • Tell us something about a piece of music that you love. Does a anime intro mean a lot to you? Did you have a special memory to a pop song, like your first dance at your wedding? Maybe a piece of video game music? If you love it, you should tell us why!
    • Show us why you love a piece of media so much! A Book, A Game, A Anime, A Movie maybe even a random piece of fan art, you are free to pick as long as you can show us why you love it.
    • Write something about yourself that you love! For those who like a challenge, there is a hard mode in this blog prompt as well. Tell us why you love a certain aspect of yourself
  4. Put on your rose tinted glasses. For once you are allowed to gush about the things that you love without having to balance it out with negatives so that you seem objective. In fact your are actively encouraged not to bring negativity into this tag. So no, “Nowadays is poopoo but back in my days…it was great”. Just say it was great! Love is blind after all!
  5. Tag 6 bloggers you love so they can take on this challenge as well.
  6. Everyone who comments something lovely about your post ALSO gets nominated (should they so choose).

Quite a challenge for me, but I’ll take it. Firstly, thanks to Frostilyte for the nomination. He runs a great blog over at Frostilyte Writes (now with a fancy new .ca domain, I’m jealous) featuring posts about video games and his original art. If you follow my site, you should follow his as well.

Now for the main event. I can definitely be positive about some of the stuff I like — I mainly write about stuff I like here, after all. So here we go:

1) My favorite franchise: Megami Tensei

In news that will be surprising to absolutely no one at all, I’m declaring that Megami Tensei is my favorite game series. I think I’ve declared that a lot, actually. But why do I like it? I’m thinking about writing a few more in-depth posts on the series in general and a lot of the themes in particular later on, but I can address that generally here.

It’s not what it looks like, really

One of the things that struck me first about the series when I first got into it with Persona 3 was its use of mythological, historical, and religious figures from around the world as demons (“demon” here being a neutral term for any supernatural being, not just the typically evil ones — even angels are included in that definition.) In Persona 3 and 4, these beings are the Personas, who are representations of the characters of you and your friends (and of a few of your enemies as well.) I loved Kazuma Kaneko’s unique designs, and when I discovered the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series through Nocturne I found some of the same and many more of these figures were fought as enemies and could be recruited into your party. There was a lot of novelty to that, but even after the novelty wore off I kept finding Easter egg-style bits of dialogue between related demons during combat that suggested the writers had really done their homework with regard to their stories and myths. So I was very happy to see Persona 5 include the same beings as enemies in its shadow worlds.

In that sense, Megami Tensei is a bit like the Fate series, which also makes use of both historical and mythological characters to tell its stories. Only Megami Tensei doesn’t take quite so many liberties, like making King Arthur a girl who the main character can get romantically involved with (Saber in the first route of the original Fate/stay night visual novel. If you know a better way to transfer mana, I’d like to hear it.) It also puts these figures into a very different context — instead of being purposely summoned like the Servants of Fate, the Personas are usually summoned entirely by accident or spontaneously (I know Saber was also summoned by accident in F/SN, but that’s an exception.) And in mainline SMT and some of its other spinoffs, the demons/angels/spirits/monsters/etc. typically decide to invade some place, usually Tokyo, without asking anyone’s permission, and then massive destruction usually follows that we humans have to deal with.

I just find that supernatural/human mix to be exciting. I like it enough that I wrote a whole daily Christmas series on some of my favorite demons in the series, and maybe I’ll even do it again this year.

Just because it’s the post-apocalypse and you got turned into a demon-human hybrid, it doesn’t mean you can’t get along and make friends

I could go on for many pages about Megami Tensei, and I probably will at some point not too far in the future, so I’ll save the rest.

2) A soundtrack I love: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I guess this post is going to be all about games, but that’s fine, isn’t it? Video games have had a massive impact on my life, and probably on yours too if you’re reading my site. And a big part of that impact has been the music featured in those games.

Most games have pretty basic soundtracks. If you just need passable background music to fill the silence, it’s not too hard to create. There’s also some impressively and even entertainingly bad music to be found in games. But the soundtracks I remember are the ones featuring tracks that are both complex and catchy. The 90s childhood series that come to mind when I think of game music from back then are the ones you’d probably expect: Mario, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, but to me Sonic was the most memorable.

Almost all the classic Genesis/Megadrive-era Sonic games have great music, but Sonic 2 sticks in my head specifically for some reason. Maybe because that’s the game I remember playing most as a kid, but the soundtrack is absolutely top-tier as well, written by musician/producer Masato Nakamura. Some people prefer the Sonic 3 soundtrack with the rumored Michael Jackson contribution, and that’s an amazing one as well, but if I had to pick one to own in physical form, it would be 2 for me.

