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.

Mystery Blogger Award Double Feature

Time for a break from all the serious analyses and reviews and complaining about the world (well, not that last one — I’ll never stop that, I swear.) I was lucky enough to receive Mystery Blogger Award tags from both Fanfiction Anime World and Extra Life! Many thanks to both animeandfanfiction and Red Metal. They both have excellent sites that you should be following, by the way. If you like anime, films, or video games at all (and if you don’t, how are you reading this post?) give them a look.

I’d normally break this into two parts, but I decided to just write one massive post answering both of their questions, which add up to 16. So I hope you’re ready. First I’ll take on animeandfanfiction’s questions, since those have been pending for a while now.

1) If you could make any fictional character real who would it be and why? What would their relationship be with you? ( best friend, enemy, stranger, partner etc.).

I’ve addressed this sort of thing once or twice before, but I’ll take a different angle this time: I’d want to have a mortal enemy/rival but with enough mutual respect between us that when one of us dies, the other will be disappointed that we didn’t manage to defeat him and make him an ally instead. I’m thinking of a rivalry from Legend of the Galactic Heroes that I won’t say any more about because it would be a spoiler, so I won’t specify a character, but if you’ve seen LOGH you may have some idea of who I’m talking about. Have you watched LOGH yet? You really should.

It’s a very deep show

2) If you could choose to have any power from an anime what would it be? (Examples, jojo stands, my hero academia quirks, etc.).

It might just be because I’m playing Persona 5 Royal, but I would go with the power of Persona. Since the modern Persona games got anime adaptations, I’ll say that counts. I suppose it is similar to a JoJo stand, though. The idea of having an alter ego that’s a reflection of your true self or however that works, I really like it. Though I wonder who my Persona would be. Are there any historical or mythical figures cranky and embittered enough to fit?

3) Is there any blogger on here you’d like to get to know better and be friends with? If so, feel free to tag them and share your honest thoughts!

Here’s your expected cop-out answer: everyone in the community. I really haven’t come across someone in the general anime/game-fan circles here on WordPress who I haven’t liked. That’s certainly not something I can say for creators on other platforms like Youtube, though to be fair I don’t move in that exalted circle. Some big Youtube revenue would be nice, but there also seems to be a lot of drama and poison that goes along with it. I can do without that.

Anyway, I’d be happy to have a dinner with all of you, a rowdy one. After the massive health crisis is over, of course.

4) What anime theme/opening/ending is one of your favorites right now? Is it because it’s catchy, fun or emotional for you and why? (Example easy breezy because it’s fun to dance to).

Well, I don’t/can’t dance, but I’ve always liked the openings to the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei series. Especially the first one: it has a real title but people just know it as “bure bure” for reasons that are obvious if you listen to it. It’s nice and aggressive with plenty of despair in the lyrics and tone. I know this one is pretty old at this point, but I still love it just that much.

5) Is there anything not animated yet that you’d like to be? It can be a manga that hasn’t been, a video game, a tv show, etc. Possibilities are endless.

Moby-Dick in anime form, only all the characters are now cute girls. Tell me an entirely genderswapped Moby-Dick wouldn’t be popular. It’s not like that would be going too far — they’ve already turned World War II naval ships into girls, twice in fact. My idea is actually less extreme than that. I just think it would be fun to have an insane lady Ahab yelling about killing the White Whale. Hell, make the whale a girl too, why not. You’d also get the yuri fans on board with the ambiguous Ishmael/Queequeg relationship. Now I really want someone to do this.

This Touhou fanart is the closest I could find to what I’m thinking of. (source: Wool, pixiv)

And now, Red Metal’s questions:

1) What is the most unusual work you’ve ever experienced?

I’ve listened to some weird music — Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica or anything at all put out by the Residents. I’ve seen some strange films as well, though they’re popular in their own niches even if some people don’t “get” them (stuff by David Lynch, David Cronenberg, guys like that.) The most unusual work, though, would probably be The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade which I checked out just out of morbid curiosity back when I was a student. To be fair, I didn’t read anywhere close to the whole thing; it’s extremely slow going and still just as shocking as it probably was back when it was written. But de Sade also deserves credit for writing material that got him thrown into prison and insane asylums many times throughout his life — he wrote this work while imprisoned in the famous Bastille a few years before it was broken into by the French revolutionaries.

