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.

Soundtrack review: NieR:Automata Original Soundtrack

Happy American Thanksgiving weekend, dear readers. Thanksgiving is a day of eating turkey, a bird whose meat is so god damn bone-dry when cooked that you are required to load it up with cranberry sauce and stuffing just to swallow it. It is also a day of announcing to a room full of relatives, most of whom you only see at Thanksgiving dinner, what you’re thankful for (most likely something generic you made up on the spot like family or your health.)

This year I’m thankful for owning a hard copy of NieR:Automata Original Soundtrack. It’s a triple album – a 3 disc set – and it’s still too short. The actual amount of music in NieR:Automata is something like seven hours if you include all the different versions of each track (versions that play during combat, 8-bit hacking versions, versions with and without vocals) which this album does not. That’s really my only complaint about this album: it should have been a boxset.

Are boxsets even a thing anymore? Am I showing my age? They were popular in the 90s, but now, I have no idea. You god damn kids and your social media.  Your TikTok.  What the fuck is TikTok even.  I’m terrified for the future if this is the kind of weird shit the new generation is going to be into.  America is finished.

Fine.  Let me put down the cane and whiskey and keep gushing about this music and about how much of a genius composer Keiichi Okabe is. He also wrote the soundtrack to the original NieR, and that was amazing, and so is this. It’s mostly a mix of powerful orchestral pieces and ambient-ish background tracks, all of which both suit and enhance the feel of the game. It’s hard to write about this music without writing about the game itself, in fact, the music being meshed so completely into the game’s fabric. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy this album without playing NieR:Automata, but pieces like Copied City, Birth of a Wish, or The Tower won’t carry the same emotional weight if you haven’t. I still feel like I’m missing some of the impact of the original NieR OST for just that reason.

2B can see through that blindfold thing she usually wears, but how can she see through the hair covering her left eye? This isn’t relevant to the soundtrack, just thought I would throw the question out there.

Did I say “emotional weight”? Yeah. I’m a very unromantic person in most ways, but the story and characters of NieR:Automata hit me in the feels, as they say (or used to say, anyway, a few years ago.) It’s a tragedy in the classical sense, and a good one, because it doesn’t use cheap tricks or ploys or plot devices to achieve its emotional effect – it makes it the hard way by making you care about its characters and its world. And just as Yoko Taro and his team had to work to write an emotionally resonant story, Okabe and his team had to work to write an emotionally resonant soundtrack. Music, like writing, shouldn’t resort to tired, cheap tricks (like the “moving” key change – the musical equivalent of killing the cute puppy in your story for the purpose of squeezing out tears.  I could write a whole essay about how fucking lazy and bad the key change is as most songs use it.) Okabe and his co-composers clearly know that and have the skill to pull off truly powerful music.

The credit isn’t all with Okabe and co., though. Emi Evans returns to sing on several tracks. She’s not as prominently featured as she was on NieR Gestalt & Replicant, but her work on tracks like Voice of No Return and A Beautiful Song is… well, it’s beautiful. Joining her on vocals is one J’Nique Nicole, whose voice has a different quality that contrasts nicely with Evans’. And of course there’s a choir on the payroll as well along with the orchestra. Shit, this soundtrack had to be expensive to record.

That’s all I have to say about this album.  It’s not that expensive for a triple album, and all the music is great, so it’s worth buying.  As with Nocturne, though, I’d suggest you play Nier:Automata first if you haven’t already so you can get the emotional context of the music, and also because it didn’t win all those Game of the Year awards for no reason.  You can consider this post to also be my review of the game, since I never got around to reviewing it last year.  Nier:Automata is worth every minute spent on it.

Rating: 6 if you haven’t played Nier:Automata, 7 if you have.

Strange search terms pt. 3 (robot girl x male human edition)

Life is empty and meaningless, and the world is an isolated rock flying through cold dark space.  This is the 100th post on this site!  Let’s celebrate by looking at a sample of strange search terms from the past year.

1) if mario ate toad

Toad is famously a sentient mushroom and an attendant to Princess Peach, Mario’s perpetually kidnapped girlfriend (?).  Toad is often one of Mario’s allies in his quest to rescue Peach.  But what if Mario ate Toad? this reader wonders.  I know you expect me to say something like “he would get high!!!  lol”.  But I’m not a hack Buzzfeed writer and I don’t take the easy way out.  The effect of eating Toad upon Mario would depend upon Toad’s species.  If Toad has psychoactive properties, Mario would get high.  But Toad might be poisonious, in which case Mario would get ill or even die.  And the effect of eating Toad upon Toad would be that he would definitely die.  Anyway, why should Mario eat Toad?  That wouldn’t be in character for him.

2) numbers to rivens domes

Riven is a difficult game.  Its puzzles are pretty god damn demanding, requiring the player to learn a base-25 number system.  So it’s understandable that folks would want an easy solution to the game’s notorious golden dome puzzle.  Unfortunately, the number code to open the golden domes (which is necessary to beat the game) is randomly generated each game.  Have fun learning that fucked up number system!