3) Bonus thing I love: this video of a virtual rabbit girl playing games and killing enemies while talking like a gangster

Look, I found out about Vtubers and now I’ve fallen down the Hololive rabbit hole. That’s an especially apt term to use in this case. If you want to know the deal with this stuff, check out Lumi’s post on the subject here. Or just ignore this and move on. That’s probably your best option. All my recommended YouTube videos are now Hololive clips and it’s an endless cycle of me watching one after another. Don’t do that to yourself.

Now for the nominations. I’ll nominate Lumi, since I’ve already taken the liberty to use his post above, and also:

Ace Asunder

A Richard Wood Text Adventure

Winst0lf Portal

Peak Weebing

KS Blogs

And as stated in the rules, whoever else is reading this and feels like it gets nominated too. And as usual, apologies if you don’t do these, feel free to ignore, etc. I still have one more of these tag posts to make, but in the meantime I’ll be watching more Pekora videos.

Listening/reading log #11 (August 2020)

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

Red (King Crimson, 1974)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A review of Muse Dash (PC)

Sure, I like playing my hardcore simulation games and JRPGs and all that, but I also like to have a few casual games to mix things up. Especially these days when I have so much work to get through, being able to pick up a game for half an hour or even a few minutes can be useful. So I’ve been getting a lot of use out of Muse Dash, a rhythm game out for PC, Switch, and mobile platforms. I say casual, but in some sense, Muse Dash is extra-casual. Unlike other rhythm games I’ve covered here like Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone and the Persona dancing titles that feature four tracks to keep up with corresponding to the four buttons on the PS4 controller, Muse Dash only has two. There’s no story to the game either, at least not one I could find.

But that’s fine. This was just the kind of game I needed for these bullshit times we currently live in. It’s colorful and fun, and you don’t really have to think too much about it.

Muse Dash in its base form features a few dozen tracks to play through. The player can pick one of the three muses Rin, Buro, or Marija to play through these rhythm-based courses with, beating up enemies and dodging obstacles to the beat of the song. Each course includes a “boss” sort of enemy who will shoot more shit at your muse that she has to dodge/hit to maintain her combo. Missing an enemy breaks that combo, and getting hit by an obstacle or enemy deals damage and drains her health bar. And naturally if that bar gets to 0 HP, the stage is failed.

So the basic gameplay is pretty simple, intuitive enough to pick up and start playing right away. One of the nice things about Muse Dash is that it offers a wide variety of difficulty levels rated by number. Even if you’re someone who’s not very good at rhythm games (for example: me) there are plenty of songs from 1 to 4 in easy and even hard mode that aren’t too much trouble to master.

Don’t get hit by her peppermint candy cannon, it hurts

If you greatly improve your skills or you have naturally amazing reflexes, there are also higher-rated hard and master mode levels that provide a nice challenge. However, Muse Dash is also considerate enough to let the player level up quickly by playing through courses no matter what difficulty they’re set to, meaning even a crap player like me can unlock most of the content in the game.

And there is quite a lot of content that’s initially unavailable. These include most of the game’s songs, useful helper characters called Elfins who can be paired with your muse, and a variety of costumes for Rin, Buro, and Marija that change their HP and abilities. Most of these costumes took hours upon hours of grinding through songs to unlock, but most of them are worth getting for the benefits they provide. Anyway, those hours didn’t feel like grinding; they just passed naturally as I played the game.

She’s not the best character to use, but my favorite one is still catgirl witch mode Marija.

The base version of Muse Dash sells for only three dollars, and the few dozen songs it includes offer some nice variety in speed and style. However, there’s a heavy emphasis on sweet-sounding poppy material. The game also features some harder-edged rock and electronic tracks, some jazzy stuff, and a few classical/orchestral-sounding pieces. But between all the J-pop/cute anime theme-style music (a lot of it seems to be Chinese as well, but it’s also done in that style) and the game’s cute visuals, Muse Dash might be too extra-sugary for some players. At least it won’t affect your blood glucose level, but you might feel the same way playing Muse Dash as you would eating a bunch of cupcakes or those horrible glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I’m not a fan of every track I’ve played so far, but I enjoy most of the music, especially the more relaxed chilled-out stuff.