Not that it makes 120 Days any easier to read, with characters relating how they committed horrific acts against other characters, who themselves mysteriously heal or even come back to life for no apparent reason other than the story being kind of a mess. It’s a godawful work that I don’t really recommend to anyone, but the history surrounding it and its author is interesting and worth studying. It should be noted that although his literature got him into legal trouble, de Sade was also thrown into prison for committing murders and other horrible acts in real life, so he wasn’t exactly the “pure artist imprisoned for expressing himself” type.

2) What is the best work you have experienced that no one else seems to know about?

That depends on what set of people I’m talking to. I have friends and family with pretty different tastes in art from mine, and they haven’t experienced or even know about most of what I’ve written about on this site. But among that other set of friends, they know stuff like Shin Megami Tensei and Disgaea very well. So once again, it’s hard for me to pin down one single work that I can say is very obscure that I liked. The closest I can think of is something like the album H to He by Van der Graaf Generator that I wrote about a while back. The band definitely has some fans around, but I’ve never met anyone else in real life who’s heard of this music.

3) If you could go back in time and go to the premiere of a classic film, which one would you choose?

Psycho. Aside from being a great movie on its own, the stories of people being terrified by an actual movie in the theater are really interesting — it would be fascinating to sit in with a 1960 audience and watch them lose their shit.

4) If you decided to write fiction, which genre would you choose?

I’ve already started a few stories (not that they’re necessarily ever going anywhere, but they are started) and they’d mostly fit into the science fiction genre. Modern-day realistic settings are too boring, and historical settings require a lot of research that I don’t feel like doing. I find it easier and more entertaining to create my own world. As far as the contents of the stories themselves go, if there’s a genre called “depressive contemplative fiction”, I guess most of it would be in there.

5) What is the most disappointingly predictable plot twist you’ve ever experienced?

This is a spoiler for Grandia II… but shit, that game’s been out for 20 years now, and you’ll see this twist coming too if you play it now for the first time anyway. The big twist involves the Catholic-esque Church of Granas. This massive church organization recruits the main character, the mercenary Ryudo, to escort the nun Elena as she seals pieces of the Devil away so they can’t go around causing a bunch of havoc and killing innocent people.

Well, this is an organized religion in a JRPG, so how do you think that will end? It would have been a far more shocking twist if the Church of Granas had turned out to be completely honest and transparent. While the simple priests and sisters like Elena are well-meaning, their Pope reveals himself to be a mad tyrant who actually wants to steal the power of the Devil to become a living god on Earth. The guy is even named “Pope Innocentius”. How could a character with that name possibly be a good guy? And the game also drops all this material near the very end, as if we’re supposed to be shocked by it. Grandia II is still a great game and a childhood favorite, but even as a kid reading the manual and seeing this guy’s character profile I knew he’d turn out to be a villain. Not much of a twist.

Official Grandia II promo art. The Pope is the guy all the way on the right.

6) What do you consider to be the strangest title for a work?

There are plenty of light novels with stupidly long titles, so any of those might qualify, but since that seems to be an industry standard for light novels none of them stand out. So my answer is the title of the album I mentioned in answer #2 above: the whole thing is H to He, Who Am the Only One. The first part refers to the hydrogen to helium fusion process that the Sun is constantly working on, so at least it makes some kind of sense, and one of the songs is about space travel so I’ll give them that. But the second part of it makes no sense at all. It’s not even grammatical. “Who Am”? What the fuck. I know it’s a dumb cliché but I have to assume some hallucinogenic drugs were involved and the title made perfect sense at the time. There’s no other reasonable explanation for that.

7) Where in a theater do you prefer to sit?

Near the back, but not all the way back. The last movie I saw I nearly got a neck sprain looking up because we were stuck in front and all the other seats were taken. I like to get to the theater early, but not everyone feels the same way (i.e. one friend who insists on doing everything at the last possible minute.)

8) Do you have any graphic novel/manga series you’re currently following?

I don’t usually go in for those, but I have been reading a manga series called Forbidden Scrollery, which as far as I know is the only officially translated and published Touhou Project manga series around. It’s pretty fun, and about what you’d expect from a Touhou manga adaptation if you know the series — cute girls drink tea, solve supernatural mysteries, and threaten to shoot each other with magical bullets and lasers.