3) smt iv u didnt want the lawful ending

YHVH

U sure didn’t want the Shin Megami Tensei IV Law ending.  It sucked.  The Law ending in an SMT game always sucks.  For the uninitiated the standard SMT Law route involves cooperating with the Abrahamic God to wipe out humanity or at best to turn humanity into mindless worshippers of the LORD.  Said God in SMT is typically in the form of YHVH, aka Yod Hey Vav Hey, aka Tetragrammaton, the God of the Old Testament.  You may feel that OT God was a bit of a jerk and a tyrant, and Atlus agrees with you if you do.  So Law route generally sucks, even more than Chaos, which at least allows for some fun shaking up of things with Lucifer’s angelic blessing.  All my Neutral bros know the best route though.

4) lewd 3ds games

So many people find this site searching for lewd 3ds games.  What they don’t realize is the Vita has a much better lewd game collection.  Out of those games, Monster Monpiece and Akiba’s Trip are at least halfway good, though the latter requires a high tolerance for and understanding of otaku-style perverted weirdness to really enjoy.  Casuals shouldn’t bother, in other words.

5) why didn’t the people put a girl in persona 3 ps2

Maybe because they knew

p3p girls getting fucked videos

would be a thing people would start searching for if they did.  I don’t actually much like what the female protagonist of Portable does to the story of P3 – anyway, I don’t think you can even consider her story or character canon as far as Persona canon goes (and there is such a thing, since all the Persona games inarguably take place in the same universe, one that FeMC doesn’t fit into.)  She does have a cute design, though.

6) va-11 yuri

Tons of people are also out hunting for porn, especially yuri (or lesbian) porn, featuring chatacters from cyberpunk bartending visual novel VA-11 HALL-A.  Not a huge surprise considering how much the sexual theme is tied into the story.  Protagonist Jill is herself bisexual, and various other characters swing one or the other way (and then there’s sexbot Dorothy, who swings every way.)

7) robot girl x male human rule 34

God damn it why are all my readers perverts.

Where are my hot android girls, scientists? What good are you even

I guess I have to blame myself.  I do think Aigis is best girl in Persona 3.  I’m sure there’s plenty of such material out there for those who want to seek it out, despite Aigis’ robotic build and lack of relevant anatomy.  2B from NieR: Automata is a somewhat more humanoid android and is featured in about 100,000 metric tons of porn, but she also weighs 148.8 kg (328 lb) according to the game’s creators despite being exceedingly fit-looking, so a hypothetical human contemplating a situation with such an android might take that into consideration.  (Crushed pelvises are not covered by all insurance plans.)

8) dynasty warriors cross stitch

Not even sure what to do with this one, or how such a search brought this reader here.  Perhaps he was searching for this charming Lu Bu themed Valentine’s Day card.

Top games of 2017

Every podunk Youtube channel and blog is making its own best games of the year list, so I figured I should as well. So as not to fall behind.

1) NieR: Automata

Come for the hot android girl, stay for the existential crisis-inducing feels

I didn’t review this game because there was no point. Everyone has already declared NieR: Automata the best game of the year, and rightly so. I can’t disagree with that judgment. NieR has everything: android booty, robot-killing action, and a thought-provoking story. It’s also great having an irreverent, doesn’t-give-a-shit guy like Yoko Taro around in the increasingly self-important land of game developers. Or maybe that attitude is only prevalent here in America.

NieR: Automata also wins my “best soundtrack of the year” award. Yoko Taro and co. can throw that award on the pile with the others.

2) Persona 5

hnnngh so cute

I did review Persona 5, though once again I have to say that my review was completely unnecessary. People who don’t even like JRPGs loved this tale of high school students with magical powers who fight demons in a shadow world. I loved it too, but only 99% as much as NieR, so it gets second place. It also wins my “second best soundtrack of the year” prize. It’s really too bad Persona 5 didn’t come out in 2016. (Actually, it did come out in 2016 – but the NA release came six months later, so as far as I’m concerned it’s a 2017 game and it still loses to NieR.)

3) VA-11 HALL-A

Make way for best girl

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with “indie games”. Some of them take a brilliant idea and fuck it over with bad gameplay mechanics, while others have a decent sense of how to construct a game but can’t help pretentiousnessing all over the place until you’re fucking sick. VA-11 HALL-A is a game with a good concept executed well, one that’s fun and has great, memorable characters. You might not like it because it’s more or less a visual novel with a bartending minigame attached (if you’re the “games must have ACTUAL ACTION” type) or because it features a very young-looking sexbot character (if you’re the overly sensitive SJW type – never mind that this character is really one of the most interesting in the game and explores some of the possible morality issues surrounding her very existence.  I did know a few people who dropped the game for this reason.) But if you don’t like this game, you’re wrong. Yeah, I know, opinions and all. But you’re still wrong. VA-11 HALL-A is a great game, and you’re wrong if you don’t like it.

Wait, this game – this actually was released in 2016, wasn’t it?

Well, shit. Never mind. It still deserves to be on this list.

4) Gravity Rush 2

The gravity-bending heroine of the first Gravity Rush returns to the PS4 for more adventures.  Gravity Rush 2 is a good game.  Once again, if anyone tells you differently, they’re wrong.  Also, Kat is a really cute character.

There’s an important plot reason why Kat’s wearing that maid outfit, okay? Leave me alone.

5) ???

Okay, it’s time to admit that I haven’t played many of this year’s newest and hottest games.  I’ve been playing a lot of Stella Glow lately, but it came out in 2015.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Horizon Zero Dawn but for some reason I don’t feel a great desire to play it.  It would probably be on this list if I’d bothered with it.

Anyway, have a happy new year.  Or not.  Whatever.  Does it even matter anymore?