However, that’s just the base game. Muse Dash also comes with a DLC package that sells for $30 and piles several dozen more songs and courses onto the tracklist. I know I’ve complained about overpriced DLC already, but this time the price feels more justified, especially since it acts as a sort of “season pass” that applies to future DLC. It also looks like the makers are actively releasing new songs and characters. It’s entirely possible to get a lot of play out of the basic three-dollar version, enough that you might be satisfied with that alone — the $30 version seems made for players who really get into the game.

How the hell are you standing on top of a limo and shooting missiles out the back? This is definitely a traffic violation!

The only problem I’ve had with Muse Dash so far is some occasional slowdown and stuttering in the tracks. When this happens, the song and course fall out of sync and then you may as well quit and restart, because your run will probably be completely screwed up if you can’t rely on the beat to guide you. This has only happened to me a few times when I had too much other crap running in the background, so it’s likely just an issue on my end.

So I don’t have much to say about Muse Dash, but in this case, that’s not a bad thing. I’ve been playing the Steam version off and on for a while now, and it’s been a great break from my work schedule, especially considering how easy it is to break into five- and ten-minute runs. Like pretty much every other game out there, it’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me. Even if it is pandering a bit with those costumes. Why aren’t there more catgirl witch characters around anyway? Someone needs to work on this deficiency as soon as possible.

Listening/reading log #10 (July 2020)

Last month was one of my most prolific ever. Between the Atelier and Monogatari stuff and my Sim series retrospective, I managed to say more than I thought I had to say, which might be a sign that I need to edit. But I’m too lazy to edit. I’m a bit tired now, but don’t worry: I still have several anime and game review drafts sitting around and even more to come after that, so there’s no end in sight.

For now, let’s do the usual end-of-month thing and check out some good music and writing from fellow bloggers. I didn’t get much of a chance to hear any new music in July that wasn’t part of a soundtrack, so this time I’m pulling two old classics out, both by groups that I covered a long while back:

Maggot Brain (Funkadelic, 1971)

Highlights: Maggot Brain, Hit It and Quit It, You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks

I guess I haven’t actually talked about Funkadelic before but rather Parliament, but they’re sort of the same thing. They were musical groups with a lot of overlap in membership, both led by musician/composer/producer George Clinton, and are often referred to together as P-Funk. There were differences, though: while Parliament’s releases tended towards dance-oriented stuff, Funkadelic was more of a psychedelic rock/funk group as their name suggests.

Maggot Brain is also one of their best albums. It has a lot of great energy and emotion, even in cases where it’s hard to tell if the music’s about anything — see the excellent title track for some of that, with guitarist Eddie Hazel playing his heart out. I really like some of the shorter songs as well. The only song I don’t like is the closer Wars of Armageddon, which I would describe charitably as “a fucking mess” but then it sounds like that was the intention anyway. The rest of Maggot Brain is good enough to still made it a personal favorite.

And no, I don’t know why that lady is buried up to her neck in dirt on the cover. She doesn’t look like she’s having a great time, though.

Emerson Lake & Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Highlights: Take a Pebble, Knife-Edge, Lucky Man

At first glance, ELP and Funkadelic might not look like they have much to do with each other. But both of the albums I’m looking at today have a lot of energy and a nice degree of weirdness to them, even if stylistically they’re very different. This is the debut album of the prog group Emerson Lake & Palmer, three guys who were already well-established when they joined together in 1970. So despite being a debut album, it sounds very confident right out of the gate.

My favorite here is “Take a Pebble”, which doesn’t feel its length at all. It’s relaxing and mellow in parts but also builds a lot of tension near the end with Keith Emerson’s great piano-playing and Greg Lake’s dramatic vocals. ELP swiped the tune to the classical-rock piece “Knife-Edge” from Czech composer Leoš Janáček without crediting him until they were called out for it, but it’s still a great song. And “Lucky Man” was supposedly a song Lake wrote when he was a kid, a nice simple guitar ballad about a guy who isn’t really so lucky.

I don’t know if I prefer this over ELP’s followup Tarkus, so I’ll just say they’re both classics. Maybe I’ll also take on their later album Brain Salad Surgery one day, though my feelings about it are more complicated. I do love its insane-looking cover. If you’re a fan of H. R. Giger, look it up.

Now for some great posts from the past month:

The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 5 – Plot and Themes (Lost to the Aether) — I’m not putting the whole long title of this article here (those are “Mass Destruction” lyrics, right?) but you can and should check it out for yourself above, in which Aether continues his multipart analysis of the excellent JRPG Persona 3. There’s a lot here I never considered even after playing the game through a few times in different forms, with Aether going into depth about its connections to the Tarot and the Fool’s Journey.