I like it, but if you’re not familiar with the setting and background of Touhou before going in, I imagine Forbidden Scrollery could be kind of confusing because it does not really bother setting any of that up. If you’ve played one of the games and know something about the series, though, it’s worth looking up. It’s written by series creator ZUN himself, though the art is thankfully done by Moe Harukawa, who unlike ZUN can actually draw. She has a cute style that fits well with the light mood of the manga. If you like the idea of a slice of life/fantasy mix set in an Edo-era Japanese village, you should check it out (or just check out Touhou in general.)

9) When it comes to reviewing films, which do you feel are more effective – traditional, written reviews or video essays?

This is a hard one, because I have a natural bias as someone who writes reviews (not film reviews, but the bias is still there.) I like the written form of review better in general just because there’s less spectacle — it’s all words on a page, maybe with a few screenshots thrown in. There’s nothing to distract from the analysis itself. I do get why a lot of people prefer to watch a video review on Youtube, and there are a couple of reviewers there who I think are pretty effective. However, I think the aforementioned Youtube drama bullshit can draw attention away from the basic review/analysis element, which is the whole point in the first place. Not that that’s necessarily the fault of the creators themselves. Maybe it’s just an issue with popularity fomenting drama regardless of the medium.

10) What aspects of old-school game design do you wish would make a comeback?

The aspect where you’d get a full, complete game when you bought it without having to buy DLC. I’m not talking about cosmetic DLC, of course — that stuff is fine with me as long as it doesn’t affect the experience in a significant way. No, I mean having to buy the ending to a game separate from the base game itself. Or having to buy the 18+ scenes in a visual novel at the same rate the base VN sells for, making the full version double the price of the all-ages version. I get that we all like to make more money, but fuck these practices. To be sure, ripping players off has been something the game industry’s been doing since the 80s, so it’s not like this is a new problem, but it is a relatively new form of the old ripoff.

11) What aspects of old-school game design are you glad went away?

Cheap difficulty. That hasn’t totally gone away, of course, but it seems to have been a lot more common in the 80s and early 90s. I’m fine with a game that’s difficult because it presents a true challenge that can be worked out through strategy; that’s great. But a game that presents you with a complete crapshoot of a challenge that takes pure luck to beat, or one that barely even gives you a chance to learn the controls and layout because it only gives you a couple of hits before it kills you — that game is just a piece of shit. Sure, we had GameShark back then and Game Genie before it, but if you have to break a game with cheats to make it playable, its developer has failed.

***

Now it’s my turn to ask a question. But here’s the twist: it’s one multi-part question, and it’s one that I want to pose to everyone reading who cares to answer it. No specific nominations this time, because everyone is nominated.

Do you think the current worldwide health crisis will permanently affect the way people get their entertainment, or will we return to the “old normal” after it’s over? And do you think it would be a positive or negative if people decide in the future to stay home and play games or stream shows or movies instead of getting out to the theater or to concerts? I don’t think it would be a great loss, but I’m not the best person to ask about that because I’m a severe introvert who has no problem being shut in for days or weeks at a time. I have to force myself to go out and socialize, but I know that’s not the case for most people. Well, it might be more the case in the anime/game fan circles, but I don’t want to generalize too much. What’s your opinion?

Yet another Valentine’s Day post (or, four game characters I might want to date if they were real but probably shouldn’t)

I have to admit that there are a few games I’ve played featuring characters who I thought were pretty attractive, in that “if only she were real” sense. However, as we know, fantasy is one thing, and reality is quite another. And since reality is generally speaking a big pile of shit, it stands to reason that someone pining for their game character waifu (or husbando, let’s not forget them) might end up a bit disappointed if said waifu were real. But why? Let’s find out both the answers to that question and also possibly to why I make such terrible life decisions.  Here they are listed in random order, along with their respective official art/game CGs.

4) Kat (Gravity Rush)

In almost every way, Kat would be an amazing catch.  She’s bright and determined.  She has a strong sense of self but doesn’t take herself too seriously.  She’s exceedingly hot (I do have a shallow side, I won’t lie to you.)  And finally, she’s got the unique ability to shift gravity around her, letting her fly through the air by “falling” in a different direction than gravity would normally allow.  This is the central mechanic of Gravity Rush and is part of what elevates it well above the standard action game.  Seems like a useful skill to have in general.

As great as Kat is, though, there’s one problem: her gravity-bending powers are a bit indiscriminate in practice.  When the player suspends Kat in mid-air before choosing what direction to send her “falling” into, other objects and even innocent bystanders in her immediate vicinity are caught in the same suspension.  Sending Kat off into another direction in this case also flings anything and anyone in the affected area through the air.  This isn’t such a problem for the inanimate objects that get caught up in Kat’s gravity field, but for the living things it is most certainly a problem.  Not that she’d ever intentionally do that to anyone, but you’ll send people flying to their deaths often enough during a playthrough of Gravity Rush even if you’re not trying to do it.  So just hanging around her might end up with me getting accidentally flung into a brick wall or off the edge of the city into the abyss below.  Though Kat honestly might be worth taking that risk.

3) Patchouli Knowledge (Touhou Project series)

Patchouli is my favorite Touhou character.  The characters in this long-running shoot-em-up series aren’t all that fleshed out in the games themselves — the fans do a lot of the heavy lifting through their own doujin works that include fan games, comics, and animations — but Patchouli isn’t really that complicated to begin with.  She’s introduced in Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil as the librarian of the Scarlet Devil Mansion.  This naturally means that you have to fight her and endure her insane bullet patterns.  Outside of EoSD, though, Patchouli doesn’t seem to care for fighting very much, preferring to stay holed up in the mansion’s giant library surrounded by her books, studying and drinking tea.

So Patchouli is absolutely my kind of woman: such a complete shut-in that she never bothers to wear anything other than her pajamas (at least that’s what I think those robes are.)  However, it would be extremely dangerous to try to date her.  Not so much because of Patchouli herself, but rather because of her employer: Remilia Scarlet, the mistress of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and a straight up vampire girl.  Remilia and her even more dangerous little sister Flandre are supposed to be the descendants of Vlad Tepes, the real-life medieval Romanian ruler also known as Dracula.  Since Patchouli generally doesn’t leave her library, then, you’d have to brave the mansion and the vampiric sisters living there, and that might end up with you getting put on the mansion’s menu.  I don’t think I’m quite so brave to risk that.

2) Astrid Zexis (Atelier Arland series)

Skilled alchemist Astrid Zexis has a lot going for her.  On paper, anyway.  She has a quick mind and a sharp wit, she owns her own business, and she’s got that girl with glasses appeal that seems to be so popular these days.

However, she’s also careless and lazy to an extent that amazes even me.  As a result of her shitty attitude, by the beginning of the JRPG Atelier Rorona her alchemist shop in the capital of the Kingdom of Arland is failing and about to be shuttered.  The townspeople who might normally speak in her support hate her for screwing up their orders and generally causing a lot of trouble, so they seem more than happy to let her business flounder.  Despite her predicament, Astrid is still too lazy to actually do anything about it, so she very generously hands ownership of her atelier over to her apprentice Rorona, the clumsy but determined main character of the game.  Everything works out eventually, but that’s primarily thanks to Rorona constantly busting her ass to meet deadlines set by government agents who are working under orders to close the shop unless she can fulfill certain requirements on a regular basis.  Astrid admittedly does get around to doing some things to help Rorona, but at that point she’s just gaining back a few of the many points she’s lost.

Astrid, center, pushing her failing atelier off onto Rorona, left, at the beginning of the game.  Also pictured, right: best girl Cordelia.

If you really need to know about Astrid, you might ask supporting character/party member Sterkenburg.  This stern young knight dated Astrid for a while and it didn’t end well if their interactions in the game are any indication.  I’m sure there are two sides to that story, but Astrid still seems like a real handful.  I know this because I had a relationship fall apart once because one of the partners in said relationship was an Astrid, and that Astrid was almost certainly me.  Hell, maybe I should date someone like Astrid.  Two assholes with fuck-off attitudes would probably suit each other quite well, wouldn’t they?

1) Saya (Saya no Uta)

Now now, before you say anything — Saya’s on this list only because of the weird circumstances surrounding her existence.  For the uninitiated, Saya no Uta is a visual novel about one Fuminori Sakisaka, a medical student who has an accident that gives him a rare type of brain damage.  This condition makes him perceive everything in the world as disgusting to all his senses.  Even his friends now look, sound, and smell like bizarre rotten meat-creatures.  However, one single being on Earth appears to him as normal: Saya, a strange girl who discovers Fuminori while he’s contemplating suicide.  Fuminori clings to Saya as the one remaining thing in his life that seems pure and good, and Saya becomes just as attached to Fuminori.