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off! (Shoot the Rookie) — If you’re looking for a blogging community event that’s also an excuse to talk about your favorite JRPG characters, check out Pix1001’s post above detailing the rules. I’ll probably be taking part myself — it seems like a waste not to since I’ve been playing JRPGs for over 20 years now. Can’t waste all that valuable experience.

A perhaps biased opinion on Disgaea (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — Neppy played through the first Disgaea game and gives his thoughts on it. He says his view is biased, but it’s not any more biased than mine — I love Disgaea 1, but this post brings up some weaknesses in the game that are worth talking about. We may not agree in our analyses of the game, but Neppy’s take on it is very interesting and worth reading.

Steam’s Inconsistency is Hurting Visual Novels – How We Can Help (MoeGamer) — Valve has been up to their old tricks with the visual novels on their game platform, removing an all-ages version of the VN Bokuten from Steam without warning. Pete Davison addresses the matter and raises the option of buying digital copies of VNs from alternative platforms and stores to try to break Valve’s virtual monopoly.

Anime Review #40: Little Witch Academia (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Here’s a Trigger series that passed me by completely. I was planning to watch their newest show BNA, but I’m now also interested in Little Witch Academia thanks to the Traditional Catholic Weeb’s very positive and thorough review of it.

Senko-san and Japan’s corporate culture (Reasons to anime) — From what I understand, some companies in Japan work their employees so hard, often without overtime compensation, that the Japanese language had to invent a new word. The word is 過労死karoushi, meaning death from overwork — not a figure of speech, but rather literal death caused by work-related stress. Casper examines the anime series The Helpful Fox Senko-san and how effectively it addresses corporate culture and workers’ quality of life.

The Toxic Side of Fanbases (Lex’s Blog) — Being part of both the Persona and SMT fanbases, I can say for sure that we have some crazy in there, with more than our share of infighting and weird feuds that probably look like total nonsense from the outsider’s perspective. Lexine raises some of the issues with fanbases, particularly with the minority of people in most every fanbase who are hostile to newcomers.

What I Learned from Watching the Ghost Stories Dub (I drink and watch anime) — The English-language release of the series Ghost Stories is legendary among a set of western anime fans because of its intentionally bizarre dub. The original work was pretty mediocre, but the dub turns it into an ultra-offensive comedy of the kind that probably wouldn’t fly today. Irina analyzes the ways in which this dub completely changed the feel of the series into something uniquely western.

I finally played “Da Capo” (Baud Attitude) — And from Baud Attitude, a look at the romance visual novel Da Capo and a comparison with its anime adaptation. Anime versions of VNs really do always go with the most boring, safest routes, don’t they? I bet if a Tsukihime anime were made, it would do exactly the same thing. Good thing that hasn’t happened.

And here’s to yet another month. Good luck and health to everyone, and please look forward to more of my nonsense posts to come. I might even review a banned-from-Steam VN or two if I can get them.

Listening/reading log #9 (June 2020)

If you feel like we’re living in a TV drama about an alternate history timeline, I do too. In which case I’d ask why I’m stuck playing the role I am, but that’s probably my fault for making poor life decisions. At least no matter what happens, short of the world actually ending in an apocalypse, we’ll be able to listen to music and read blogs, and that’s what I’ll be covering in this post as usual.

Ege Bamyasi (Can, 1972)

Highlights: Sing Swan Song, Vitamin C, Spoon

Maybe Can is a weird name for a band, and maybe a can of okra makes for a weird album cover, but this is absolutely one of my favorite albums ever. Can was a German band with an amazing rhythm section and a Japanese singer who sang bizarre nonsense lyrics. The effect is really striking on their best albums like Ege Bamyasi. I could have put most of the songs up in the highlights list really; they’re that good, though it’s a bit hard for me to explain why aside from saying… they’re good. I’m a pretty useless reviewer as it turns out.

This is another album that doesn’t feel like it means anything at all (though I could be wrong, maybe it’s really just about okra?) but that doesn’t matter when it’s so memorable and hypnotic. Very good music for studying because of those beats, though Damo Suzuki’s yelling can maybe be distracting sometimes. Tago Mago and Future Days are also great albums by Can to check out.