Playing Saya no Uta, I couldn’t help but think that if I were in Fuminori’s place, I’d probably fall for Saya too, and that scares me a bit.  I won’t spoil it here, but if you want to read my take on how well Saya no Uta weaves its romance and horror elements together, check out the piece I wrote last Valentine’s Day on the game.

So hey, happy Valentine’s Day again.  Or not, if you hate this holiday, which I’d understand for a variety of reasons.  As for me — the above post is about as romantic as I can possibly get, which should tell you a lot.  Look, I couldn’t even be bothered to write a decent title for it. It does fit this holiday, though, doesn’t it? A tossed-together bullshit post, I mean. The equivalent of buying an off-brand heart-shaped box of chocolates at CVS. You deserve better than this. I’m sorry.

Music review: Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 by Tokyo Active NEETs

No, it’s not a soundtrack review this time, but don’t worry; I’m not changing my format. This and a few other reviews I’ve got slated to post are of cover albums based on game soundtracks. Specifically the soundtracks to various Touhou Project games. I’ve never actually reviewed a Touhou game on the site, but I used to follow this one-man-developer shmup series pretty closely. And I still love the music in these games. ZUN, the man behind game developer Team Shanghai Alice, is good at making shooting games, but he’s a better composer. The pieces he writes for his games are memorable and powerful, and they’ve spawned thousands (yes, literally thousands) of cover albums by hundreds of artists that are sold at Comiket and other Japanese conventions. A few of these Touhou cover albums even show up at American conventions, usually at grossly inflated prices, because they know the only alternative is to pay high shipping costs online and wait three weeks. (And don’t even get me started on the prices of the doujins.)

(Wait. No. Please forget I said that.)

Touhou Eiyashou ~ Imperishable Night (2004)

Anyway, I was very happy to find a physical copy of Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 (translated from 東方爆音ジャズ6 in case I convince you to seek it out.) As its title suggests, this is just one in a series of cover albums by Japanese jazz ensemble Tokyo Active NEETs, who play in a traditional jazz style (at least on this album – they mix it up in some of their other works.)  The several albums I’ve heard by Active NEETs are pretty much consistently great, but Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 is one of the best, featuring the band’s take on almost all of the music from 2004’s Imperishable Night. Imperishable Night isn’t my favorite Touhou game – that title would probably have to go to Perfect Cherry Blossom – but IN’s soundtrack just edges out PCB’s for me, and the Active NEETs do a great job with it. This album really is “explosive” – the NEETs play with a lot of energy, and there’s a lot of tenor sax and trumpet in the mix.  But they’re not just constantly blaring the shit out of your ears.  The brass has a great balance going with the keyboards, and the rhythm section is excellent.

As far as the individual songs go, they’re all great.  I can’t even say I really have a favorite among them, though their take on Marisa’s theme “Love-Colored Master Spark” that opens the album always grabs me, as does their version of Reimu’s theme “Maiden’s Capriccio ~ Dream Battle”. As outstanding as the album is, though, it’s also nice to watch them play live in the studio – the NEETs put out videos like that sometimes on their Youtube channel.

 

Here’s their rendition of “Dream Battle”. Pretty damn good. The guy in the center with the sack over his head is also a member of the band, I guess. He’s supposed to be what’s usually translated as a “sinsack” – a character from some Touhou fanworks who’s usually depicted as otherwise naked. Yeah, Touhou Project is kind of weird. But the music is excellent. I give this album a perfect 7, because I like it just that much. I should also note that all the other albums I’ve heard in the Explosive Jazz series are really good, and the Active NEETs are up to #13 in the series, so there’s plenty to hear at this point.

Unfortunately, you might have a hard time finding a physical copy of this album if I’ve piqued your interest in it at all. I had to attend the same con a few times before anyone had it in stock, and it seems to be out of stock on Amazon along with most of their other albums. Their newest albums are available on iTunes, though. And it goes without saying that there are ways to hear the older ones without paying out the ass for an import (though that’s what I basically did.) Still, if you’re a fan of this kind of music, it’s worth scouring Amazon and other online retailers for these albums. Or hit up your local anime con. You were probably planning on going anyway if you’re reading this site. Don’t lie to me.

Six great video game tracks

Music is a major aspect of a game. A soundtrack that fits well with the action of the game really helps its flow. Some game series are even defined by their soundtracks: pretty much everyone, even my mother who doesn’t know the first thing about video games, knows the Super Mario Bros. main theme, and other prime series from my (and possibly your) childhood like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man are known for their amazing background music.

Here are some pieces taken from game soundtracks that I think are especially good.

1) Shin Megami Tensei III – Normal Battle (Town)

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a big Shin Megami Tensei fan, and SMT3 is just about my favorite game in the series. And Shoji Meguro, the soundtrack-writer for many of the Shin Megami Tensei titles, is one of my favorite game composers ever. His work displays a lot of diversity, from the weirdly jazz-poppy music of Persona 3 and 4 to the hard rock of Digital Devil Saga. SMT3’s soundtrack is sort of a mix of hard rock and jazz elements, and this piece is one of my favorites of the bunch.

2) NieR – Gods Bound By Rules

Time for honesty here: I have not played NieR. From what I can tell, it’s made by Square-Enix, it’s an actiony sort of game, and it is highly controversial, with some people swearing by it and other people swearing at it. It was a commerical flop, but that’s not the measure of a game’s quality, is it?

Despite not having played NieR, I have heard its whole soundtrack, and it’s really good. Very symphonic in that old Square-Enix Final Fantasy tradition, with an extremely talented female singer accompanying the music. This track really conveys the feel of a boss fight well, I think. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a boss theme. In any case, you should really listen to it. It sets an “epic” mood without feeling overbearing (like, say, playing a famous public domain piece like “O Fortuna“. Yeah, it’s great, but seriously stop using this piece, it’s so amazingly overused.)

3) Umineko no Naku Koro ni – Final Answer

Unlike the last entry, I have played Umineko – all 80 hours of it. One of the things that kept me playing/reading was the excellent soundtrack. It’s no mistake that Umineko is called a “sound novel” – the original game had no voice acting but a great set of pieces by dozens of artists that perfectly fit the mood of each scene. I don’t think there’s a bad piece in the bunch, really. “Final Answer” is an especially great one, but the Umineko soundtrack is consistently good – I could have just as easily picked 20 or 30 other songs.

4) Makai Kingdom – Rushing Out of the Land of the Demons

NIS games tend to have really good OSTs that set a cartoonish mood consistent with their goofy, sometimes weird humor. Despite being one of their lesser-known titles, Makai Kingdom has an especially good soundtrack, and “Rushing Out of the Land of the Demons” is my favorite in the track list. This piece really gets down both the frantic pace of a battle scene and the strangely relaxed attitude of the typical NIS game. Does that make sense? I just wrote that sentence and I don’t know if it makes sense. Anyway, this is a great song.

5) Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors – Digital Root

When I heard the Zero Escape series was not going to have an ending because of poor sales, I was thrown into despair. I had just finished 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward and was dying to know how the bizarrely twisted story would end. I guess we’ll never know now. But at least we’ll have the really nice evocative sort-of-ambient soundtrack of 999 to listen to. “Digital Root” and most of the other pieces in the 999 OST perfectly complement and feed into the sense of tension that lasts through the game.

6) Touhou Project (Perfect Cherry Blossom) – Doll Judgment

I don’t think I’ve ever let on that I’m a Touhou fan, so I’ll do it now: I’m a huge Touhou fan. I’ve been playing the Touhou Project games for several years now. I know all the characters. I’ve even read some of the official comics (which have totally nonsensical plots.) If you’re unfamiliar with Touhou Project, it is a vertical scrolling shooter series begun and maintained by ZUN, one man who creates all the games on his own. The events of the many Touhou games (now up to 15? 17? I’m honestly not sure) take place in Gensokyo, a magically separated part of Japan that is still stuck in the 19th century for some reason and is inhabited by youkai – traditional demons and mythical beasts (all taking the form of girls, of course, because Japan) who live alongside a bunch of scared out of their wits humans in a village. The main characters are a shrine maiden and a witch who can fly and shoot lasers and fight said youkai. ZUN’s creation has spawned a massive community of fans and fanworks.

The funny thing about ZUN is that he seems to be a better composer than a game designer. Every one of the Touhou games features a really catchy and driving soundtrack. Fans have seized upon this aspect of Touhou and produce mountains of albums based on ZUN’s music. In fact, “Doll Judgment”, while it’s really a good piece, just as easily could have been a different piece from a different Touhou game – there are way too many to choose from.