Touhou Explosive Jazz 7 (Tokyo Active NEETs, 2014)

Highlights: 六十年目の東方裁判, フラワリングナイト 〜紅霧夜華2014

I’ve already written about Tokyo Active NEETs once before, specifically a review of album #6 in this series, but they’re still one of my favorite doujin music groups out there. Active NEETs are a jazz ensemble that plays a lot of music derived from the Touhou Project series of shmups, already known for its excellent BGM.

And they totally do it justice. Just like 6, Touhou Explosive Jazz 7 is energetic, catchy, and full of great takes on songs this time from the game Touhou 9: Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Active NEETs also put up a lot of great videos on Youtube — be sure to check out the links above, the first of which is a live studio recording of one of the pieces from the album, and the second of which is an MMD animation of characters from the game in a band playing the various parts. Makes a little more sense if you’re familiar with the series (for example, the guy dancing around with a sack over his head, and two sort of friend/rival characters Reimu and Marisa cutting each other off during their performance in the animation) but they can still be enjoyed without knowing anything about Touhou, just like the music itself.

Close to the Edge (Yes, 1972)

Hightlights: Close to the Edge, And You And I

And finally, another repeat artist because I guess I’m getting lazy. Close to the Edge was one of those mind-blowing albums for me when I was young, though I discovered it thirty years after it came out, so I can only imagine the effect it had back then. Yes’ music sometimes gets accused of being weird and emotionally detached, and I think this album is part of why some people feel that way — some of it is very strange stuff, and the lyrics on it are seemingly 100% meaningless even though they do feel like they’re supposed to be about something. It also only features three songs, and the first one lasts 18 minutes.

But it’s also almost all just as catchy as good pop music, and with the added bonus of being played by astoundingly great musicians. If something is boring the shit out of me, I’ll stop trying to listen to it, but Close to the Edge holds a lot of energy and excitement. “Close to the Edge” is still one of my favorite songs ever, and the other two have some fine moments as well, though I do think the quality drops off in the closer. Even so, it’s still a great album. I also want to highlight this 8-bit version of the title track made by a guy on Youtube with the name EvangelionUnit06, because it’s also fantastic.

And now, the featured posts:

Let’s Get It On: Why Sex Scenes In Video Games Is One Experience I Can Live Without (simpleek) — Right out of the gate featuring a post about sex of course. Simpleek sets out an argument for why game developers might hold off on putting sex scenes into video games at least until the technology improves.

The Evolution of My Views on the CGDCT Genre & The Dangers of Positivism (I drink and watch anime) — Overly enthusiastic fans can sometimes raise expectations for their favorite works a whole lot, maybe too much. In this post, Irina explores how this has affected her experience with the “cute girls doing cute things” anime genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his look into visual novels with a review of a VN about a dopey weeb visiting Japan for the first time, where he’s unexpectedly hosted by two cute sisters, and it sounds like embarrassing situations also occur as a result. Who would have guessed such a thing would happen in a visual novel?

System Mastery is my Jam (Frostilyte Writes) — A game with mechanics that are harder to master can lead to a more fulfilling experience. Frostilyte explores this idea by contrasting indie games Dicey Dungeons and One Step from Eden.

12 Random Japan School Life Tidbits (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu, who’s currently teaching at a school in Japan, gives some real examples of Japanese school life and how it’s both similar to and different from what we’ve seen in anime and games.

MOTHER Gallery at Shibuya PARCO (Resurface to Reality) — Those who are into the Mother series should read browsercrasher’s post about a Mother-related gallery exhibit in Japan. When things open up again, we should push for video game-related public exhibits here in the States.

Mega Man 5 (Extra Life) — I never got around to playing Mega Man 5, but Red Metal’s review of the game got me interested in it. It’s always amazed me how they were able to take the series all the way to six entries on the NES anyway.

The Vita’s Not Dead Yet! Three Reasons Why You Should Still Own A PS Vita In 2020! (Down the Otaku Rabbit Hole!) — From loplopbunny, a post about why the Vita is still a system worth owning even after the recent Persona 4 Golden release on Steam. I got a lot of use out of my Vita, so I don’t agree with the many people I’ve heard say it “didn’t have any games.” For a complete argument, check out loplopbunny’s post.

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 – Part 1: Welp…. (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — It was rough to see the SAC_2045 series on Netflix. I really like the character designer (I’ve even written about one of his artbooks here, really a great artist) and the original Stand Alone Complex was excellent. But read Scott’s review to find out where and how this new series went.

That’s it for June. I have a lot lined up this month, including more of those short “summer cleaning” reviews, an extra-long game review, and another massive commentary/analysis/series of complaints, so I hope you look forward to those. Until then.